The first big snow of the season had fallen and we needed to check out the conditions. We were pleasantly surprised to find lots of fresh, virgin snow to snowshoe along the historic route that we know of as Old Glacier Point Road.
Where: Yosemite National Park
Distance: 5.59 Miles
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
Elevation Range: 6,071′ – 7,281′
Date: November 30, 2016
Maps: El Capitan Topographic Quad Map
Dog Hike? No, dogs not allowed in Yosemite National Park Wilderness
We headed though the south entrance to Yosemite National Park to Chinquapin, where Glacier Point Road starts and the restrooms are located. Glacier Point Road was closed and we parked in the parking lot at the restrooms.
Our destination was to a place that has had many names over the years. I do wonder what the Native Americans called it. In recent years it was known as Monroe Meadows, then Badger Pass and now as Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area.
As soon as we started up Old Glacier Point Road, I was thinking of the stagecoaches of long ago that traveled this old road. The original wagon road was built back in 1882 and was improved to a two lane road in 1936.
As we climbed, the snow got deeper and breaking through new snow that got as deep as 1 1/2 feet was tough. Good thing for us that Steve did most of that hard work.
We reached our destination, currently called the Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area, but this area was not always known by this name. It used to be called Monroe Meadows.
So who was Monroe Meadows named after? Monroe Meadows and Fort Monroe were named for George Frazier Monroe, a stage driver for the Yosemite Stage Line. The “fort” was a stage team relay station, and a place where stage line customers and other travelers camped.
George Frazier Monroe was born in Georgia around 1844. His father was Louis Augustus Monroe and his mother Mary was born in Ohio according to census. They were enumerated on the 1850 census living in Columbus, Muscogee County, Georgia. His father was working as a barber and some researchers speculate whether Louis was a slave, but if he was, he was a free man by 1850.
It is said that Louis arrived from Georgia in the Gold Rush and settled as a barber in Mariposa in 1854. Researchers say that he was also locally known as a civil rights advocate because he promoted the integration of local schools. Although Louis and Mary were in California by 1855, George stayed behind to complete a school year in Washington, D.C., before being brought to Mariposa around the age of 11 by his uncle in 1856. I was unable to locate Louis and Mary on the 1860 census but did find George living with Caroline Monroe who I would assume was a relative.
By 1866 young Monroe began working as a tourist guide at Henry Washburn’s lavish resort hotel, Big Tree Station, at Yosemite.
By 1872, when the hotel could be reached by stagecoach routes maintained by the Southern Pacific Railroad, Monroe became one of the stagecoach drivers. Stage drivers, like airline pilots today, commanded great prestige. The lives of passengers rested on their skills. Testimonials reveal the fame of George F. Monroe. As a rule, stagecoach drivers drove only a portion of a route, going back and forth so that they knew all of its idiosyncrasies. The twisty road from Mariposa to Yosemite Valley was Monroe’s segment. Chicago journalist Benjamin Taylor wrote in August 1877 that Monroe was “a born reinsman.” Of 50 regular drivers he had employed over 40 years, Washburn proclaimed Monroe to be “the greatest of all.” He added, “I always put him on the box when there was a distinguished party to be driven….” Among Monroe’s famous passengers were Presidents Grant, Garfield, and Hayes and actress Lillie Langtry. Former President Grant’s trip in 1879 with Monroe was legendary. At 8 a.m. on October 2, Grant, “riding shotgun,” climbed up on the box next to Monroe as the stage traveled the mountainous route. At Inspiration Point, Monroe and Grant “mutually relaxed and indulged in conversation until the Valley was reached, when Monroe handed the lines and the whip to the General, but maintained his seat and foot at the brake.” George Monroe died on November 22, 1886 at the age of 42. Ironically, he was killed as a passenger in a stage when a runaway horse tipped over the coach and Monroe was injured. Despite his injuries, he helped the driver stop the runaway team but died a few days later. A few days later, after complaining of feeling ill, he died at his parents ranch east of Mariposa. He was their only child.
May S. Corcoran wrote an interesting article for the Oakland Tribune Magazine in 1924 with some insight into George Monroe.
“A friend to all, his pride centered particularly in one equipment. Alert with the spirit of morn, gorgeous in silvered buckles and bits were the horses, gay with new paint and fresh washing the stage coach, but brighter than either the man on the box- George Monroe. Wide was the brim of his costly sombrero, white gauntlets embroidered in silk, the gloves on his shapely hands, and polished like mirrors his bootlegs.”
