Yosemite Roads and Bridges
Yosemite National Park, California
The new roads invited an increasing number of visitors, particularly after connecting railway lines began operations. Stage coach lines soon began regular service between the rail termini and the Yosemite Valley. These coaches carried travelers along the precipitous roads, up and down the narrow grades with blind curves, rough stone surfaces and unguarded edges. Most passengers noticed the dust more than anything else. Hoteliers met stage passengers with whisk brooms to brush them clean. One visitor complained about her visit, "Everything [about Yosemite] has been exaggerated, except the dust."
North of Yosemite Valley. the Great Sierra Consolidated Silver Mining Company began construction of a road to serve its mines on the Sierra crest in 1882. The Great Sierra Wagon Road left Big Oak Flat Road outside the park's present western boundary for Tioga Pass on the present eastern boundary. The road was intended to haul supplies for the gold and silver mines on the Sierra divide: however, soon after the road was completed in September 1883, mining activity ceased. The road quickly fell into a state of disrepair, and little or no maintenance was done until it was acquired for the park in 1915.
The Merced River canyon had seemed a logical entrance to the park and Yosemite Valley, but the difficult terrain in the raging river gorge inhibited construction. It was not until 1907 that the Yosemite Valley Rail Road was constructed along the river from Merced to El Portal, from which a new stage road was extended to the Valley. Tourism again increased significantly, with most visitors arriving by rail. The old toll roads suffered a sharp decline in profits, and maintenance suffered, By the early twentieth century the toll roads came under government control.
In 1900 Oliver Lippincott drove his new steam-powered Locomobile into the park along the Wawona Road, heralding a new form of transportation within the park. Over the next several years, a number of other automobiles endured the rough roads and steep grades in order to reach the Valley and nearby attractions.
Park officials felt, however, that automobiles and motorcycles were incompatible with horse-drawn conveyances still in general use, and to allow them to use park roads would result in accidents. Accordingly, acting superintendent H.C. Benson banned motor vehicles from the park in 1907.
Outraged motorists and the California Automobile Association soon convinced the Department of the Interior to reverse the decision. Even conservationist John Muir initially supported allowing vehicles into the park. In April 1913, the Secretary of the Interior announced that cars once more could enter Yosemite National Park.
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