YOSEMITE SUMMER: Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

This is the final blog post about my recent month long visit to California and experiences in Yosemite National Park, where I served as a park volunteer.

Sunday, July 12

I woke up at 6:30 and removed all the “furnishings” from my tent before sweeping the tent floor. Just as he “helped” me put up the tent, Woodlee was on the scene to help me take it down. Fortunately, he did not have to do all the work this time around. Cassie left me her whisk broom and paper towels to make sure she receives a clean and dry tent. This gal plans ahead. I spent several hours getting the tent in order. It’s going to a good home.

Breakfast was simple if not heart healthy – half of a ham sandwich, chips, pears, and cookies. After breakfast and tent duties, I made a call home and then headed to the meadow for a short walk.

Tuolumne Meadows

Tuolumne Meadows

Cassie returned around 2:00 and we completed the lodging transaction. We exchanged fond farewells before she headed out for her two-day drive to Missoula, Montana. She promised to stay in touch with all the volunteers. She is a delight and a fond memory. While I will miss Cassie, I could only be happy for her. She absolutely glowed about seeing her boyfriend again. He is one lucky young man.

With completion of the transaction, I headed to Tuolumne Lodge to celebrate with an “It’s It” ice cream bar, a treat I came to relish several years ago but is not sold by the general store.

Sunday evening meant live entertainment at the Mobil. Woodlee was elsewhere, so it meant just Jim and the ladies – Dee, Cyndi, and Susan. Adrienne was not up to the trip. As the ladies ate healthy and I did not (fish tacos and black beans), we made small talk, all of us overwhelmed with the realization that our close-knit group of volunteers was in the process of dismantling. Adrienne would leave Monday afternoon, after her service at Olmsted Point. Susan would leave the following evening after attending a program in the Valley.

Mono Lake

Mono Lake

But rather than despair over our fast approaching diaspora, I suggested that we drive north on 395 to walk a boardwalk trail at Mono Lake. It proved to be just the right tonic. The high desert air turned cooler but not cold as we took in the scent of flora and fauna so very different from that of the park. The lake is another world, adorned with tufa towers, surrounded by craters and mountains – the Mono Craters to the south, the Sierra Nevada to the west, and the White Mountains to the east. As their ancestors have done for millennia, the sea gulls feast on the insects and feed their hatchlings. Mild breezes reward the few people who enter this magical world. And we felt rewarded that we could share one more time together, having looked out for one another the past five weeks and having learned that all of us had gained more from our experience than we ever could have given in return.

Monday, July 13

Off to Parsons Lodge one last time. I awoke from a less-than-comfortable night sleeping in the car. I had a two-person backpacking tent, but did not want to go through the trouble of pitching it. My body wished that I had made the effort.

Before heading to Parsons, I groggily exchanged morning greetings. With fresh memories of car sleeping, I told my friends I probably will try to get a room in Reno Tuesday night after my final volunteer duties at the Visitors Center. Cyndi reminded me that her father is coming to the park this afternoon and will be staying several nights. Dee and Susan asked if I would like to join them tonight for what I understood to be the 7:00 “Stars” program in the valley. When they said they planned to dine at the Ahwahnee Bar, I could not refuse.

Parsons got more foot traffic than usual. I answered any and all questions and enjoyed the delightfully sunny day, with temperatures only reaching the mid-60’s. I closed promptly at 4:00, so as not to delay Susan and Dee. As I began to leave, I was approached by a white-haired, white-bearded hiker, probably in his late 70’s, who clearly had taken on too strenuous a hike. He asked me to reach in the back of his pack for his empty water bottle and fill it with water for him. As I did so, he winced in great pain as he took the trail toward the closest shuttle stop. When I caught up with him, he thanked me for the water. I noticed he wore a brown apron and his fingernails were painted various colors. He called me his trail angel as he ambled to his destination and I hurried to catch my ride to the Valley.

Susan was waiting on Tioga Road, her car filled to the brim, with room for only one passenger. After she was certain Dee had spotted her, we headed to the Valley. Once there, I wondered why the “stars” program began at 7:00. The sun would not set until 8:30. But I said nothing, as we shared one last meal at the Ahwahnee Bar.

We then headed to the auditorium for the program. We ran a little late but had not missed much of the SAR (Search and Rescue) program. I’ve got to get these hearing aids checked! The subject matter held my attention far longer than any astronomy program would.

Around 9:00, Dee and I said our farewells to Susan. The troops are thinning fast as we lose the kindest of a very kind-hearted group. With my poor sleep from the night before, I’m glad Dee is making the 90-minute drive back to camp. I’m convinced I can sleep more comfortably in the car than I did on Sunday.

Tuesday, July 14

Last volunteer day, this time at the Visitors Center. I check for Reno room rates. Not happy with the quoted prices, I decide I can handle the car one more night, despite overwhelming fatigue from lack of sleep.

