Tenaya Canyon lies in an area of Yosemite National Park that tourists rarely see, maybe for more reasons than one. The dangerous and beautiful canyon has been explored by few only a few adventure hikers, presumably because of the hazardous terrain, but perhaps also because of Chief Tenaya’s curse on the land.In the 1850s, the Ahwahneechee tribe lived peacefully in Yosemite Valley. Touched by the disease brought by settlers, the tribe had already dwindled to only about 200 people when it was decided the they would be relocated from their homeland to a reservation in the new state of California.
Fearing the loss of more of his people, Chief Tenaya originally agreed to the relocation, but many members of the tribe refused to follow him to the reservation and escaped back to what is now called the Tenaya Valley. Despite their small number, the Ahwahneechees held tenaciously, refusing to surrender the beautiful land they knew as home. When the first battalion of men was unable to move the tribe after months of evasion, Captain John Boling brought a new group of soldiers to complete the relocation. The violence that ensued resulted in death on both sides. One of the young Ahwahneechee dead was Chief Tenaya’s youngest and favorite son. Devastated and angry, the Chief is said to have placed a curse on Boling, the white settlers, and the very land he was being forced to leave.
‘Kill me, sir captain! Yes kill me, as you killed my son; as you would kill my people if they were to come to you! You would kill all my race if you had the power. You have made me sorrowful, my life dark; you killed the child of my heart, why not kill the father? You may kill me sir captain, but you shall not live in peace, I will follow in your footsteps, I will not leave my home but be with the spirits among the rocks, the waterfalls, in the rivers and in the wind; wheresoever you go I will be with you. You will not see me, but you will fear the spirit of the old chief, and grow cold.”John Muir, an experienced mountaineer who explored Yosemite in the early 1900s, detailed his own experience in Tenaya Canyon, including the fall that nearly killed him when he first embarked on the trail. The few adventurous hikers who do explore the Tenaya Canyon report hearing noises at night, ranging from howls to what sounded like a keyboard riff falling into the canyon. Nearly twenty deaths have been recorded, and many other hikers have been lucky to be rescued. In 1996, two hikers died in completely separate incidents in the canyon. Bodies have been mysteriously found with no clear cause of death, prompting many to call Tenaya Canyon “The Bermuda Triangle of Yosemite”.
Maybe hikers and adventurers would be well-advised to heed the warning sign at the start of the trail:
This is not a trail.
Travel beyond this
point is dangerous
to Tioga Road.