While many people will make the trek to Yosemite for the 4th of July weekend, some are tromping through the park’s history right in the middle of San Francisco.
This week, the California Historical Society opened an exhibit marking the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Yosemite Act, protecting the lands as a National Park.
The exhibit strolls through the dewy meadows of Yosemite’s long, winding history - from the Native Americans who lived among giant Sequoia’s - to hunters who wiped out the last grizzly bears - to the artists inspired to commit the park’s soaring vistas to canvas.
“I think it really reminds us in a way how small we are in the long history of time,” said Jessica Hough, exhibit director for the historical society.
The exhibit, located in the society’s headquarters at 678 Mission Street, is broken into 23 stories, filling walls and display cases with the ephemera of the park’s 150 years. Walls are covered in paintings and photographs by early park artisans like Ansel Adams and painter Albert Bierstadt. A photo in an old-time stereo optic viewer actually shows Bierstadt sitting in the park painting, surrounded by Native Americans - the subjects of a nearby painting.
Another room displays early mountain-climbing implements used to scale the park’s soaring granite cliffs.
“Many of the technologies climbers take for granted today,” Hough said, “in terms of the shoes, the pitons, the roping methods, all of these things were developed in Yosemite.”
Hough explained the long history of Yosemite is marked with the firm fingerprints of man, from the U.S. Calvary once charged with the park’s law enforcement, to ranchers and hunters who left their own mark. Perhaps the museum’s most dramatic entry, is a large dark pelt of the last grizzly bear killed in Yosemite in 1878. The pelt and the hunter’s account of the killing illustrate the inevitable collision of nature and humans.
For many visitors, the familiar views of Half Dome and Bridal Veil Falls brought back memories.
Visitor Greg Moore of Atlanta, remembered romping along the John Muir trail as a Boy Scout. The exhibit brought back the smell of pine, and awe of the park’s vertical majesty.
“I think as John Muir must have felt,” Moore said, “it really is a sublime place.”
The exhibit runs until January 2015, so there’s plenty of time to stow the camping gear and head over. For more information, click here.