Of the later, (George Monroe) Commissioner Ben Trutnan, in an article published 1896 quoted the following words form Mr. Washburn: ‘after an experience of nearly forty years and having had as much as fifty regular drivers some seasons, I have never known another such as an all-round reins man as George Monroe. He was a wonder in every way. He had names for all the horses, and they all knew their names. Sometimes he spoke sharply to one or more of them, but generally he addressed them pleasantly. He seldom used a whip, except to crack it over their heads. Metaphorically, he spoke daggers, but used none. He drove over my lines for nearly twenty years and never injured a person. I always put him on the box when there was a distinguished party to be driven, and fast and showy was expected or necessary, and he never disappointed me or exceeded the limit schedule or fell behind. Once, coming down the last grade in Mariposa his brake broke short off while his teams were on a clean run, and he dashed the whole outfit into a chaparral clump . In less than two hours he had the animals extricated, the stage pulled out, and was trotting in to Mariposa. He came into Merced on time; the fourteen passengers made up a purse of $70 for him, and two English ladies abroad sent him acceptable Christmas presents annually until I informed them of his death some years later.'”
Monroe’s obituary in the Mariposa Gazette
MONROE, George F.
November 27, 1886 Mariposa Gazette Death of George F. MONROE.
The never welcome, but none the less inevitable visitor, Death, has again made his appearance in our community and with but slight warning laid his icy hand upon one whose familiar face and form will be long and well remembered. George F. MONROE, the subject of this notice, was a native of Georgia, and a son of Mr. and Mrs. L. A. MONROE. His father came to California early in the fifties, locating first in Calaveras County, and thence removing to Mariposa in 1854. His mother arrived the following year, leaving George, (then about 11 years of age) at school in Washington D.C. A year later he accompanied his uncle to California, coming direct to Mariposa. As a boy he was civil, polite, studious and industrious. As he grew to manhood he tired of the monotony of town life, and developing a natural taste for horse breaking, riding and driving team, he entered the employment of A. H. WASHBURN & CO., as a Yo Semite guide in 1866. In 1868 he commenced driving stage for the same company and was in their service up to the date of his illness which was only a few days duration. He left the Valley on the 15th inst., for Wawona, and two or three days later for the home of his parents on Pea Ridge, where he died on Monday last. He had been complaining for some time past and in coming out of the Valley the stage in which he was riding upset by a runaway. He may have received some internal injury from the shock, though he was on his feet in an instant and instinctively sprang to the heads of the leaders and assisted the driver in disentangling the horses and righting the stage. His funeral took place on Wednesday last from the Methodist Church, and his remains were followed to their earthly resting place by a large concourse of friends. George was a universal favorite among those who knew him boyhood, as well as hundreds of stranger tourist whom he has guided and conveyed to and from Yo Semite Valley. He was kind, attentive and obliging to all with whom he came in contact, and many a tourist has visited Yo Semite who came specially consigned to the care of ” George Monroe” by friends who had preceded them over the road. He has also been frequently remembered in complimentary letters and occasionally by substantial tokens of gratitude and esteem. The duties of the driver of a six horse stage on a mountain road are arduous and responsible. They require a quick eye, a skillful hand, a steady nerve and a peculiar knowledge of horses. George possessed all these qualities to a remarkable degree. His employers say of him ” he never met with any accident, never failed to be on time and never cost the company a quarter of a dollar for damages to passengers, horses or vehicles. Whenever George was on the box and held the lines, we knew everything was all right. He always did his duty.” Can any man do any more? To his parents he was a dutiful son, as a child, and in manhood a comfort, solace and support to their declining years. The grief stricken couple have the sympathy of their entire circle of friends and acquaintances.
The Ski resort deck was a great spot for us to eat our lunch and relax.
We watched the folks getting the ski resort for its opening in December. Some good snow had accumulated and it was well groomed.
It was time to head back, so we got our gear back on and headed back down the same way we had come in.
It was much easier heading down the trail through our tracks. It took us about 3 1/2 hours to climb the 1,200 foot gain through 1 1/2 to 2 feet of snow on the way in and only 1 hour 40 minutes to head downhill on our nice track that we had created on the way up.
We had a great adventure, walking in the area where stagecoaches drove many years ago. It was a challenging workout to break trail in that wonderful snow while heading uphill but everyone was saying how much they enjoyed getting back on snowshoes and seeing the snowpack. The Doarama (under Maps and Profile) will give you a good feel for the difficulty and terrain that we were on. I think I would normally rate this snowshoe as moderate but since we had to break trail the entire way, I bumped it up to strenuous. We are all hoping that the snowpack will continue to build.
Map and Profile:
Doarama Link: Doarama Link
Prior Blogs in the Area:
Mariposa Gazette, November 27, 1886