The volunteer stint pretty much mirrored my prior experience – most people with too little time set aside to fully appreciate a 1200 square mile park. But I kept on smiling, reminding myself that I had been in their shoes 28 years ago. The afternoon got busier than usual and I found myself answering inquiries well after 4:00. But I got back to the camp by 4:45, and the last volunteers standing – Woodlee, Cyndi (with her dad, Hugh), and Dee agreed we deserved one more night at the Mobil. I would spend one more night in the car.

Off to the Mobil again, this time with a deck of cards to play a game of Hearts. Cyndi got a win under her belt and we headed back up always-challenging Tioga Road (3300 feet of elevation gain over a 12-mile stretch, ever watchful for fallen rocks).

On the way back, Woodlee reminded me that he had offered me a tent for the evening. I pooh-poohed the offer until the entire group shamed me into admitting that I needed a better night’s sleep. Upon our return, he brought his “one-minute” tent to my campsite, along with a mattress pad. Cyndi brought over another mattress pad. That allowed me to roll out my sleeping bag its full length, affording me the opportunity for a good night’s sleep before driving to Reno the next morning. Sometimes you’ve got to admit when you’re wrong.

Wednesday, July 15

What a perfect way to end my summer stay, six deer grazing within 15 yards of my tent. Bleary eyed, I managed to take a photo of several of them before walking the longest 90 yards to the restroom.

 Deer in the campground

Deer in the campground

This really was the final day. I had to vamoose by noon. I returned the mattress pads to Woodlee and Cyndi and gave my sleeping bag to Woodlee – I had no room to carry it and he said he could make use of it. Various miscellaneous items I left for Cyndi. I had a quick breakfast and said my final farewells. Five weeks that early on seemed too long now had passed all too quickly. It’s time to sum up in a few brief words my fellow volunteers:

Adrienne – the most courageous, who overcame medical issues that would have kept the rest of us home. Intelligent and witty; I wish her a speedy recovery.

Cassie – the youngest, who not only tolerated but generously socialized with a much older crew. Cool and calm, she has extensive knowledge of the park for someone of her tender age. “Chatty Cassie” because she spent hours on the phone with her beau almost every evening.

Cyndi – Aquawoman, good hearted and probably the most athletic of the group – she regularly swam Tenaya Lake even after hikes that tired out the rest of us.

Dee – always prepared for anything (and I do mean ANYTHING), she also regularly hosted the whole crew. The Queen of Hearts, she was the best Hearts player of the bunch.

Susan – Tinker Bell of the Mountains, she hikes the park like it’s her own backyard. She exhibits an inner peace that reflects only kindness to friend and stranger alike.

Woodlee – Tent Master (he can solve almost any camping equipment problem) and the most networked of us all. He seems to know someone no matter where he goes.

Jim – Pathfinder (a self-deprecating title I applied to myself many years ago as I all-too-often have found myself headed off-trail) I am grateful that I had the opportunity to share a wonderful five weeks with such talented and kind-hearted people. Mid-way through my service, I swore I would not do this again due to the length of the commitment. Time will tell whether I honor my oath. During the last week, time slipped away like sand through my fingertips. The joys far outweighed the inconveniences.

And saving for one of my favorite photos for last...Half Dome.

And saving one of my favorite photos for last…Half Dome.

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YOSEMITE SUMMER: The Weather Takes a Turn for the Better

This and one remaining blog post are about my recent month long visit to California and experiences in Yosemite National Park, where I served as a park volunteer.

Friday, July 10

No snow in Tuolumne Meadows. Snow to the east and west, but not here. The day felt like late autumn, with storm clouds threatening again.

Snow on the ridge, Gaylor Lakes trail

Snow on the ridge, Gaylor Lakes trail

I had nothing on the agenda and accepted Susan’s invitation to join the Conservancy’s wildflower tour of the meadows. The group gathered at the Visitors Center. Median age? I would guess 80 (and I’m 63). I wasn’t sure what to expect but I soon learned that this was a three-day affair. I planned to dip my toes in the water and see how long I would last. Our guide, Michael, explained that he would not give the name of a flower until we fully understood how the flower worked – pollinating, stamens, petals, etc. He wanted us to concentrate on how each flower functioned rather than agonizing over the proper name. Michael handed some of us magnifying glasses so we could gain an in-depth appreciation of each tiny alpine flower.

While I was amazed at the first few flowers we examined, I knew my participation would not last beyond lunch. This tour may not have been my cup of tea, but it certainly tripped the other seniors’ triggers. Before I knew it, a dozen people dropped to their knees and hovered over their quarry. Anyone looking from a distance would have sworn someone had lost a contact. Again, their cup of tea, not mine. When Michael told us to head up a hill for lunch, I made my excuses to Susan and headed back to camp. Time to do laundry.

