USGS Logo Geological Survey Professional Paper 160
Geologic History of the Yosemite Valley



Extraordinary though its character may be, the Yosemite Valley is not unique. There are in the Sierra Nevada several other valleys of essentially the same type. In the upper Merced Canyon, about 2 miles above the Yosemite and at a level 2,000 feet higher, is the little Yosemite (pl 4, A), which is described elsewhere in this paper. The Hetch Hetchy Valley, at the lower end of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne (p1. 5, B), though only half as long and half as wide, bears a striking resemblance to the Yosemite, having not only the same proportions of depth to width but the same style of cliff sculpture. Muir, who loved to dwell in the Hetch Hetchy, sometimes referred to it as the "Tuolumne Yosemite."

PLATE 4.—A (top), LITTLE YOSEMITE VALLEY. Through this broad antechamber the Merced River approaches the main valley. At the right are the Cascade Cliffs, streaked by innumerable temporary cascades. At the left is Sugar Loaf.

B (bottom), TEHIPITE VALLEY, THE YOSEMITE ON THE MIDDLE FORK OF THE KINGS RIVER. The shortest of all the yosemites in the Sierra Nevada, yet one of the most impressive. At the left is Tehipite Dome. Photograph by J. B. Lippincott.

In the canyon of the Middle Fork of the Kings River, about 50 miles southeast of the Yosemite, is the famed Tehipite (te-hip'ity) Valley, which though only 1-1/2 miles long and three-quarters of a mile wide, rivals the Yosemite in scenic grandeur. (See pl. 4, B.) The Tehipite Dome is, in fact, as strikingly modeled as any of the major rock forms in the Yosemite region. About 10 miles southeast of the Tehipite is the great yosemite of the South Fork of the Kings River, popularly known as the Kings River Canyon. (See pl. 5, A.) It is 9 miles long—2 miles longer than the Yosemite—but is proportionately narrower. Nor are its walls so high, so sheer, so impressively modeled as those of the Yosemite Valley. The Kings River Canyon, however, is surrounded by titanic peaks that rise 5,000, 6,000, and even 8,000 feet above its floor.

PLATE 5.—A (top, left), KINGS RIVER CANYON, THE YOSEMITE ON THE SOUTH FORK OF THE KINGS RIVER. The longest chasm of the yosemite type in the Sierra Nevada. It is, however, less wide, less deep, and less beautifully sculptured than the Yosemite itself. Photograph by J. N. Le Conte.

B (top, right), HETCH HETCHY VALLEY AS IT APPEARED BEFORE IT WAS TRANSFORMED INTO A RESERVOIR. Although only half as long as wide, the Hetch Hetchy bears a strong resemblance to the Yosemite, in general form as well as in cliff sculpture. At the right is Kolana Rock; at the left is a cliff resembling El Capitan.

C (bottom), EAST FRONT OF SIERRA NEVADA. Telephoto view from Owens Valley, showing a typical portion of the great escarpment only 2 miles in height. Photograph by W. C. Mendenhall.

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The occurrence of such valleys in different parts of the Sierra Nevada is highly significant and must be taken into account in any discussion of the Yosemite's mode of origin.

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Last Updated: 28-Nov-2006