Old Coulterville Road offers a Journey Through History
Words and photos by Matt Johanson

Dawn arrived on a clear and chilly day, revealing a gentle stream, wooded hills and a dirt road that extends beyond the horizon. From this spot beside Bower Cave in Mariposa County, Yosemite Valley is 25 rugged miles away.

Today the picturesque scene appears much as it did in 1870, when local prospectors gave up on mining gold in favor of other enterprises, like tourism. No road connected Yosemite Valley with the outside world then, and a trip from San Francisco took days and required the use of steep and rocky mule trails.

Speculators believed a toll road to the valley that accommodated horse carriages would pay better than a gold mine, and the Coulterville and Yosemite Turnpike Company won sole rights from park commissioners to build one. An engineer figured construction would cost $20,000. …