Locating Fort Monroe

November 19, 2013 

Last month I decided once again to hike the old Wawona Stage Coach Road from the Bridalveil Fall parking lot. My objective is to locate the historic relay station called Fort Monroe.

Joining me on this trip will be my hiking buddies Fred Cochran and Clem Bingham.

Since the 1880s this old established route was the western gateway into Yosemite National Park. With the completion of the Wawona Tunnel in 1933 this historic road was abandoned. For those of you who are interested in Yosemite's past history, this is the day hike for you. Not only will you enjoy the valley view from this lofty route, the historic Pohono Trail also crosses its path.

For a secondary choice one can depart from the Wawona Tunnel scenic parking lot. This route will be the trailhead of the Pohono Trail. Now back to following this historic road from the Wawona Highway until it crosses the Pohono Trail. At this point we'll make a choice, following the road or choose the trail. Both routes will intersect once again at a higher elevation.

We have three choices — hike west and drop in elevation 50 feet to a flat staging area — an ideal spot to photograph Yosemite Valley. The second choice is to follow the trail another sixth-tenths of a mile that increases in elevation to Old Inspiration Point.

The third choice is our designated route to keep following the old road a half mile to the forgotten relay station called Fort Monroe. In 1891 this station was converted to a military outpost and was the park's entrance.

Today our main objective is to locate any remains of Fort Monroe. From this second junction we continued following the road south as it increases in elevation. Following this forgotten road we learned quickly to respect its seasoned personality with trees and loose boulders lying on its cracked and weathered asphalt. But remember this roads character was formed after it was abandoned in 1933 when the Wawona Tunnel was completed. I'm not trying to confuse you, but before the tunnel was completed, an alternate trail behind Fort Monroe led to Old Inspiration Point.

Now it is safe to say that the Pohono Trail and Yosemite Stage Coach Road were at one time joined together. We continued following the road south until it turned east, at that point on the road edge was a pipe extending from the ground almost three feet. From this point we followed the road another 100 yards until the road turned to the right (south).

Directly in front of us on the left side of the road is where Fort Monroe used to be (GPS Latitude 37.71021 and Longitude 119.69517). After 1933 when the Wawona Tunnel was completed Fort Monroe was not needed and the military removed all existing structures. All that is visible today are trees, rocks and ground cover.

After criss-crossing the area I discovered their dump located some 75 off the road. Also just off the road at the bend is a cut-out which I presume was a of a building.

Now I must find the alternate trail to Inspiration Point — After walking through the area, this trail was located next to the dump following up the steep mountain. Today this forgotten trail looks more like a game trail. Decades have passed since it has been maintained, if ever.

Fort Monroe was named after stage coach driver George H. Monroe. He drove wagons for the A H Washburn Stage Coach Line in the 1880s. His reputation was flawless as being a kind and generous person.

Professionally he was known as the best wagon operator of that stage coach line. He guided many dignitaries such as Presidents Ulysses S Grant, James A. Garfield and Rutherford B. Hayes over this road into Yosemite Valley.

George H. Monroe was born in the state of Georgia and migrated with his parents to California when he was 12 years old. He was employed as a stage driver by the Washburn Stage Lines from 1868 to 1886 until his untimely death at the young age of 42.

An accident occurred as he was attempting to control a run-away stage, which he was a passenger. Like in an old western movie, he jumped from horse to horse until reaching the lead horse to bring them under control. He sustained an injury from his heroism and sad to say he passed away a few days later at his parent's ranch outside of Mariposa.

We were successful in locating Fort Monroe, but one day we have to return and locate the southern entrance to this historic road of Yosemite's past. I've received many comments from curious hikers like myself who also had interest in this historic road, to locate the southern entrance.

The one person who impressed me with his knowledge was Tom Bopp, the well-known pianist at Wawona Lodge. Tom's hobby for years was hiking the Yosemite trails. He informed me that the Old Yosemite Road started close to the Wawona Bridge before continuing up the mountain. But on its 17 mile journey to Yosemite it drops down to follow and cross Wawona Road a few times.

Could this be another Sierra mountain secret to solve in the future?

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