O traveled monkey! Tourism, Landscape, and Contrived Nature in Yosemite National Park, 1890-1950

Rebecca Wrenn
UC Riverside

This project explores a key contradiction in the National Park Service’s mandate to preserve natural environments while providing sites for public recreation in the context of one of California’s most beloved landscapes. Americans have long debated whether parks should be sites of passive sightseeing or playgrounds celebrating the many physical uses of the great outdoors. The popularity of distinctly unnatural, staged presentations of wilderness and landscape further complicate the issue. For instance, Yosemite officials and concessionaires sponsored bear feedings, Firefalls, and other events that presented visitors with a highly contrived version of nature. These activities, along with numerous recreational opportunities, illustrate a significant shift from nineteenth-century conceptions of national parks as divine and uniquely American wonderlands. Therefore, Yosemite provides an ideal lens for examining changing conceptions of recreation, tourism, and the American West.