Imagine waking up to the thunderous roar of Nevada Fall – one of Yosemite Valley’s famous waterfalls – just outside your window before you start your day of exploring the Sierra Nevada. In 1870, you could do that by claiming a room at the Alpine House located at the base of Nevada Fall. Operated by Albert and Emily Snow, the simple Alpine House also became a favorite lunch stopover for riders and hikers in Yosemite, where Emily Snow was known equally for her good cooking and her bad jokes. With the addition of another building and expansion of the original one over the years, in 1875 the Alpine House became La Casa Nevada – “The Snow House” in Spanish.
“Well, you folks would hardly think it,” said Emily Snow, “but there is eleven feet of snow here all summer. My husband is near 6 feet tall and I’m a little over five. Ain’t that eleven?”*
Emily Snow would round out a traveler’s lunch with house-baked doughnuts, bread and elderberry pie. The Snow House was always known as a place where you could eat well and drink well in Yosemite. Though the Sierra Nevada snow melt water is particularly sweet in Yosemite’s high country, the most popular beverages involved liquor. A memorable quote from the hotel register – still housed in the collection of the Yosemite Museum today – read “Be sure to try the Snow water.”
Though the Snows survived an earthquake in the spring of 1872 that moved the original Alpine House two inches to the east and stopped the flow of Nevada Fall for almost a minute, La Casa Nevada would not last into the 20th Century. The hotel served many park visitors until the hotel was foreclosed on in 1897. The buildings fell into disrepair after they were abandoned and were eventually dismantled by the State of California in 1900. For a hundred years after La Casa Nevada shuttered its views of Nevada Fall, park visitors could find broken glass in the vicinity of the hotel’s location resulting from the consumption of “Snow Water”.
* Quote from The Yosemite Grant 1864 – 1906: A Pictorial History by Hank Johnston