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11 Iconic Facts About Yosemite National Park

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Graeme Churchard, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Yosemite National Park is internationally known for its spectacular waterfalls, soaring monoliths (El Capitan and Half Dome might ring a bell), and overall stunning landscape, but there’s more to this California park’s history than its naturally picturesque views.

1. IT WAS HOME TO THE COUNTRY’S FIRST PARK GUARDIAN.

Outdoorsman and conservationist Galen Clark wasn’t the first person to find Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove, but he is thought to be the first person to count and record the giant sequoias there. In 1864, Abraham Lincoln transferred the future Yosemite park to the state of California, and two years later Clark was named the guardian of Yosemite, a role that allowed him to educate park visitors and conserve the wilderness he loved. He is buried in the Valley Cemetery surrounded by sequoias he planted.

2.WHEN THE TIMING IS RIGHT, ONE OF THE PARK’S WATERFALLS GLOWS.

Andrew Kearns, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

On evenings in mid- to late February, some visitors are lucky enough to spot the glow of Horsetail Fall, shining like a ribbon of fire down the side of the cliff. The way the setting sun hits the water gives it the appearance of being aflame. For the best view, set up in (or just east of) the El Capitan picnic area.

3. IT IS REVERED AS THE BIRTH PLACE OF ROCK CLIMBING FOR SPORT.


Yosemite’s granite monoliths and challenging climbs make the park a major attraction for rock climbers. In the years after World War II, adventurous visitors have flocked to Camp 4, a campsite in the park known for welcoming some of history’s most famous climbers while they conquered the granite walls. Both amateur and world-class athletes have trained, traded techniques, and set up shop at the grounds, which earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.

4. BUFFALO SOLDIERS WERE SOME OF THE PARK’S FIRST PROTECTORS.

The Buffalo Soldiers were African-American Army soldiers who in 1899 were assigned to patrol Yosemite and other protected areas in the West. The successful military regiment became some of the country’s first backcountry rangers and had several responsibilities, among them protecting Yosemite from poachers and fighting forest fires.

5. YOSEMITE’S MOST FAMOUS HOTEL WAS USED AS A WARTIME HOSPITAL.

Ray Bouknight, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When socialites of the late 1920's rejected the primitive lodgings in the area, the idea for the Ahwahnee Hotel, a luxury hotel on park grounds, was born. Years later, it was leased by the U.S. Navy to serve as a naval hospital during World War II. The facility was originally meant for psychiatric rehab but transitioned to offering more holistic treatments for patients.

6.THERE’S COMPETITION FOR SOME OF THE MORE COMFORTABLE CAMPSITES.

Yosemite offers a select number of High Sierra campsites for those who want to backpack through the high country during the day without worrying about where to camp at night. Each camp provides meals, clean water, and access to bathrooms and canvas tents (complete with comfy beds and wood-burning stoves). You'll have to enter a lottery system to nab one of these in-demand sites.

7. THE SODA SPRINGS CABIN IS NO PLACE TO GRAB A DRINK.

The Soda Springs Cabin is a small historic structure built in the late 19th century by John Baptiste Lembert, the first white man to settle in Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows. The roofless cabin protects the Soda Springs, which are named for their gaseous, bubbling nature.

8. DRIVING THROUGH ITS TREES WAS A POPULAR PASTIME.

One of Yosemite’s most famous giant sequoias was the Wawona Tunnel Tree. Located in Galen Clark’s beloved Mariposa Grove, the Wawona tunnel was carved in 1881 and was a favorite photo op for tourists until a snow storm knocked the tree down in 1969. Luckily, you can still visit the aptly renamed Fallen Wawona Tunnel Tree.

9. YOSEMITE COULD HAVE BEEN THE SITE OF WORLD-CLASS WINTER SPORTS.

Originally considered a summer destination, Yosemite became a popular location for winter sports in the early 20th century. The park’s improved winter activity offerings inspired Yosemite’s bid to host the 1932 Winter Olympics. Though the event was held in the United States, the honor went to Lake Placid, New York instead.

10. THE YOSEMITE FIREFALL WAS POPULAR, BUT IT WASN’T NATURAL.

The Yosemite Firefall began in 1872 when James McCauley, owner of the Glacier Point Hotel, first pushed a torrent of campfire embers from the top of Glacier Point. Though the tradition was stopped and restarted several times over the course of nearly a century, the unique bonfire remained a popular tourist attraction until 1968, when the National Park Service officially shut it down.

