Mirror Lake - Chris Jorgensen

Artist Chris Jorgensen came to California as a young boy from Norway and trained at the San Francisco School of Design. In the summer of 1901 Jorgensen built a studio in Yosemite Valley along the Merced River that he continued to use until 1919. A large collection of Jorgenson's work was donated to the National Park Service on the death of the artist's wife in 1935. His studio became the first home of the Yosemite Museum in 1920 a year after it was acquired by the park service and today is part of the Yosemite Pioneer History Center.

To Start You Thinking

1) The reason for the name of the lake in Jorgenson's painting is obvious. Describe the surface of Mt. Watkins, the mountain that you see reflected in the lake. These features are the result of the granite rock itself and centuries of glacial erosion.

2) The California Yosemite Commission allowed several artists' studios like Jorgenson's to be built in the valley. Why do you suppose the Commission was eager to have these studios in the valley?

3) Yosemite is evolving geologically as this passage from a Park Service pamphlet suggests:

"Yosemite Valley is characterized by sheer walls and a flat floor. Its evolution began when alpine glaciers lumbered through the canyon of the Merced River. The ice carved through weaker sections of granite plucking and scouring rock but leaving harder, more solid portions—such as El Capitan and Cathedral Rocks—intact and greatly enlarging the canyon that the Merced River had carved through successive uplifts of the Sierra. Finally the glacier began to melt and the terminal moraine left by the last glacial advance into the valley dammed the melting water to form ancient Lake Yosemite, which sat in the newly carved U-shaped valley. Sediment eventually filled in the lake, forming the flat valley floor you see today. This same process is now filling Mirror Lake at the base of Half Dome." 1

Search the Internet for contemporary photographs of Yosemite's Mirror Lake and describe the differences you see.


image from Chris Jorgensen, "Mirror Lake," courtesy of Yosemite Museum, National Park Service, YOSE 7932

.1National Park Service, "Geology Field Notes: Yosemite National Park, California" (National Park Service, Geologic Resources Division, 1998)

Last modified in June, 2019 by Rick Thomas