Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Andrew . Andrew Wonders, “What kinds of plants are in Yosemite National Park?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Andrew !

In the middle of the 19th century, a fever dream of riches beyond measure drew countless explorers west to the mountains of central California. Although the gold rush ended up being a bust for many who sought a vast fortune, some of those explorers discovered a natural treasure that would draw permanent settlers to Yosemite Valley in the following decade.

Vast wilderness, beautiful mountains, jagged cliffs, countless waterfalls, and abundant wildlife drew Native Americans to Yosemite roughly 10,000 years ago. The first non-native tourists arrived in the mid-1850s after reports from gold seekers told of an area of breathtaking beauty that mere words were insufficient to describe.

Fortunately, some of Yosemite's earliest settlers recognized that Yosemite's natural beauty and resources needed to be preserved for future generations. In the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed a grant to protect Yosemite permanently, thus making it the nation's first land to be dedicated to recreation and setting the stage for what would become the national park system.

One of Yosemite's earliest ambassadors was Scottish-American naturalist and writer John Muir. After living in Yosemite for a few years, he helped define its proposed boundaries. He also wrote articles that helped lead to its designation as a National Park in 1890. He later co-founded the Sierra Club in 1892 to advocate for its continued preservation and protection.

Located on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in central California, Yosemite National Park sprawls across nearly 748,000 acres (about 1,200 square miles or approximately the size of Rhode Island), almost 95% of which is wilderness.

Around four million visitors come to Yosemite each year to camp, hike its miles of trails, climb its rock formations, and photograph its iconic sights. Some of the most popular destinations within Yosemite are its three groves of ancient giant sequoia trees, some of which are estimated to be over 3,000 years old.

Rock climbers are drawn to popular formations such as Half Dome and El Capitan, which is the world's tallest granite monolith. If you're a fan of waterfalls, you won't be disappointed by Yosemite Falls, the largest waterfall in North America.

Other popular sights within Yosemite include Bridalveil Falls and Mirror Lake. Many people also enjoy exploring some of Yosemite's tranquil meadows and wetlands.

If you're a fan of wildlife, there's plenty to see in Yosemite. In addition to small mammals, like raccoons and foxes, you can also see bald eagles, deer, and bears. Which of Yosemite's sights would you most like to experience?

Wonder What's Next?

Tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day takes a closer look at the exciting intersection of engineering and biology!