Yosemite: The Weird and the Wonderful

March 20, 2023 Posted by: Archives Intern (GW)

Archives. For some, this word conjures up images of a dusty, dimly lit room filled with clutter from bygone ages. Others may think of something more awe-inspiring, like the white marble columns guarding the National Archives in Washington D.C. Indeed, archives facilities vary drastically in their size, content, and prestige. This season I began working in the Yosemite Archives, the fourth largest archive collection in the National Park Service (NPS) with 4.4 million items, and the largest archives for a natural resource park in the agency. The inside of this facility can seem daunting: floor-to-ceiling shelves fill the space, packed with identical grey boxes, manila folders, and paper, paper, and more paper. What is the point of archives? Is it just one big filing cabinet, where all paperwork goes to die? My time working at Yosemite has given me valuable insight into this question.

Archives facilities conserve information that can be helpful to running the park; items include natural and cultural resource records, maps, artifacts, historic films, etc. But the real treasure of these collections are the stories they keep. Stories are what differentiate archives from one another, adding value to the historical record. And some of the stories about Yosemite are… weird.

Monsters: The Yosemite Mummy

During my first month at the park, I was tasked with inventorying an old filing cabinet in the Yosemite Museum. Most of the paperwork was general correspondence, budget sheets, or Daily Reports. After some time, I stumbled upon a folder entitled “The Yosemite Mummy.” I struck gold. Inside the folder was an old newspaper clipping showing an average size man standing next to a giant (or giantess) mummy. Otherwise known as the Martindale Mummies, this mother-and-child duo was discovered in 1855 in a closed-off cave in Yosemite Valley. The mummy stands nearly 7 feet tall!

Her origin is a mystery. The Ahwahneechee reportedly had a legend of giant enemies that once roamed their land. Could this Giantess be one of them? Or was she just a hoax played by the miners who “discovered” her?

Aliens: Fresno Nightcrawlers

The Yosemite Archives don’t hold a monopoly on the best stories of the park. In recent years urban legend has uncovered a paranormal story that spread like wildfire: the Fresno Nightcrawlers.  First seen in 2007, then again in 2014, these “aliens” appeared on grainy CCTV footage in both Fresno and Yosemite. After the footage gained immense fame, the mystery was featured on Base Productions’ docuseries Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files, and was also independently investigated by the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON). The conclusion was: Inconclusive.

Artistic rendering of the Fresno Nightwalkers by Georgie Wright.
Artistic rendering of the Fresno Nightwalkers by Georgie Wright.

Ghosts: The Haunted Ahwahnee

The Supernatural? Yosemite’s got that too. Many of these stories can be found at the famous Ahwahnee which opened its doors in 1927. Former employees and previous guests have reported friendly spirits roaming the halls. The ghost of a woman who died at The Ahwahnee in the 1970s allegedly makes herself known by tucking guests into bed. There is also lore about a much more famous ghost: that of John F. Kennedy (JFK). The President visited the hotel during his lifetime and requested a rocking chair for his room. After JFK’s death, the same rocking chair was known to move on its own. The Ahwahnee’s reputation for haunting has spread far and wide. If you ever visit and are struck by an eerie feeling of …familiar… you may be onto something. The hotel’s interior was used as an influence on set design for Stephen King’s The Shining. [1]

Treasure Hunters: The Race to the Dope Plane Crash

Within the archives, we store various historical items relevant to Yosemite. Atop one of our shelves rests a mangled part of a plane – the infamous 1977 “Dope Plane” that crashed into Upper Merced Pass Lake, burying thousands of dollars’ worth of marijuana. The crash killed the pilots, leaving the cargo undefended. The crash site, once reported, was not immediately roped off by officials. A storm was about to hit the area, and they thought the risk was too great. Word of this crash started to spread to park visitors and soon a steady stream of hikers began to brave the weather conditions, hoping to make it rich. Ironically the expected bad weather did not come, and officials were slow to realize what was happening. Visitors who had braved the odds in the beginning took what they could carry and strode off into the Yosemite sunset with their prize. The part of the plane in our collection was recovered in 1988, by Ranger Gil Young.

After reading this brief overview of the weird and the wonderful of Yosemite National Park, I hope you can also see the importance of places like Museums and Archives. My time at the Yosemite Archives has taught me the importance of finding stories in all sorts of places. By keeping an open mind, I’ve been introduced to a wonderful (and weird) side of Yosemite. Preserving the park’s history – even the strange bits – adds a touch of humanity to the otherworldly nature of this park.

Left image: Tag describing artifact in Yosemite's collection; Right: Piece of the
Left image: Tag describing artifact in Yosemite's collection; Right: Piece of the "dope plane" in the Yosemite Archives.
[1] McDaniel, T. (2021, September 8). The Ahwahnee Hotel Yosemite: The fascinating history of Yosemite's youngest Gem. Discover Yosemite National Park. Retrieved January 31, 2023, from https://www.yosemite.com/ahwahnee-history/


Last updated: March 20, 2023

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