Yosemite National Park Waterfalls Viewing in Yosemite Valley, Calif.


Mariposa County, Calif.--From the tiniest butterfly to Yosemite National Park's massive Half Dome, Mariposa County lives life large. Unparalleled grandeur is the backdrop for a vacation guaranteed to surpass your expectations!


Inmariposa butterfly ghost towns, forests, and mountains that whisper the history of thousands of years, Mariposa County's famed Yosemite National Park is a worthy moniker associated with a county whose name in Spanish means "butterfly".  One of California's counties that vacationers might otherwise overlook features the striking Half Dome monolith, a natural rock formation immortalized by Ansel Adams in dramatic black & white photographs. The famous photographer who invented the zone system is remembered for his contributions to preservation and promotion of the region, including the annual Bracebridge Dinner that he helped shape. With a love of culture and an eye toward nature, he artfully captured the essence of striking mountain formations carved by glaciers, and became one of the best promoters of Yosemite, selling his photographs of the park to collectors around the globe. While the Ansel Adams Gallery inside the park sells his prints at affordable prices, his original collection has been valued at $250 million, and a single photo sold in 2006 for over $600,000!


The beloved Yosemite that Adams so fiercely fought to preserve is today focused on conservation. "With kids facing urban challenges such as weight and health problems, the real story here is that the park offers them opportunities to become involved and engaged in healthy living," said Kenny Karst, public relations director for Delaware North Corporation (DNC), the park's official concessionaire. DNC developed and implemented GreenPath, the company's proprietary and award-winning environmental stewardship program which began in the early 1990s with its Yosemite National Park operations, including luxury hotels Ahwahnee and Tenaya.


It takes a huge effort to protect Yosemite's fragile ecosystem, according to U.S. Department of Interior National Park Service's  Ranger Kari Cobb, who meets and greets some of the three million annual travelers who visit Yosemite Valley. Paved paths designed to keep tourists from trampling the pristine meadows, and a policy that prohibits removing anything from the park (including pine cones,) help minimize and mitigate damage caused by millions of cars, campers, tour buses and people.


Who wouldn't want to protect this paradise?...read more >


to protect and preserve this paradise? Mariposa's butterflies gracefully meander in meadows, part of a magical, surreal scene framed by cascading waterfalls that come to life in the spring, spilling melted snowpack into the Merced River. A fantastic place to stay along the river, Yosemite View Lodge in El Portal, sits on the western edge of the national park less than 12 miles from the heart of it all. With some special rooms and suites overlooking the Merced, travelers agree that this is one of Yosemite's best kept secrets. Several restaurants and a gift shop on site, spacious rooms with conveniences such as microwave ovens, stovetops, and a small refrigerator in most rooms, and several  swimming pools make this self-contained village a comfortable home base.


Downstream a bit further from the hotel and the mountain, you can suit up and climb into a guided whitewater raft excursion, enjoying the river first-hand. Considered some of the best rafting in California, class four and five rapids offer plenty of excitement and challenge, and the perfect way to cool your jets on a hot summer day.


For mellow water sports, rent a houseboat on McClure Lake, and enjoy views of the scenic Sierra foothills, taking it all in from the center of cool. Houseboats include sleeping quarters for up to 10 or 12 people, full kitchens, bathrooms with showers, high definition television, and even a slide that you can climb on and land in the lake for a refreshing swim.


Mariposa's accommodations run the spectrum from the four diamond Ahwahnee Hotel, a National Historic Landmark, to an equally inviting Tenaya Lodge offering resort amenities such as indoor and outdoor swimming pools, full gym, on site restaurants with world class cuisine, an espresso bar, and an incredible calendar of events featuring themed weekends and holiday happenings. Summer barbeques with hay rides, winter ice skating, a special Gingerbread Decorating workshop, tree lighting ceremony and sleigh rides all create a festive atmosphere that travelers return to year after year.


