Wawona Road Completion – Yosemite National Park CA


New Deal agencies played a major role in the transformation of the narrow and dangerous Wawona wagon trail into a safe and comfortable route into Yosemite Valley. The route from the South Entrance to the Valley floor is 27 miles.  It is one of three access roads to Yosemite Valley, along with the El Portal road and Big Oak Flat Road.

The National Park Service and the Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) signed a Memorandum of Agreement in July 1925, authorizing the planning and construction of new roads within Yosemite National Park. Surveying was begun in 1928 and initial construction was finished by 1933, when the New Deal arrived to complete the job of rebuilding all the major park roads.

The long tunnel in the Merced River canyon was completed before 1933, but most of the rest of the road south was finished after that. While the BPR oversaw construction by private contractors, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was called upon to provide  landscaping and other roadside work to assure the scenic character of the road.

The Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) report on the Wawona road describes the careful attenti0n given to the appearance of the new highway: “Construction had necessitated many roadside cuts and much grading work which had adversely impacted the landscape. To offset the damage, Park Superintendent Thomson issued instructions for a replanting program; this project was carried out under the direction of Dr. F. E. Clements, ecologist for the Carnegie Institution. Seeds were collected by Emergency Conservation Work personnel [CCC -ed], and the planting work was done by the Civilian Conservation Corps.”

Even more surprising was the effort to hide signs of blasting on the scenic granite cliffs of the Merced River canyon and elsewhere along the Wawona Road :  “Park planners were so concerned about the new road’s appearance that they ordered CCC workers to paint the rock cuts and ledges around the Wawona Tunnel in an effort to conceal the newly exposed rock surfaces. The cuts, as well as the tunnel’s concrete west portal, were sprayed with a mixture of lamp black, mineral spirits and linseed oil. […]

Throughout, the CCC smoothed over road cuts to make them appear naturally sloped (Broesamle 2022).






Source notes

Wawona Road, Historic American Engineering Record No. CA-148, National Park Service, U.S. Department Of The Interior https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Wawona_Road_(HAER_No._CA-148)_written_historical_and_descriptive_data), accessed February 27, 2018.

John Broesamle book ms on the New Deal in Yosemite, 2022

Project originally submitted by Andrew Laverdiere on February 11, 2022.
Additional contributions by John Broesamle.

We welcome contributions of additional information on any New Deal project site.


Location Info

Wawona Road
Yosemite National Park, CA 94389

Location notes: Pin drop midpoint of Wawona Road

Coordinates: 37.618442, -119.68636

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