That evening, the volunteers gathered at Tuolumne Lodge for our celebratory dinner on the Yosemite Conservancy’s tab. Suzy and Taryn, our very pleasant volunteer coordinators, served as our gracious hostesses. A good time was had by all, despite the mediocre food. I learned my lesson from Wednesday and ordered a hamburger with mixed vegetables, far superior to the pitiful “beef” stew (little beef and lots of potatoes) I ordered on that occasion.

Eastern shore of Tenaya Lake

Eastern shore of Tenaya Lake

Then it was off to Adrienne’s “Taj Mahal” (her well-appointed RV) for cards. Susan quit while she was ahead to prepare for Day 2 of the Wildflower Tour. As has been the case with all-too-many of our games, Dee won the balance of the contest.

Saturday, July 11

I awoke at 5:30 and decided to check out Tioga Road as far as the Tioga Pass entrance station. Patches of snow lined the road only two miles east of our campsite. I had plans to hike to Gaylor Lakes again, mainly because I had failed to take my iPhone on my last hike. The prospects looked iffy, but I was determined.

I called home around 10am and then drove to the trailhead. The trail was in excellent condition during the first 2/3 of the hike, but then turned muddy and slushy from the snow. At times I was tempted to turn back, but I soldiered on. I’m happy I did. The views from the ridge never disappoint. It’s a “Sound of Music” moment, this time with the bonus of two inches of snow left from a recent six-inch snowfall.

“Sound of Music” view from ridge

I took my time descending the slippery trail and returned to my car. Then I was off to Lee Vining for a cherished telephone call to my daughter and lunch at the Mobil. As I finished my feast, I noticed storm clouds brewing over Tioga Crest. So, off again. The rain was off and on, but ended before I reached Tuolumne Meadows. Off to the showers before another gathering of the volunteers, this time with the welcome addition of our Yosemite Conservancy young marrieds, David and Holly.

Dee once again hosted the potluck dinner, which included matzos ball soup, two types of lasagna, and sponge cake. I haven’t had access to scales while here, so I’ll be curious how much weight I’ve gained.

This is the last night in my “Holiday Inn” tent. Cassie and I agreed to a price and she will make far better use of it than I ever would. She is a “camping type of girl.” But I will miss the REI Kingdom 4 tent. With sufficient headroom for me to walk around without bending, it has served as a welcome substitute to my 2-person backpacker tent. My cot and topper are reasonably comfortable and my 20-degree sleeping bag has kept me comfortably warm. Not bad digs if you can live without heat and an adjacent bathroom (and at 90 yards away, the cold-water-only restroom is anything but adjacent), something I don’t expect to experience again any time soon. As I watch the cold air fog before me, it’s time to turn in.

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YOSEMITE SUMMER: When Summer Turned to Winter

This and several upcoming blog posts are about my recent month long visit to California and experiences in Yosemite National Park, where I served as a park volunteer.

Wednesday, July 8

For Mark Twain, his coldest winter was San Francisco in July. This evening, as I watch my breath fog up before my eyes, my coldest winter has the makings of being a July spent in Tuolumne Meadows. Two major hailstorms struck today, one ten minutes west at Tenaya Lake and the other twenty minutes east at Tioga Pass and Saddlebag Lake. The hail storm at Tioga Pass included several inches of snow. Cars entering the park from that direction were blanketed in snow.

Patches of snow along Tioga Road

Patches of snow along Tioga Road

The day began calmly enough. When I ate breakfast at Tenaya Lake at 7:00, I actually had to remove a jacket and the sun beat warmly on my cheeks. At 7:30, the car dashboard registered 51 degrees as I made my way back to the campground to change before heading to the Visitors Center with Cassie for my 10am-4pm shift. The meteorologist had nailed it. I could expect a day in the low 60’s.

But my expectations were dashed as the thermometer dropped. By 11am, the temperature had fallen to the low 40’s. Cassie and I took turns at the outdoor booth so each of us could take a turn inside the Visitors Center for warmth. By the end of our shift, we were ready to add several layers of clothing.

At 5:00, all of the volunteers headed to Tuolumne Lodge Dining Room for dinner together. I had not dined there for over 10 years, but the meal rekindled memories, some fond, some not. The dining room sits next to Dana Creek. When the creek flows at its fastest, as it did after a day of storms, the cataracts soothe any troubled soul. But the service was slow and the fare mediocre and overpriced.

The contingent at our family style table included two women from Sacramento. They said their husbands preferred the comforts of their pristine homes to the beauty of nature witnessed only by trudging down dusty trails.

Back to the weather. The forecast is for nighttime temperatures below freezing with tomorrow night’s low reaching 27 degrees. Tomorrow, I head to Olmsted Point for my last volunteer duty at that site. If it’s windy, it will be very, very cold. I had expected my tour of duty to end with warmer weather, but the mountains have a way of casting aside foolish human assumptions. I’ll update the actual weather in my next segment.

