Did you know there was once a Yosemite Lake in the Valley?

There were three major glacier periods in the Yosemite area and the last retreated from the Valley about 18,000 years ago. (We still have 2 glaciers – Mt. Lyell and Mt. Maclure.)

The classic “U” shape of glacial carved valleys is not readily evident in Yosemite Valley, because research has shown that the bedrock lies about 2,000 feet below today’s roads. How did that happen? During its time, the last glacier slowly covered down to the area between El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall. As it dug deep, stone and debris was deposited in front of it. A terminal morain. When it finally melted and retreated back to the east, the terminal moraine created an earthen dam. The dam stopped the waters from the melting ice and created a lake, geologists call it  “Yosemite Lake.” By 10,000 years ago the lake had filled with sediment disguising the U shape.

Scientists believe the “U” shape is still there – only it’s 2,000 feet below the surface.  Galen Clark, the first guardian of the park, was bothered by all the mosquitos in the swampy remains, so he dynamited the berm away to drain what remained in the late 1800’s. You can still slightly notice the berm as you enter Southside drive before Bridalveil Fall.

Here is an excellent rendering of Yosemite Lake might have looked like by Rory Beyer, a Junior Guide this season with Lasting Adventures, Inc., a premier Guide Service based in  Groveland.


Yosemite Lake (c) Rory Beyer

Unrelated thought worth quoting: You took my doubts, you took my fears.
You led me through this lake of tears. So close we are, but still apart, not in mine, but in your heart.” – L’Ame Immortelle


MrHalfDome™ – Rick Deutsch – www.HikeHalfDome.com

One Best Hike: Yosemite’s Half Dome

About Mr Half Dome - Rick Deutsch

Mr Half Dome. Has written the only half dome hiking guide, One Best Hike: Yosemite's Half Dome. Has hiked it 31 times to day. Lives in San Jose, CA Available for presentations. Carpe Diem Experience, LLC
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5 Responses to Did you know there was once a Yosemite Lake in the Valley?

  1. Maureen L says:

    Mount Conness still has a small glacier.

    I think it may not actually in the Park, but rather in the Hall Natural Area and/or in the Inyo National Forest east of the park.

    It’s west of Saddlebag Lake, though, so I think of it as Yosemite.

  2. Sönke says:

    There are three moraines in that area:

    El Capitan moraine, Bridalveil moraine and Bridalveil Meadow moraine. The moraine east of Bridalveil Meadow is considered being a terminal moraine.


    Ted Konigsmark – Geologic Trips: Sierra Nevada
    Allen F. Glazner and Greg M. Stock – Geology Underfoot In Yosemite NP

    Two great books that I both highly recommend.

  3. Andy says:

    So how did the glacier melt without us around? 🙂

  4. Basel says:

    John Muir correctly concluded that Yosemite Valley was formed by glacial action, much to the consternation of J. Whitney, the chief geologist in California at the time.

    BTW – isn’t the moraine along Bridelveill a lateral moraine instead of a terminal moraine?

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