Unassuming places such as Coulterville, less than 90 minutes west of Yosemite Valley, offer lots of entertainment and no shortage of surprises. The ghost town is home to Hotel Jeffery, an authentic gold rush establishment built in 1851.  With no less than 17 friendly spirits sharing the space, guests roll back the clock (if you can find one) more than a century as you soak up the vibe and commune with the likes of President Theodore Roosevelt, one of the esteemed hotel guests. While he is not believed to be one of the hotel's ghosts, the playful characters that are reported offer an exciting element, and promise of a paranormal experience for those willing to open their minds to the unexplained. An authentic saloon and restaurant at the hotel serve up indisputably memorable mesquite smoked ribs or prime rib slow cooked and so tender, the meat simply melts in your mouth! Well worth a trip, rib lovers will be smacking their chops.


Like gold prospectors who came to strike it rich in Coulterville, travelers today are discovering gold nuggets throughout the county. One of the most stunning pieces of gold is on display in the town of Mariposa, home to the California State Mining and Mineral Museum.


Smithsonian Institution called California State Mining and Mineral Museum "the best state gem museum in the U.S." It lives up to its reputation. A huge, sparkling gold rock weighing 13.8 pounds is one of the highlights of the collection artfully displayed in this California State Parks showcase.  Comprised of crystallized gold that shimmers in the light, the rare Fricot Nugget is the largest remaining intact mass of crystalline gold from 19th Century California. Discovered in the American River in 1864, its size and beauty draw the imagination to the miner, William Russell Davis, who found this specimen and must have declared, "Eureka!" Sitting in a safe deposit box in Calaveras, California for over 65 years, the nugget's rightful owner, Marie Berton, agreed to donate this world class specimen to the museum in honor of her father, Jules Fricot. He was a Grass Valley resident who purchased it from the gold miner, displayed it in Paris Exposition in 1878, and kept it in the safe deposit box where it sat even after he passed away.  How different life may have been for earlier settlers, the Miwok Indians, who ignored gold in the river beds, not having any use for something they couldn't feed the family with! The museum is located at Highway 49S next to the Mariposa County Fairgrounds, Mariposa, CA 95338. Tel: (209) 742-7625. parks.ca.gov


Another fantastic museum in the town of Mariposa houses many artifacts, gold rush collections, and documents key to the formation of Mariposa County. A large wall map in a room featuring antique printing equipment such as a Gutenberg Press, provides a visual display that the "Mother of all Counties" once comprised one-fifth of the land in the State of California. Docents conduct guided tours and relive the past through activities and special celebrations at the Mariposa Museum and History Center, and nearby Mariposa County Court House.  You'll find the Mariposa Museum at  119 Jessie St., Mariposa, CA 95338. Tel: (209) 966-2924. mariposamuseum.com


The oldest working Superior Court west of the Mississippi, Mariposa County Court House, was built in 1854. While cases today range from fishing without a license to ignoring a stop sign (there are no stop lights in the county), throughout its 150+ year history the court house has meted justice for countless bar room brawls, drunken card games and fights that all too often ended in murder. During its early days when crime was common, Mariposa County had a reputation for sending its convicts to jail rather than hanging them.  The Court House is located at 5088 Bullion St., Mariposa, CA 95338. Tel: (209) 966-7081.


Whether panning for gold or soaking up the natural beauty only Mariposa County offers, you'll strike it rich.

Before you go: If you are planning a trip to Mariposa County, home to Yosemite National Park, there are many museums, cultural attractions and events throughout the year. A new guide published by Yosemite/Mariposa County Tourism Bureau provides complete coverage of the events and attractions you won't want to miss. Order the guide online at homeofyosemite.com, or call and request your guide at Mariposa County Visitors Center: (866) 425-3366. Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon-Sat during the winter months, beginning in mid-May the Center stays open every day from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. through November. Providing great information, hotel lists, road closures, weather reports and even selling books and souvenir gifts, you'll find it at 5158 Highway 140, Mariposa, CA.


What to know:

>>    It's a good idea to book before you go, especially during Summer weekends and Labor Day Weekend.
>>   In the winter, the park is normally open, though Tioga Pass often is not. You can call the Visitors Center for updates.
>>   The four seasons destination provides climate ranging from cold, snowy winters to warm, toasty summers. Guests are advised to dress in layers.
>>   The area has bears so you should never leave food in your car. If a hungry bear breaks your car windows to get at food, you can be fined for not adhering to the rules.
>>   Cell service is not available in some regions of the county, so plan accordingly.
>>   There are no gas stations in Yosemite National Park. Fill up your gas tank in your vehicle before you arrive.