Tag Archives: Yosemite

Yosemite Summer: First Impressions

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.

June 11-13, 2015

The view up Tioga Pass the day before I start my volunteer duties.

The view up Tioga Pass the day before I start my volunteer duties.

Thursday, June 11

I left Murphey’s Motel in Lee Vining just after 10:30 am. I stopped at the Mobil for a block of ice for my cooler. My reporting instructions said I would be able to trade out water containers in a freezer, but I was not about to risk loss of food on that representation. I soon learned that the system works very well, and at five dollars for a block of ice, it proved well worth my time to schedule my showers around the same time I switched out bottles of water for bottles of ice.

I arrived at the Tuolumne Meadows campground just before noon. I proceeded to Loop D, most of which was reserved for Yosemite Conservancy (YC) volunteers. The campground road is full of potholes, many posing a threat to vehicle integrity. Due to recent heavy rains, the sojourn on the one-way road is a maze of solid ground interspersed with ponds and puddles. I saw a Volkswagen van at site D4 and decided to encamp on the neighboring waterfront property, site D3. I opened the bear box, a large rectangular steel box, intended to keep the local black bears from probing the campgrounds. I lined the box with a tarp and filled it with my recent food purchases from Costco and Walmart. With that task complete, I headed to the Visitors Center.

A month earlier, I had shipped my tent and other camp gear to the YC office in El Portal. I had also purchased a cot and topper from REI, which shipped the items directly to the El Portal office. The YC office in turn delivered all the gear to the Visitors Center (VC). Upon my arrival at the VC, the Rangers told me I needed to take the gear immediately, as the gear impeded their movements in their small office. I readily obliged.

Upon my return to my camp site, once again risking my rental car on the third world country road, I launched into setting up my 4-person tent. I had watched a YouTube video a month earlier and felt certain I had the IQ to handle the minor task. The tent parts are encased in a backpack, which unfortunately is devoid of meaningful instructions. But I remembered the body of the tent came out first and then all I had to do was attach the metal supporting structure, which consists of two separate sets of metal tubes which readily lock into each other.

I turned around and saw Woodlee, our team lead. (Volunteers will be identified only by their first names, except for Woodlee, who goes by his last name.) He asked if I needed help. Despite my gender, I am never one to decline assistance from someone who has experience in a task with which I have none. My role quickly evolved to that of veteran’s helper as Woodlee readily diagnosed the proper procedure. Within 30 minutes I had a solid looking REI Kingdom 4 tent in place. With a drizzle already underway, I would spend the night in a dry tent.

The rest I could manage. I had actually practiced assembling the cot at the Greensboro REI store. No problem there. But something was missing. I had my topper and my sleeping bag. But, wait, I had failed to buy a pillow (Well, you actually have to buy a pair.) at Costco. What the heck, I thought, I’ll just use a towel. That should do the trick. I’ll get a good night’s sleep.

Friday, June 12

My tent in Yosemite

My tent in Yosemite

I awoke very cold. Mountain morning temperatures hovered around 40 degrees. I had used the sleeping bag like a blanket rather than squeezing my six-foot large-size frame in the small to mid-size mummy bag. And without a pillow, a crick in my neck added to my misery. To top it off, I had a great urge to march 90 yards to our loop’s restroom. For a male over 60, that’s a long 90 yards.

The restroom visit resolved one discomfort, but I rotated my neck as far as I dare while I added a second fleece jacket and my Columbia parka. Rubbing my hands to get warm, I put together my breakfast of cold oatmeal, cashews, and almonds, soon to be followed with my meal-time ration of two Pepperidge Farm cookies. Not a coffee drinker, my beverages of choice were Diet Coke and bottled water.

I was too focused on preparing myself for the day to notice the comings and goings of my fellow volunteers, but I later learned they had come equipped with the gear they needed for hot meals.

