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An unexpected (and somewhat hidden) treasure in Yosemite is a rare geologic formation – a granite arch – found underwater in a river in the Tuolumne Meadows area of Yosemite.
It is much less known – and far less visited – than Indian Rock arch, just off the trail to North Dome, which has often been (incorrectly) cited as Yosemite’s only granite arch.
Unlike Indian Rock arch with its rough surfaces and slender structure, this underwater arch is fairly robust and smooth due to thousands of years of water shaping it.
The water here is roughly eight to 10 feet in depth, but significantly deeper during Yosemite’s annual snow melt and rainy seasons. Some visitors swim in the sometimes calm, greenish pool in late summer and early fall when the weather is hot and the water flow is at a minimum.
Most, however, may walk right by it without even noticing it. The arch is difficult to see from the surface. The largest clearance between the bottom of the arch and the bed of river rock below is only about two feet.
Even in the hot summer, this water is painfully cold to enter, as it flows from Yosemite’s high alpine snow fields. In early spring and summer, the river’s current becomes dangerously turbulent and swift. The polished granite of the arch and most of the rocks near the river’s edge can be very slippery, even when completely dry. Use abundant caution if exploring.
At the request of park staff, we are not providing accurate coordinates on Virtual Yosemite’s interactive map for this location. Yosemite’s rangers have indicated that this is a difficult area for them to patrol, and a large influx of visitors could place significant demands on their limited resources. They’re not keeping the location a secret, they’re just trying to avoid ecological damage to the area and safety issues that could result from sudden online popularity.
If you’re willing to explore a bit, and ask a few questions of the Park Service staff in the Tuolumne Meadows area, you can probably find it on your own. Again, be cautious on the slippery rocks around the cold and often swift-moving water.
©2020 Photography by Scott Highton
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