Tioga Road Opens Early

May 7, 2012

An Early Opening

Tioga road open May 7th this year, six week earlier than than last year when heavy snowfall (178% of normal) kept the road, which climbs as high as 9,945 feet at Tioga Pass , closed until June 18th. In contrast, the snowpack this year is 43% of normal. Park waterfalls are still running with the melt off of late spring snows.

A Brief History

The Great Sierra Wagon Road , later known as the Tioga Road , was completed September 4th, 1883. It was built by the Great Sierra Mining Company to service mines located just east of the present Yosemite boundary. Originally projected to cost $17,000, the 56-1/4 mile route was completed in just 130 days at a cost of $61,095.22, or about $1,100 per mile. By July of the following year, the company had ceased operation and the road fell into relative disuse.

Even though the road was classified as a toll route, post-mining travel was so light that maintenance was minimal and projected income didn’t justify hiring gatekeepers to collect the fees.

In 1890, the high country surrounding Yosemite Valley (including the land through which the road passed), was set aside as a federal reserve.* While its value as a mining road had diminished, Yosemite officials recognized the road’s value for their purposes and urged the federal government to maintain and/or absorb it into the Yosemite road system. In 1915, Stephen Mather, the first director of the fledgling National Park Service ended the thirty years of debate by purchasing the road outright for $15,000 and then donating it to the park service. Half the money was put up by his friends, the rest came out of his own pocket.

The picturesque highway generally follows the historic trade route Native Americans used to move between the east and west side of the Sierra. It was realigned and modernized in the 1950s, with most improvements meeting with public approval. However, the three-mile section along Tenaya Lake , which required extensive blasting of the polished granite apron of Poly Dome, caused an uproar. Ansel Adams and David Brower urged officials to reconsider the route to avoid unnecessarily damaging the resource. Much to their disappointment, the plan went forward without their recommendations.

The reconstruction cost nearly 100 times that of the original road, totaling $6,941,000 for the 46 miles from Crane Flat to Tioga Pass. But few will argue that the route offers the finest views, mile for mile, of any road in the Sierra.

* Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias were designated state parks in 1864. In 1890 the high country surrounding Yosemite Valley was set aside as a federal reserve. In 1906, management of Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove was returned to the federal government and the era of “state park within a federal park” ended, and Yosemite National Park as we know it today began.