Thursday, July 9

No appearance at Olmsted Point today. At 6:30 a.m., I woke up to the drum roll of heavy rain on my tent. I gathered my shaving kit and headed to the Rangers facilities to brush my teeth and shave. The temperature gauge on my rental car registered an outside temperature of 41 degrees. I’ve not had eggs my entire stay, and I craved a breakfast sandwich with scrambled eggs, sausage, and cheese, so I drove to the Tuolumne Grill with my Delaware North Corp. (DNC) 50% discount card in hand. Each sandwich is priced at $6.75 and I was willing to pay that amount for two, but not for one.

The cold rain had driven the Pacific Crest Trail and John Muir Trail backpackers inside the Grill and the neighboring store. I waited in line 15 minutes only to be told that DNC had changed its policy again and would not give a 50% discount to Yosemite Conservancy volunteers. “That’s ridiculous,” I said – at least the third time I had run into this obfuscation. As much as I craved the egg biscuits, I wasn’t about to fork over money to this motley crew.

I drove back to the campground to check on other people’s plans. Dee and Cassie still planned to hike from Tioga Road to the Valley and return on the afternoon bus. Cyndi had left for a two-night stay in San Francisco. Susan said she would think about driving to the Valley later. Woodlee was game to ride to the Valley with me. None of us wanted to be stuck in our tents all day during what promised to be a long-lasting rain shower.

On our drive to the Valley, we saw patches of snow on both sides of Tioga Road. After heading south from Crane Flat, the temperatures rose with the drop in elevation, as did our dispositions. By the time we reached the Valley, the temperature had risen to the mid-50’s. The Valley looked much more promising than the High Sierra.

Yosemite Falls after the storms

Yosemite Falls after the storms

Our first destination was the Food Court near Yosemite Lodge. We bought eggs, sausage, and toast. To our delight, the cashier honored our DNC discount card. After savoring the first eggs I had eaten in five weeks, we walked to the Village Store and the Ansel Adams Gallery to survey possible mementos. Then we were off to Yosemite Falls – respectable with the help of the mountain rains and snow but not spring time powerful. Then it was time for lunch, so we walked 1.5 miles to the Ahwahnee Hotel Bar. The grand old hotel is arguably the most beautiful in America’s national parks. It was completed in 1927 and is constructed primarily of granite, concrete and steel to protect it in the event of forest fires.

Back to the bar. We waited about 30 minutes before being seated at an outdoor table. Of course the rain began as soon as we ordered, but we were under the protection of an umbrella. The food was pricey, but excellent, the latter quality a rarity in the park eateries.

We decided we had seen enough of the Valley, so we caught the shuttle bus to the stop nearest the parking area, and headed toward Tuolumne. Woodlee soon fell asleep. A light rain fell as we headed north to Crane Flat and turned torrential once I turned east on Tioga Road. Hail joined the rain as the road at times appeared ready to flood. At one point, what appeared to be a 30-foot-wide creek flooded across the road. Heavy rains brought rock debris onto the road, a constant threat to blowing out a tire. Woodlee awoke after I drove through the worst of it.

We returned to Tuolumne after 6:00 and made phone calls to the near and dear. The temperature was 41 degrees. I later joined Susan and Gary (here for a wildflower tour) for hot chocolate at Tuolumne Lodge. The good company and the warmth of a wood-burning stove provided a welcome diversion to isolation in my tent during a rain shower. The threat of snow is in the forecast, but as I write this entry at 10pm, the rains have tapered off and I hope the snow stays away. I’ll see in the morning.

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YOSEMITE SUMMER: A Pleasant Day at Parsons Lodge

This and several upcoming blog posts are about my recent month long visit to California and experiences in Yosemite National Park, where I served as a park volunteer.

July 7, 2015

View east from Parsons Lodge

View east from Parsons Lodge

Only nine more days before I leave for home. Today, I headed to Parsons Lodge, a very pleasant stone and lodgepole pine structure built by the Sierra Club in 1915 near Soda Springs. However, the number of visitors is usually small compared to the other volunteer stations, so the day sometimes drags there.

Today was quite different. With almost 200 visitors, I found myself answering questions almost all day long. Visitors included a family from Charlotte, NC. It’s always good to see people who remind me of home. I encountered my first visitors from Israel and South Africa. They were a pleasant treat.

The highlight of the day came with a family that included a very young Junior Ranger. He was excited about almost everything, including a toad that had managed to hop on a window shutter and a marmot on a nearby stack of rocks. But the young Ranger’s really big moment came when a Ranger (Fred) rode up the trail on his horse King. The child was truly star struck as Ranger Fred took 10 minutes to engage the young Ranger. I’m sure the child will enjoy the memory for quite some time.

