The Dark and Mysterious History of Yosemite’s Tenaya Canyon

Tenaya Canyon, a challenging and unmarked section of Yosemite National Park, stretches from Tenaya Lake down to Yosemite Valley. It has earned the moniker “Yosemite’s Bermuda Triangle” due to its history of numerous accidents, injuries, and fatalities over the years.

Some individuals even attribute a curse to the canyon, suggesting it may be haunted by the spirits of the original inhabitants of Yosemite. These Native Americans were forcibly displaced during the Mariposa Indian War in the 1850s.

For intrepid hikers and climbers, the canyon presents a daunting and perilous route, featuring smooth granite slabs, steep rappels, obligatory swims, and precarious ledges. However, it also rewards them with breathtaking views of waterfalls, swimming holes, and striking rock formations.

Park officials, mindful of the canyon’s dangers, caution that “a journey into the unforgiving terrain of Tenaya Canyon… should not be taken lightly.” A prominent sign at the canyon’s entrance reads: “TRAVEL BEYOND THIS POINT IS DANGEROUS.”

One of the most notable incidents in Tenaya Canyon occurred in 1918 when John Muir, known as the “Father of the National Parks,” suffered a head injury that momentarily confused his senses. He continued his journey but never returned to the canyon.

Scott Gediman, a park ranger at Yosemite National Park, describes Tenaya Canyon as a place where “you can feel history all around you,” emphasizing its powerful aura.

Renowned climber Ron Kauk, who spent decades in Yosemite and tackled its most formidable walls, shared an intriguing experience while camping in Tenaya Canyon. He felt an enigmatic force tugging at his sleeping bag, suggesting the presence of something beyond the ordinary. Kauk speculated that the canyon might be a repository for the original spirit of the land and its people.

Tenaya Canyon’s name honors Chief Tenaya, the leader of the Ahwahneechee tribe that once inhabited Yosemite Valley before being forcefully displaced by the Mariposa Battalion. Chief Tenaya’s son perished during these conflicts, and it is said that he cursed his adversaries and his homeland before seeking refuge in Tenaya Canyon, where he met his demise at the hands of a rival tribe near Mono Lake.

Some historians and locals believe that Chief Tenaya’s curse continues to linger in Tenaya Canyon, leading to misfortune and tragedy for those who venture into it. Others view the canyon as a dangerous place that demands caution and reverence.

With a history of over 110 fatalities and numerous injuries, Tenaya Canyon is acknowledged by the Park Service as Yosemite’s version of the Bermuda Triangle.

Every year, hundreds of people go missing in national parks across the United States, and some of these disappearances remain unsolved. Yosemite National Park holds the unsettling distinction of being the national park with the third-highest number of missing persons cases per year, tallying 233.

Regardless of the mystery and danger, Tenaya Canyon continues to be one of Yosemite’s most captivating and enigmatic locales, where the splendor of nature collides with the harsh realities of history.