The Dark and Mysterious History of Yosemite’s Tenaya Canyon

Tenaya Canyon is a trail-less and treacherous part of Yosemite National Park that runs from Tenaya Lake down to Yosemite Valley. It is known as the “Bermuda Triangle of Yosemite” because of the many accidents, injuries and deaths that have occurred there over the years.

Some people even believe that the canyon is cursed by the spirits of the original inhabitants of Yosemite, who were violently displaced by the Mariposa Indian War in the 1850s.

The canyon is a challenging and risky route for adventurous hikers and climbers, who have to navigate smooth granite slabs, steep rappels, mandatory swims and precarious ledges. The canyon also offers stunning views of waterfalls, swimming holes and rock formations.

However, the park officials warn that “a trip into the unforgiving terrain of Tenaya Canyon…should not be taken lightly.” There is a sign at the entrance of the canyon that reads: “TRAVEL BEYOND THIS POINT IS DANGEROUS.”

One of the most famous incidents in Tenaya Canyon happened in 1918, when John Muir, the “Father of the National Parks,” fell and was knocked unconscious while exploring the canyon.

He later wrote: “I was suddenly brought to a standstill by a blow on the head that confused my senses for a moment or two without wholly stunning me.” He managed to recover and continue his journey, but he never returned to the canyon.

Yosemite National Park
Mariposa County, CA

“Tenaya Canyon is one of those places where you can feel history all around you,” said Scott Gediman, a park ranger at Yosemite National Park. “It’s a very powerful place.”

Another notable explorer of Tenaya Canyon was Ron Kauk, a legendary climber who lived in Yosemite for decades and scaled some of its most challenging walls.

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He camped on the side of a rock face in Tenaya Canyon and felt a mysterious force pulling on his sleeping bag.

He told SFGATE: “It was like something that came around in a teasing kind of way or something. It wasn’t anything too dramatic, no lights flashing around or flying by you. Just to acknowledge that there was something else there.”

He speculated that the canyon might be “the holding place for the original spirit of the place and the people (of Yosemite).”

Tenaya Canyon is named after Chief Tenaya, the leader of the Ahwahneechee tribe that lived in Yosemite Valley before they were driven out by the Mariposa Battalion, a group of armed volunteers sent by California’s governor to subdue the Native Americans in the area.

The battalion captured Chief Tenaya and his people and forced them to relocate to a reservation near Fresno. However, some of them escaped and returned to Yosemite Valley, where they were attacked again by the battalion.

Chief Tenaya’s son was killed in the battle, and he reportedly cursed his enemies and his homeland before fleeing into Tenaya Canyon. He was later killed by a rival tribe near Mono Lake.

Some historians and locals believe that Chief Tenaya’s curse still lingers in Tenaya Canyon, causing misfortune and tragedy for those who enter it. Others think that the canyon is simply a dangerous place that requires caution and respect.

Tenaya Canyon has had more than 110 people killed there and many more injured. It is known to the Park Service as the Bermuda Triangle of Yosemite.

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Hundreds of people go missing at national parks across the United States every year. Some of these disappearances are never solved. Yosemite National Park holds the notorious position as the national park with the third most missing persons per year (233).

Either way, Tenaya Canyon remains one of Yosemite’s most fascinating and mysterious places, where nature’s beauty and history’s brutality collide.

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