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Yosemite National Park

In 1851, a battalion of Indian fighters wandered into Yosemite Valley and were stopped in their tracks, dumbstruck, by the view. They were the first nonnatives to see this landscape, but their descriptions of it ensured they would not be the last. One man later wrote, "None but those who have visited this most wonderful valley can even imagine . . . the awe with which I beheld it. . . . As I looked, a peculiar extitleed sensation seemed to fill my whole being, and I found my eyes in tears with emotion."

Yosemite Falls at Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Valley is today the centerpiece of California's Yosemite National Park. Sprayed by thousand-foot waterfalls and framed by monumental granite spires - including Half Dome, which is to the High Sierra what the swoosh is to Nike - it is the most famous glacially carved landscape in the world. And perhaps the most famously overrun as well; stories are legion of peak-season traffic jams bad enough to provoke road rage and campgrounds so rife with noise, litter, and teeming masses of humans as to seem more like Times Square than the Great Outdoors.

But such follies seem puny and insignificant in the presence of this landscape. Your first glance of Yosemite Valley will rock you way back on your heels, just as it did to those men 150 years ago. And millions of hikers, climbers, and skiers journey to Yosemite Valley every year to bask in that same extitleed glow. The short-form explanation behind this hold on the human imagination? Yosemite's landscape lays bare a kind of time - real geological time - that is simply much bigger than we are.

And of course there's lots more to this marquee national park than just the valley. From the peak-ringed and wildflower-studded Tuolumne Meadows to the Mariposa Grove's gargantuan sequoias, from the rushing waters of the Merced River to the huge views from Glacier Point, you'll find cause for wonder in every corner of Yosemite.

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