Another view from Parsons Lodge

Another view from Parsons Lodge

After closing up shop, I returned to the campground where four of us decided to head to the Lee Vining Mobil for dinner. As we shared our fare, we all commented on how rapidly our service is coming to a close. While we will miss each other, I think all of us are ready to return to our homes.

Another day in Tuolumne. The temperatures are dropping, with highs in the 60’s today and lows in the 30’s expected tonight. It’s now time to bundle up, slip into the sleeping bag, and hope to ward off the chill. The time here has been wonderful, but I look forward to returning to the comforts of home.

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This and several upcoming blog posts are about my recent month long visit to California and experiences in Yosemite National Park, where I served as a park volunteer.

July 6

Yesterday, after completing the 15-mile Clouds Rest hike, I thought I had the biggest news of the day. Not so.

Susan, a volunteer who has hiked most of Yosemite’s trails, wanted a new challenge. She got one. She had driven down Tioga Road to 395 South and then on a 4-mile rough road to hike the June Lake North Loop. Eager to begin her new adventure, she hit the car lock button on the driver’s side door, hopped out, and shut the door. As the door left her finger tips, she suddenly realized she had left her car keys (along with all the important personal possessions she had brought to Yosemite) INSIDE THE CAR. Her new-found adventure proved to be trying to restore the status quo rather than striking out on a new trail.

Susan walked 15 minutes up the trail and met two women, a mother and her daughter, coming off the trail. The women kindly offered to take Susan to the June Lakes Shell station. When Susan got there, she was told the Lee Vining Shell would have to help. That station offers AAA towing service.

When the tow truck arrived, the employee drove Susan to her car. The employee made a valiant effort, but he was unable to open the car. Susan would have to contact Lexus for information on how to access her car.

"Social hour" at the Mobil

“Social hour” at the Mobil

Meanwhile, the employee kindly took Susan to the Lee Vining Mobil, where she expected volunteers to come for dinner. She could catch a ride with them, she said. They always had dinner there every Sunday night. Well, almost every Sunday night. Not this Sunday night.

She then tried phoning two of the volunteers. Good luck with that. Cell phone service in Tuolumne Meadows is spotty at best. Time to put out the hitchhiker’s thumb. Humbled by multiple drivers avoiding eye contact with her, Susan finally caught a ride with the fifth prospect. About 6:30, she dejectedly hobbled into camp with her story.

Her fellow campers’ suggestions focused primarily on breaking one of the windows to gain access. Ultimately, everyone agreed she should try to reach Lexus for assistance. All of us thought she might have to have the car towed to Bishop, CA, or Reno, NV.

Fun times and a rainbow at the Mobil

Fun times and a rainbow at the Mobil

After numerous efforts to reach Lexus, she finally reached a representative who told her she might be able to open the car trunk by pushing a button on the rear bumper. If that did not work, the Reno Lexus dealership, 120 miles away, would have to retrieve the car.

With our fingers crossed, I drove Susan and Woodlee to the Lee Vining Mobil. There, we checked e-mails and cell phone messages before heading to the June Lakes trailhead. Down 395 we went until Susan directed me to the side road leading to the trailhead. I maintained a speed of about 8 mph over the rough road. I did not dare drive any faster.

After about 25 minutes, we finally reached Susan’s car. She approached the rear bumper with a hope and a prayer and VOILA!, the trunk opened. She now had access to all that the day before meant so little to her but now restored her to ready access to the modern world – car keys, credit cards, cash, and prescription medicine.

From there, we hurried back (well, after getting off the 8mph road) to Lee Vining for a celebratory lunch. All was well.

The remainder of the day was pretty uneventful. But restoring Susan’s peace of mind, and her car with the worldly possessions all of us have come to rely on, made for a great day. It’s the type of event that builds cohesion in this talented group of volunteers.

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This and several upcoming blog posts are about my recent month long visit to California and experiences in Yosemite National Park, where I served as a park volunteer.

Friday, July 3

The onslaught began long before this weekend, but Independence Day Weekend saw the dam burst. It began quietly enough. On Friday, July 3, I handled Olmsted Point. The highlights were seeing a couple from Charlotte and a UVA family (parents are UVA alumni and the children have either graduated from UVA or currently attend).

Every available parking space along Tioga Road between Olmsted Point and the Visitor Center (about 8 miles) looked occupied by 2:00. Driving down the road, one has to be prepared for a driver overwhelmed by a photo op – car doors fly open, the driver or passenger oblivious to oncoming traffic in hot pursuit of the perfect picture. Beautiful lakes and granite domes have a way of throwing the human thought process completely out of kilter.

After my shift I headed to the Tuolumne Grill with visions of a soft ice cream swirl cone dancing in my head. It was not to be. The order line extended fifteen people outside the entrance. I had laundry to do, so I opted for an ice cream bar from the general store. After polishing off “lunch,” I gathered my laundry and headed for the washers and dryers on Bug Camp Road. Both washers were available, much to my delight. It’s the small things that bring joy when you are away from the conveniences of home.

