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How did Half Dome, the massive rock monument in Yosemite National Park, acquire its unique shape?

At the head of the valley in Yosemite National Park - as if on a pedestal - stands Half Dome. It is smoothly rounded on three sides and a sheer vertical face on the fourth. Half Dome, which stands nearly 8,800 feet (2,682 meters) above sea level, is composed of granodiorite, and is the remains of a magma chamber that cooled slowly and crystallized thousands of feet beneath the Earth's surface. The solidified magma chamber - called a pluton - was then exposed by uplift and erosion of the overlying rock. As the overlying rock eroded, the confining pressure on the pluton was removed and a type of weathering called exfoliation slowly created the more rounded appearance of the dome. At the same time, weathering along vertical joints created the steep northwest face. Later glaciation continued the process by undercutting and plucking rock from the already steep face. The processes of weathering continues to this day as shown by the many rock falls which occur within Yosemite Valley.

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