In the mid-1800s the fervor for the American West reached a pinnacle when artists, then photographers, captured images they shared “back east.” To facilitate tourism, early entrepreneurs built trails into the forests to allow city-folk to hike and explore. Before the Government brought organization to the parks, trail builders crafted steps and switchbacks to make the goings easier.
At Yosemite in Northern California, arguably the #1 US park, names such as John Conway, Albert Snow, Stephen Cunningham and George Anderson stand out as some of the best route pickers around. But they had a lot of help. To craft the steep retaining walls, they recruited the talents of the experts – Italian stone masons. These craftsmen had a lot of experience in their native country and made many of the steep trails possible.
Look at this section of retaining wall at Yosemite. Check out the fine stonework. Most of the granite retaining walls at the park were put up by immigrant Italian stone cutters. They were the best. Similar to the Pyramids of ancient Egypt, it is hard to stick a razor blade between the stones. A tip of the hat to our Italian friends! One of the best exposed sections of wall is along the Happy Isles trail up to Vernal Fall shown in the photo.
As you visit our National Parks, slow down a find areas of this stonework. I continue to be amazed at what they did – mostly by hand.