While the washing machines filled and grunted in response to the 10-day loads, I called the home front to catch up on the most recent news. That lasted a full wash cycle and half of the drying time. Soon I was back to the campground with a load of clean “outdoor scent” clothes. My laundry detergent had to stick with this summer’s overall theme.

I attended a ranger talk and performance after my ten-minute meal of ham, crackers, fruit, and cookies. The ranger is an accomplished flutist, having performed with the Santa Monica Symphony. Her love for the park and the planet shone through as members of the audience read quotes from American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts about the tremendous personal impact they experienced while viewing Earth from space. Ours is a fragile planet, with no evidence of a similar life-sustaining planet nearby. The quotes and the music should make any listener give greater thought to our good fortune and our obligation to preserve a healthy planet for the generations that follow us.

Now it’s off to bed with three free days ahead of me. I plan to hike Clouds Rest on Sunday. I hope my 63 year old bones and muscles are up to the challenge.

Saturday, July 4

View through telescope of hikers ascending steel cables on Half Dome

View through telescope of hikers ascending steel cables on Half Dome

Happy Independence Day. Well, not quite three days off. I filled in for another volunteer whose friend had come to visit. Once again, I headed to Olmsted Point.

During my previous work days at Olmsted, several visitors unsuccessfully tried taking a photograph through the telescope. Today, one young man succeeded in doing so. I seized the moment and the young man did the same for my iPhone as well as for several other visitors. It was nice to be on the receiving end of a kind gesture.

Rain was in the forecast, but was limited to threatening storm clouds and a few minutes of drizzle. The real storm came in Yosemite Valley where traffic became so overwhelming that the Rangers had to turn away any visitors who did not have lodging reservations.

Like the day before, traffic was heavy on Tioga Road. The scene at Tenaya Lake looked like Myrtle Beach during high season. I hope the tourists treated the shoreline gently, taking away their sandwich wrappers and empty soda cans.

At the Visitors Center, tourists were overwhelming the Rangers. Whenever a tourist asks how to see all of the Park’s world-famous features in the next three hours, I try to remember my first visit when I could not believe a 45-mile drive can take 90 minutes. These are mountain roads, and on a holiday weekend, very crowded mountains roads. There are no interstates with 65 miles per hour speed limits.

Upon completing my duties, I showered and did some grocery shopping at the general store. One of the volunteers had organized a pot luck dinner and my humble contribution was a container of pine nut hummus. The ladies graciously accepted the fare, but probably wondered why I could not do more. (I have not cooked a meal during my entire period of service. Meal preparation is limited to preparing sandwiches and adding lukewarm water to oatmeal.)

The potluck dinner included chips and dips, a quiche, pasta, salads, and dessert. Conversation was warm and laughter constant. The meal was followed by several friendly games. Our group has learned and accepted one another’s idiosyncrasies, and we all appreciate the talents each of us brings to the team. It was a wonderful, warm gathering, enhanced by the charm of two volunteers’ guests. One is a young French engineering student who is working in the United States for six months as part of his collegiate requirements. The other is a sweet young woman who is the lifelong friend of one of the volunteers.

It’s time to get to bed so I can rise early for a 15-mile hike to Clouds Rest. I’ll report on that experience tomorrow.

iPhone pictures 262

View of section of Half Dome from Clouds Rest

Sunday, July 5

Occasionally it’s good to test your physical limits. Today I tested mine. The longest hike I had taken so far was the Mono Pass trail, a little less than eight miles. Clouds Rest, counting the distance to the trail head, is about 15 miles. On the recommendation of my colleagues, I left the hiking boots behind and used my sneakers instead, thus giving my heels a fighting chance.

For those unacquainted with hiking in the Sierra Nevada, you should not equate hiking trail distances with walking through your neighborhood or time spent on the treadmill. Grades vary and the hiker is constantly avoiding rocks and roots on the trail or sometimes using them like stair steps. I had hiked Clouds Rest twice before, most recently 10 years ago. I remembered much of the terrain but had forgotten that about 1 1/2 miles of the early section of the trail are all switchbacks and much of that section is little more than a rock-strewn gully. Average hiking time on mountain trails is 2 miles per hour. On this section of the trail, the time extends to one mile per hour.

And while Clouds Rest is 1700 feet above the elevation of the trailhead, there is a lot of up and down, making the hike seem more like a 2500 foot elevation gain.

