Best Land: Yosemite Valley
From an online ballot of 20 choices, readers picked winners in four categories, but Yosemite Valley was named the most amazing wonder of them all.
It should come as no surprise that ice carved Yosemite Valley tops any other landscape in the West. Give glaciers a few hundred thousand years to grind away at world-class monuments of granite, and amazing things can happen.
How powerful was that ice? Consider the 3,000-foot-tall face of El Capitan, the largest granite monolith on earth, polished to a high gloss as if finished with a giant belt sander. The graceful arch of Half Dome rises nearly 5,000 feet above the valley floor, daring hikers to brave the trek to the top, 14 to 16 miles round-trip, depending on the route. Throughout the valley, uncountable waterfalls—some mighty, some wispy—plunge into the void gouged by those ancient glaciers. Upper Yosemite Falls drops over 1,400 feet, creating enough spray at the bottom for dazzling rainbows—even at night, when lit by a full moon. During a wet spring, the major falls thunder with rock-rattling force and new cascades appear up and down the valley.
Today the Merced River, a clear mountain stream that remains untamed even when brimming with summertime swimmers and rafters, continues to shape the valley floor. Drive to Glacier Point, and the valley opens up before you: a lifetime view, millennia in the making.
The Vote Tally
Grand Canyon 29%
Utah's arches 18%
Hawaii's volcanoes 12%
Denali/Mount McKinley 5%