Ron Mackie remembers picking up toilet paper for two weeks after Memorial Day 1970. About 1,500 “flower children” spent the holiday jammed into a lovely camping spot not far from Nevada Fall. Yosemite National Park was going through another growth spurt as young people flocked to places where indoor plumbing was not a priority. As always, America’s mad love affair with this granite wonderland got more complicated.
How do you protect a national treasure while inviting the world — including 1,500 hippies — to come see it?
“Before that Memorial Day, you would see a few backpackers in the wilderness, and that was about it,” said Mackie, 79, a former Yosemite wilderness manager who worked decades in the park. “By 1970, it became a real challenge.”
But it shouldn’t have been a surprise. The worry over big crowds started in the 1860s shortly after Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant Act to protect Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias. The topic will surely come up again as the National Park Service celebrates the 150th anniversary of the act on Monday, the date Lincoln signed it. A ceremony is planned at venerable Mariposa Grove, near the park’s south entrance at Highway 41.
A glance around the 7-square-mile Yosemite Valley takes in a glittering lineup of sights—Half Dome, El Capitan, North Dome, Cathedral Rocks and several waterfalls, including the tallest in North America, Yosemite Falls at 2,425 feet. Streams flow. Wildflowers bloom. Deer browse. Coyotes hunt. Birds dart in and out.
This iconic panorama is the spiritual heart of Yosemite, even though it is only a tiny part of a 1,169-square-mile park that stretches to glaciers at the Sierra crest.
For more than 150 years, Yosemite has become a global crossroads and a destination for celebrities and noted politicians — even England’s Queen Elizabeth II in the 1980s. Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy visited during their presidencies. For hard-core climbers, the big walls of Yosemite might be the best on the planet. Ansel Adams and other photographers made careers here.
Skiers and other winter sports enthusiasts built a long history at Badger Pass Ski Resort. Most of all, though, Yosemite has been a tradition for many families — camping, hiking, rafting, bicycle riding, picnicking. Annual visitor totals grew to more than 1 million by 1954. Today, the totals push 4 million.