Those are the challenges. Now for the positives. Today proved prime time for Yosemite’s wildflowers. Indian paintbrush, showy lupine, and California corn lily – just to mention a few – were in full bloom. And the views once I climbed Clouds Rest? In one direction Yosemite Valley lay out before me. In other directions, I could see all the major features of the High Sierra. Tenaya Lake, where I began my hike, looked like a tiny blue speck in the distance (And, of course, I had to return to that tiny blue speck over seven miles away to conclude my hike.).

iPhone pictures 265-1

Wildflowers on Clouds Rest trail

That 1 1/2 mile section of trail alluded to earlier proved extremely challenging to my cartilage depleted knees, particularly the part where my size 13 feet had to handle treads meant for size sixes. Nevertheless, I finished the hike around 4:30 in the afternoon and planned to reward my achievement with fine dining at the Mobil after a hot shower. But time ran late and no one else wanted to go, so I satisfied myself with deli food. Tonight, every muscle and bone in my body aches. Those aches will disappear in a few days and I will be able to count another challenging but wonderful Yosemite memory.

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YOSEMITE SUMMER: Then Came the Belgians

This and several upcoming blog posts are about my recent month long visit to California and experiences in Yosemite National Park, where I served as a park volunteer.

July 1, 2015

Only two weeks remain before I leave the park. Back to Olmsted Point today. I never know whether I’ll freeze or fry. This morning, brisk breezes brought a chill to the air so I found myself wearing my parka the entire shift.

Hikers on the Half Dome cables came in greater numbers than normal. A large group must have camped in Little Yosemite Valley the previous night to get a three-hour head start on hikers starting from Happy Isles in [Big] Yosemite Valley. It was fortuitous because dark clouds threatened early. It’s not wise to cling on to steel cables for dear life if an electrical storm threatens.

I got the usual “oh” or laughter whenever a visitor using the telescope honed in on the hikers climbing the cables.

Hikers on Half Dome cables (earlier year)

Hikers on Half Dome cables (earlier year)

I’ve learned that foreign visitors not fluent in English are reluctant to approach the telescope.

I’ve spoken with many visitors from Belgium. [Are there any remaining at home to tend to the chocolate shops?] They largely speak our language very well and are very courteous. Today, I spoke with five Belgians who were very interested in the local sights, but also took great interest in me – we spoke for about 15 minutes and they seemed reluctant to leave. I finally moved on to other visitors, but the Belgians left me with good feelings about their country. We Americans would do well to emulate their conduct.

We had an afternoon shower around 3pm and an evening thunderstorm just after 9pm. I’m glad the evening storm held off until I returned to my tent from a Ranger campfire program about global warming and its direct effects on the Sierra Nevada. Once again, my REI Kingdom 4 has weathered the storms.

Visitors taking photos at Lower Yosemite Falls

Visitors taking photos at Lower Yosemite Falls

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This and several upcoming blog posts are about my recent month long visit to California and experiences in Yosemite National Park, where I served as a park volunteer.

iPhone pictures 215This being my last day off before returning to my volunteer stations, I wanted to get in a decent hike. Several years ago, I had tried this hike but found my navigational skills were not up to the challenge. I inferred from several conversations that a fellow volunteer, Cyndi, knew the trail.

We arrived at the trailhead (across Tioga Road from Murphy Creek parking and picnic tables) around 9:30 a.m. It turns out Cyndi had not hiked the trail previously so the question was whether two heads are better than one.

Two Park Rangers were at the trailhead. They had been hiking the area the past several days to make sure campers had their Wilderness permits and otherwise were complying with Park regulations. We asked whether the lakes were “buggy.” “Very much so,” responded one ranger. “The lakes are surrounded by vegetation. That, combined with the water, makes for an ideal mosquito habitat.”

Despite the warning, we proceeded with our 5-6 mile hike. Much of the trail was obvious, but midway through we saw no evidence of cairns (stacks of rocks used as trail markers). After fumbling around for a half hour or so, we finally found a few cairns and soon thereafter stopped at several beautiful but buggy lakes. After taking a dozen photos or so, we headed back to Tioga Road. We had better luck on the return trip, carefully watching for cairns until we reached the well-established first half of the trail.

Tenaya Lake early morning

Tenaya Lake early morning

Not satisfied with the exercise provided by the hike, Cyndi decided to swim across and back Tenaya Lake (from the Murphy Creek picnic area), a total distance of one mile. I was content to finish my lunch. Afterwards I spoke with several Canadian visitors who were traveling the United States without any set time schedule. They already had seen many U.S. national parks and were on their way to seeing more. All Americans should be so lucky.

Late afternoon found Tuolumne Meadows hit with a heavy thunderstorm. Once more, my REI Kingdom 4 met the challenge, making me a happy camper.

Not wishing to remain in our now very wet campground, four of us accepted our youngest volunteer’s (Cassie) invitation to ride with her to Lee Vining for dinner at the Mobil. I had already eaten, but looked forward to their company. We discussed a variety of topics. I mentioned my recent exploratory visit to Tioga Pass Resort (TPR). Our team leader, Woodlee, had mentioned his upcoming birthday and his wish for a pie from the resort, which has an on-site baker. Upon my inquiry to the cashier, she said the pie sells for $7.25 per slice. She had to check with the baker about the price of a whole pie. After making the inquiry, she informed me that each pie is cut into eight slices. TPR would give a one-slice discount, selling an entire pie for a bargain price of $50.75 plus tax, for a total of over $56.00! It looks like Woodlee will be disappointed.

