Treking along forgotten Wawona Stage Coach Road

Mountain Secrets

editorial@sierrastarDecember 3, 2013 

It was during the fall of 2012 I first experienced the old Wawona Stage Coach Road above the Wawona Tunnel, in Yosemite National Park. The short three hour hike to Inspiration Point was enough to tease me into researching this old forgotten road.

As I turned the pages researching each historic book, the achievements of our early pioneers materialized. Considering how little I know about the road, over time I was becoming hooked on this historic road carved into the mountains west of Yosemite Valley.

For additional information I even approached a few individuals whose families as well as themselves, witnessed the early years of this colorful time in Yosemite's history. My thanks to Barbara Spillane, Anita Fullmer, Ralph and Betty Bissett for sharing their personal and family history with regards to this area.

It took over four separate excursions to complete this historic journey into the past. Each segment reveled the remarkable achievements of these pioneers using picks, shovels, black powder and sweat to achieve their goals. Their only monetary reward was a wage of $40s a month, food, and lodging.

The road officially starts at the covered bridge in Wawona. Then it turns west to follow the new and present Wawona Road until reaching a large flat area east of the Merced River, or just before arriving at the Wawona Campground. At this point the historic road starts its journey east, upward into the mountains.

As I hiked this lofty road the incredible skills displayed by those workers surrounded me. History states that five skilled and experienced Italian rock wall masons created the wedge shaped stones that supported the hand laid rock retaining walls and bridges. You can see evidence of black powder blasting carved into this untouched mountain creating the rock shelf's needed for the road's flat surface.

Surprising the number of deer scattered throughout this area. If it wasn't for the noise from their trekking through the thick undergrowth, I would have missed their graceful maneuvering across the mountain. After a few miles the road intersects with the present Wawona Road at Mosquito Creek which joins the area around the old Alder Creek Station.

Now the old road crosses the new Wawona Road four times before arriving at the Eight Mile Station at Bishop Creek. At this point we followed the new road until the old road separated and departed to the west. A sign stated that this section of the Old Wawona Stage Coach Road has become a fire brake for the Yosemite West subdivision.

Now the road drops in elevation until crossing Strawberry Creek and the Eleven Mile Creek. The Eleven Mile Station is located next to this water source identified by a large flat area. The structures at the Eight and Eleven Mile Stations have been removed and all that remains today is a few rusted artifacts.

As the road continues north it intersects with the Yosemite West Road. Now we hiked east back to the new Wawona Road as it follows to the Chinquapin Flat Station. Its location is next to Indian Creek close to the point it flows under the Wawona Road. This station building has also been removed, but at this point our 1880 map reviled that the old and new Wawona Road overlap each other passing Glacier Point Road. Then it continues another four miles until arriving at Grouse Creek and the location of the Grouse Creek Station. Its structure also had been removed decades ago.

At this point we depart to the east from the new road and continued on the stage coach road as it rises in elevation through the area burnt from a lighting strike during the 1990s.

Even though this area of this historic road was paved with asphalt, over the years the thick mountain brush had overtaken its surface and now became difficult to forge through. This thick undergrowth was caused by natural springs flowing across the road surface. Eighty years of growth was not the resistance we expected while forging and climbing following this old mountain road. Hidden from view was this six foot natural rectangular shaped watering hole almost 20 inches deep. Surrounding this hidden spring was the foot prints of the local residents.

As this historic road climbed higher in elevation, to the west Big Meadow came into view. Today at a lower elevation the new Wawona Road skirts around its northern boundary. At almost 5,700 feet in elevation the road started its descent into Yosemite Valley. Looking to the west through the trees, directly below was Turtleback Dome. I was surprised that this old road was close to this landmark.

At the elevation around 5,600 feet we arrived at Fort Monroe. These structures were removed when the Wawona Tunnel was completed in July of 1933.

We continued following the road as it dropped in elevation to the new Inspiration Point. Now for the final leg down into Yosemite Valley and to the new Wawona Road just south of Bridalveil Fall parking lot.

Fred Cochran, Clem Bingham and I spent four days of trial and error and finally completed another one of the forgotten trails or roadways from Yosemite's colorful history.

Footnote: I would like to acknowledge the dreams of Dr. John Taylor McLean who had the foresight to construct this Wilderness Road. He was the builder who first made it possible to travel all the way to Yosemite Valley in a wheeled vehicle. Why is there no plaque, no name tribute to him anywhere within the National Park today?

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