Wawona is perhaps the least visited area of the park though the Mariposa Grove gets its fair share. While lacking the spectacular scenery of the other two sections, it exudes an old rustic charm missing elsewhere in the park. It includes the Yosemite Pioneer History Center which has the oldest man made structures in the park and provides great insight into early settlers in the area.
It also is home to a grove of giant sequoias and if you are not going to Sequoia National Park, this is an area you should not miss. These massive trees are not only the biggest trees mass-wise in the world, they are amongst the oldest living things on the planet.
Surrounded by a stand of woods and edged by a trickly branch of the Merced River, The Pioneer Yosemite History Center presents what 19th century life was like in the shadows of El Capitan and Half Dome.
Historic buildings were moved to this Wawona site in the 1950's and '60's. Each of these buildings illustrates a era of Yosemite's history.
The first structure we encountered was the covered bridge, constructed on land owned by Galen Clark (who became the first guardian of Yosemite).
He is credited with opening the first waystation for visitors to the area and building this bridge, which crosses the Merced. It was covered by later owners, the Washburns.
The Homestead Building-this rare two-story cabin was once located in the Aspen Valley and built by the Hodgdon family--cattle ranchers from the San Joaquin Valley* (picture 2).
FYI:*JOHN MUIR(an avid preservationist) along with others, felt that domestic herds in the high country would lead to damaging the watershed and waterfalls, so worked to establish Yosemite National Park in 1890.
The Powderhouse and Jail--blasting powder for building roads at the park was stored in this building. (picture 3) In order to form roadbeds, granite rock had to be blasted from the hillsides.
The George Anderson Pioneer House(1870) was originally located at Big Meadow, northwest of Yosemite Valley (picture 5). Anderson was a miner and blacksmith, but also escorted tourists throughout this area.
Blacksmith shops provided an important service in the early years of the pioneers. They were especially needed in the forging of farm implements, the shoeing of horses and for the repair of stage coaches traveling along primitive roads.
People visiting Yosemite came by horseback or horse-driven stage. It was quite an undertaking! A trip from Wawona to the Yosemite valley took eight hours!
We read that a stage pulled by four horses would have to change four times, requiring 16 horses in total. This mode of transportation was finally retired in 1916.
The Wells Fargo Office allowed visitors to keep in touch with the world beyond Yosemite. Telegrams, make long-distance phone calls or reservations for overnight lodging could all be done here (picture 2).
Wawona Stables provides half day, 5 hour horseback rides to the waterfalls and beyond. The rider must be at least 7 years old and 44' tall; maximum weight is 225 pounds. (pictures 3 & 4) Call 209-372-4386 for more information.
When you visit Yosemite, be sure to spend some time at the Pioneer Yosemite History Center. It's a wonderful place to step back in time and see the way life was 100 years ago, and to find out how Yosemite was the inspiration for National Parks across the US, and the world.
The staff are all dressed in period costume, and speak the part as well. Don't even think of talking about your car to them, they will ask you what a 'car' is!
There is just one homesteader's log cabin left in Yosemite, and it is now in the Pioneer Yosemite History Center. The two story house was built in 1879 in Aspen Valley. This and many other homesteads in the west were granted by the US government's 1862 Homestead Act, which gave a 160-acre parcel of land to settlers willing to live on it and farm it for five years. Behind the house is an outhouse and a beautiful meadow that unfortunately has electrical wires running through it.
At the gates of the outdoor history center hangs a plaque reading: "a place of pioneers who so profoundly influenced the birth and growth of the national park idea". The pioneer Yosemite History center details the lives and the homes of early European settlers in the area who helped to bring about the founding of Yosemite National Park. The History Center, at Wawona (thought to have been Miwok for "big trees"), is an interesting place, but not exactly worth stopping at if you're in Yosemite for the scenery.
Located in Wawona in the southern part of the park is the Pioneer History Center focusing on Yosemite's human history and pioneer past. If you are playing golf, stopping by for a meal or staying at the Historic Wawona Hotel it's worth dropping by the Pioneer History Center right next door. There are relocated historic buildings, old carraiges, a covered bridge and horse-drawn coach rides. Interpretive signs and brochures are available for a self-guided tour.
A gift shop is near the main road. Restrooms are toward the back of the property. During busy times, overflow parking is located here with free bus transportation to the Mariposa Grove.
The first time I visited Yosemite in the late 90's, I was a volunteer with Yosemite Foundation to restore the Pioneer Yosemite History Center. The Center contains a group of historic structures built within the Park boundary throughout Yosemite's history. The structures were later moved to their current location in Wawona for display. They were built during the mining and logging era, or by early adventurers and artists seeking inspiration in the Valley. The Center tries to keep them as original as possible.
The Center is located in Wawona near the south entrance of the Park. Although my contribution was minimum and my carpentry non-existent, I always come back here to make sure the cabin I worked on stands still.
Besides the historic structures from around the Park, the Pioneer Yosemite History Center also provides various ranger talks and exhibits. Next to the Center there's a stable and a beautiful covered bridge sitting on top of the South Fork Merced River (see photo). In the summer, you can catch a horse-drawn stage ride here at the bridge. The ride takes you to the nearby classic Wawona Hotel (see my hotel/accommodation tip) and down to the South Fork Merced River bank. It's interesting to experience how Yosemite pioneers used to travel.
At the Yosemite Pioneer Village, if you're tired of walking, why not take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage? They drover will take you all around the Village, stopping along the way.