Our return trip to our campground allowed a glimpse of a full moon, lighting up much of our surroundings. We remained quietly respectful of the magnificent scene, mountains and meadows bathed in the moonlight, leading us back to our summer home.

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This and several upcoming blog posts are about my recent month long visit to California and experiences in Yosemite National Park, where I served as a park volunteer.

Sunday, June 28

Half Dome from Glacier Point

Half Dome from Glacier Point

This was the first of three days off (in a 3 days on, 3 days off schedule). I headed to Glacier Point after dropping off a fellow volunteer at Olmsted Point. Storm clouds dominated the sky, with showers in the forecast. Early morning temperatures hit 50 degrees, unseasonably mild.

After a two-hour drive, I hit Glacier Point Road around 11am. I stopped at a meadow blanketed with wildflowers and took lots of pictures. I proceeded to Washburn Point, which overlooks Half Dome, Vernal Fall, and Nevada Fall. Both falls are flowing at probably half the normal flow rate for this time of year, which means hikers on the Mist Trail will actually walk through a genuine mist rather than heavy showers. The clouds grew darker as I took more photos.

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Columbine in meadow on Glacier Point Road

I drove to Glacier Point. Rush hour at noon. I had no luck finding a parking spot. After leaving the parking lot I parked at a pullover to get a Half Dome “road hazard” shot – the granite monolith fills the windshield past a road that drops off into oblivion.

Having no luck at Glacier Point, I drove west down Glacier Point Road to the Sentinel Dome trail. I took more wildflower photos as well as shots of Yosemite Falls – fast drying up, but an afternoon shower delays that unhappy event. The rain became heavy ten minutes before I reached my car, but I had dressed for it – a light parka and nylon shorts. Time to make the 2+ hour drive to Tuolumne Meadows.

I reached the Dog Lake parking lot at 3:45. It’s one of few spots with reliable cell phone reception. I called my brother Bob to catch up on recent news. I made it back to my campsite at 4:30 just in time to join four fellow volunteers for a drive to our favorite eating spot, the Mobil station in Lee Vining. Cassie drove. Her parents and sister met us at the Mobil when we arrived. All of us shared an outdoor table. We continued eating through a brief shower. Neither food nor diners were the worse for wear.

Sunset photo from Lembert Dome

Sunset photo from Lembert Dome

On the return drive to Tuolumne Meadows, one volunteer suggested stopping at Lembert Dome for sunset photos. The cloud formations and setting sun made for spectacular photos. This proved to be the highlight of a very good day. The showers have knocked down some of the pine pollen and lowered the temperatures. I expect a cooler night, more seasonable, with lows in the 30’s. Time to bundle up!

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YOSEMITE SUMMER: Olmsted Point and the High Sierra

This and several upcoming blog posts are about my recent month long visit to California and experiences in Yosemite National Park, where I served as a park volunteer.

Saturday, June 27

In my prior outing at Olmsted Point where Yosemite Conservancy maintains a telescope so visitors can observe the Half Dome hikers who make the last 200 yards of their ascent on a pair of steel cables, I did not wear my Lawrence of Arabia headgear. The result was sunburn of my ears to the point they felt like Crispy Critters. I did not repeat the mistake today.

Western shore of Tenaya Lake

Western shore of Tenaya Lake

As has become my routine, I ate my breakfast at the west end of Tenaya Lake. Waterfalls are wonderful, but no scenery beats this pristine alpine lake set among massive granite domes and mountainsides. It’s my favorite way to start a summer’s day, particularly when the bugs aren’t biting.

On to Olmsted Point. I enjoyed lots of interaction today. Most visitors burst out laughing when, looking through the telescope, they identify the tiny stick-like figures making their way up the steel cables of Half Dome. Some have made the hike recently or many years before. Others shake their heads, incredulous that people would put their physical safety at risk just to say they had reached the top.

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Telescope at Olmsted Point

Visitors who had just come to the High Sierra from Yosemite Valley are amazed at the cooler temperatures. The thermostat had hit 105 degrees in the valley just the other day, while highs have remained in the mid-70s in the High Sierra. Along with the lower temperatures come light breezes in Tuolumne Meadows and occasional gusts at Olmsted Point.

I remained at Olmsted a half hour beyond my normal shift. I then went to the Visitors Center to turn in visitors’ donations. After a quick lunch I headed to the Park Rangers’ laundry facility on Bug Camp Road. That chore affords me the opportunity to scribble these notes and call home. Ah, the rewards of keeping up with my domestic chores!

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