Happy 150th, Yosemite! Breathtaking Photos of a National Treasure

Ralph Crane—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Ralph Crane—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Caption from LIFE. "Yosemite Valley, a crown jewel of scenic treasure, has been preserved largely because of a pioneer's love half a century ago. Naturalist John Muir fought for a Yosemite National Park so things like the great granite shoulder of El Capitan (left) and Bridalveil Falls could be held in public trust for more than a million annual visitors."
Culture
'60s

On June 30, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant Act, establishing Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove as America’s “first protected wild land for all time,” while also creating the very first California state park. The Yosemite National Park that we know and love today was not established until October 1890 — but it’s still remarkable to consider that, in the midst of a civil war that threatened to destroy the nation, Congress and Lincoln had the foresight, and the guts, to protect natural treasures, in perpetuity.

Here, on the sesquicentennial of that visionary Grant Act — that is, on Yosemite’s 150th birthday — LIFE.com presents a series of photos made in the park in 1962 by LIFE’s Ralph Crane. Looking at these pictures, one would be hard-pressed to disagree with the famous assertion that, collectively, the national parks comprise “America’s best idea.”
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LIFE magazine, Yosemite, October 1962

Ralph Crane—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Cascade of fire lights Yosemite at dusk.

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