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The Legend Of The Face On Half Dome

Growing up in Yosemite Valley, I was surrounded every day by incredible natural wonders like Yosemite Falls and El Capitan. These prominent and overpowering features of Yosemite simply cannot be missed, even by the casual visitor who is just passing through.

Every rock formation that we see today exists because of its unique granite structure. As glaciers ground their way through the area, these particular “super-hard” rocks were better able to stand up than those around them that were softer and would eventually be pulverized.

Water remains the life-blood of Yosemite, and every feature of “the valley” exists because of the action of ice and flowing liquid water.

Half Dome is another example of granite that has withstood the formative action of the ancient glaciers. It is such a prominent and unusual feature of the valley, that over the years it has become the accepted icon of Yosemite.

But there are still things about Half Dome that you have likely never noticed!

The Yosemite Indians told legends that not only explained things as they saw them, but told a story with a moral…a lesson. The legend of Tis-sa-ack is a perfect example of this, and remains one of my favorites.

The Legend Of Tis-sa-ack:

There is a reason for everything and a story explaining all that you see…

The old Indian woman and her husband finally arrived at the Valley they knew as Ahwahnee.
As was the tradition in those days long-long ago, the woman carried a beautiful… but heavy, cone shaped basket that was woven from reeds and the course grasses.
Her husband walked alongside her unburdened except for his walking stick.

The sun was high and hot and as the old couple continued on their journey they grew more and more thirsty.

Tis-sa-ack arrived at the beautiful mountain lake first, and she drank deeply of it. She drank so deeply that when her husband arrived the lake was dry!

Because the lake was dry there came a drought and the once beautiful green valley dried up.

The man was enraged by this and he raised his walking stick to strike at his wife. She cried as she ran from him and her tears stained her face.

She turned and threw her basket at her husband….and as they faced one another The Great Spirit transformed them both to great stone structures because of their wickedness.

She and her husband now remain separated forever…The white man knows them as Half dome and Washington Column.

To this day, her tears stain her face and her discarded basket lies nearby.

Washington-Column-for-TissaIndian Womans Face on Half Dome

For more first-hand stories about growing up in Yosemite, visit Dave Hubbard’s website www.undiscovered-yosemite.com and like them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ouryosemitefamily.

You can also follow his blog on SierraNewsOnline by clicking here.


  1. Well, this is kinda close. It’s a verbal legend, so who know the actual sotry??

    Who said they were old? She drank up Mirror Lake. She was turned into Half Dome with her face on the side looking right and tears fowing down. He was turned into North Dome across the valley and the basket is “Basket Dome.”

    Rick D


  2. Don’t forget Tutokanula (El Capitan)

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