11. YOSEMITE’S HOLIDAY TRADITIONS ARE ROOTED IN THE RENAISSANCE.

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Described as a Renaissance pageant, the Bracebridge Dinner has been a holiday tradition at Yosemite’s Ahwahnee Hotel since 1927. Famed photographer Ansel Adams, who lived in the Yosemite Valley part-time, directed the elaborate dinner production from 1929 to 1973 and often appeared as the Major Domo.

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One Day, You May Not Have to Take Your Laptop Out at the Airport
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TSA security lines might be a little less annoying in the future. According to Condé Nast Traveler, the agency will soon test new airport scanners that allow you to keep your liquids and laptop in your carry-on bag during security screening, a benefit currently only available to those who have been accepted into the agency’s PreCheck program.

The ConneCT scanners have met the TSA's "advanced technology detection standards," according to the company that makes them, Analogic, meaning that they can be tested out at airports across the U.S.

Computed tomography scanning technology is regularly used in hospitals and research labs for everything from diagnosing cancer to studying mummies. The imaging technique uses x-rays that rotate around whatever object is being imaged to create 3D images that provide more detail than those created by the regular x-ray scanners currently used to inspect carry-on luggage.

The ConneCT scanners have been in the works for 10 years. The devices have x-ray cameras that spin around the conveyor belt that holds your bag, creating a 3D image of it. Then algorithms help flag whether there's something suspicious inside so that it can be pulled aside for further screening by hand. They've already been tested in airports in Phoenix and Boston, but haven't been used on a national level yet.

But don't expect to see the high-tech scanners at your local airport anytime soon. According to the TSA, they have to undergo yet more testing before any of the machines can be deployed, and there’s no timetable for that yet.

Until then, as you're packing your liquids, just remember—you can always just freeze them.

[h/t Conde Nast Traveler]

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Big Questions
What Are the Northern Lights?
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Over the centuries, many have gazed up at one of the Earth’s most fascinatingly beautiful natural wonders: the Northern Lights. In the past couple of weeks, some lucky American stargazers have gotten the chance to see them from their very own backyards—and could again this week, according to Thrillist. But what are they?

Before science was able to get a read on what exactly was happening in the night sky, ancient tribes had their own theories for what caused the jaw-dropping light show. Many early beliefs had roots in religion, such as that the light was a pathway souls traveled to reach heaven (Eskimo tribes) or that the light was an eternal battle of dead warriors (Middle-Age Europe). Early researchers were a bit more reasonable in their approximations, and most surrounded the idea of the reflection of sunlight off the ice caps. In 1619, Galileo Galilei named the lights the aurora borealis after Aurora, the Roman goddess of morning, after concluding they were a product of sunlight reflecting from the atmosphere.

Today, scientists have come to the general agreement that the lights are caused by the collision of electrically charged solar particles and atoms from our atmosphere. The energy from the collisions is released as light, and the reason it happens around the poles is because that's where the Earth’s magnetic field is the strongest. In 2008, a team at UCLA concluded that “when two magnetic field lines come close together due to the storage of energy from the sun, a critical limit is reached and the magnetic field lines reconnect, causing magnetic energy to be transformed into kinetic energy and heat. Energy is released, and the plasma is accelerated, producing accelerated electrons.”

"Our data show clearly and for the first time that magnetic reconnection is the trigger," said Vassilis Angelopoulos, a UCLA professor of Earth and Space Sciences. "Reconnection results in a slingshot acceleration of waves and plasma along magnetic field lines, lighting up the aurora underneath even before the near-Earth space has had a chance to respond. We are providing the evidence that this is happening."

The best time to see the Northern Lights is during the winter, due to the Earth’s position in relation to the sun (shorter days means darker night skies). And by the way, it’s not just the North Pole that puts on a show—there are Southern Lights, too. There are also aurora borealis on other planets—including Mars—so rest assured that future generations born “abroad” will not miss out on this spectacular feat of nature.

Haven’t seen them yet? Traditionally, the best places to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights are in Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Greenland, northern Canada, and Alaska. Maybe you'll get lucky this week and sneak a peek from your very own window. Check out Aurorasaurus for regular updates on where they are showing.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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