The Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Valley: A Great American's Dream

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The story of the celebrated Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Valley is particularly noteworthy because of its status in US National Park history, but also because its very existence is a tribute to one man who had an ambitious dream for America. He wanted to build a National Park System that would be the envy of the world, and the Ahwahnee Hotel helped him do it – here is how.

The first director of the US National Park Service

A wealthy Stephen T. Mather agreed to lead the Park Service in 1915, at a time when there were just 16 national parks and the public was indifferent to the concept. Today there are 58 magnificent parks, and through the years, much of the success of the National Park program was due to the careful planning and inspiration of Mr. Mather.

All are welcome

Mather envisioned the national parks to be places of beauty and relaxation and accessible to all. In Yosemite, he directed the creation of three distinct levels of comfort to cater to the full spectrum of national park visitors.

The highest level of accommodation would be a first-class hotel that provided all the amenities necessary to attract and satisfy the wealthy and influential. A second level of accommodation would provide year round tents with a central area for services such as a restaurant and toilet facilities. He also set aside space for frugal visitors who preferred to camp with their own tents and camping equipment. Today, the national park system pretty much follows Mather's plan.

How Mather grew the park system

Mather thought that if he built a truly great hotel in his favorite national park in Yosemite Valley it would be of interest to rich and powerful people. They would come to enjoy the many amenities, and in return provide support for his plan to grow the National Park System and the public trust wilderness in the United States.

Concurrent with Stephen Mather's appointment, the automobile was revolutionizing tourism and travel all across the nation. By 1926, an all-weather highway opened Yosemite Valley to year round access. Because of both, Mather's plan succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

History of the Ahwahnee site

Millions of years of glacier grinding smoothed the lofty granite walls of Yosemite Valley into the breathtaking majestic monuments we know today.

Thirty thousand years ago, there was a great lake on the location of the Ahwahnee Hotel. The water left a fertile plain that was subsequently inhabited by Native Americans.

The Miwoks lived in Yosemite for thousands of years before it was discovered by the white man in the mid-19th century.

Reminders of the first people

The Ahwahneechee tribe lived on the land where the Ahwahnee Hotel stands today. Their diet included a staple porridge made from acorns. Hotel visitors can explore the large granite formations and the pockets made in the rock by the Indian workers who ground the acorns into meal.The rock formations are easy to find and are located immediately adjacent to …