That afternoon, I met my colleagues at Adrienne’s campsite. Adrienne had driven a well-equipped RV. I found it hard to conceal my envy. The YC had put a canopy with netting over the site’s picnic table and there we made our introductions. Suzy and Taryn, the volunteer coordinators, handed out binders, shirts, ID tags, and ball caps with the YC logo. Suzy went over regulations and expectations. We all made our introductions: Adrienne, with a background in advertising; Cassie, a university student; Cyndi, a school teacher; Dee, a divorce mediator; Susan, a former teacher and currently a counselor to students with learning difficulties; and Woodlee, a professional photographer and artist. I soon learned these volunteers know the park better than I do, so I would need to study to get up to speed. Dee lightened the moment by sharing a birthday cake her daughter had given her.

That evening, I struggled through another night without a proper pillow. This could not continue.

Saturday, June 13

Tioga Pass t-shirt

Tioga Pass t-shirt

Late Saturday morning, we headed to Parsons Lodge for further training. We had a lot of material to take to the structure, so Woodlee suggested that I drive. Five of us got in my car while two others walked. We drove a mile to Lembert Dome, then headed down the back road to Parsons. Woodlee unlocked the road gate where regular traffic is prohibited. I carefully headed down the road, but at one point we got stuck on a large granite rock. We had to “portage” (i.e., everyone but the driver had to exit the car so the car could proceed). Anyway, we ultimately reached our destination.

There, we met Ranger Margaret, who had spent childhood summers at the site when her parents ran a campsite that was disbanded in the 1960s. She feels a special relationship to the meadow, which has a short growing season. She emphasized the need for hikers to remain on the trails rather than trampling on the meadow.

Woodlee reviewed the protocol for opening and closing Parsons each day. Duties include properly disposing of any mouse droppings before visitors are allowed to enter the 100-year-old structure. The “lodge” was built by the Sierra Club as a gathering place for its members. The club later deeded Parsons and surrounding acreage to the National Park Service.

Later that afternoon, I revealed my pillow dilemma to several volunteers. Several wanted to go to Lee Vining due to its superior cell phone and internet access, so we headed down thrilling Tioga Pass Road. To my delight, we found a camping pillow at an outdoor gear store. The night promised to be much more restful. And none too soon. I would start my volunteer duties at the Visitors Center the next day.

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Temporary Blog Hiatus But I’m Back!

For those who follow the blog, you noticed that I haven’t been posting recently. I had the opportunity to volunteer in Yosemite National Park for over a month–which was a great experience–but as those of you who have been to national parks know, technology doesn’t always cooperate. However, I’m back and wrote blog entries while I was out in California that I think you’ll enjoy. They’re relevant to my trip and historical of course.

During my time in Yosemite, I provided trail guidance and suggestions to hikers and answered visitor questions about the park. It was a great experience but I’m glad to be back in my own bed after living in a tent for over a month.

Here are a few teaser photos from my trip and I’ll share more in the coming weeks.

My little abode for the past month.

My little abode for the past month.

Lake Tenaya, Yosemite National Park

Tenaya Lake, Yosemite National Park

Lemberg Dome sunset, Yosemite National Park

Lembert Dome sunset, Yosemite National Park

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Frederick Law Olmsted – Central Park and More

Through his writing, his farming experience, and his social and publishing contacts, Olmsted had established the credentials that won him the Central Park directorship in September 1857. Half the battle was won. He still had to fight for the new park’s design.

Calvert Vaux (Source: Olmsted.org)

Calvert Vaux (Source: Olmsted.org)

To his benefit, the architect Calvert Vaux solicited Olmsted to partner with him in the design competition. The London-born Vaux had won substantial recognition when he came to work as Andrew Jackson Downing’s assistant seven years earlier. After his initial hesitation, Olmsted joined forces with Vaux. The two men were awarded the design along with a $2,000 prize ($60,000 in today’s money) in April, 1858. Their plan had to accommodate the traffic of a large city while affording a 700-acre country-like setting to the park’s visitors. The designers did this largely by building four transverse roads that ran beneath pedestrian traffic.

Olmsted biographer Laura Roper highlighted the fact that the label “landscape architect” was new to the American lexicon:

With Central Park, Vaux and Olmsted stood at the beginning of the life work that was to raise them and their calling to recognized professional standing. Olmsted understood well that this first essay in the creation of beautiful and extensive landscape for public enjoyment was an important departure for the art in the United States, making its benefits available not to a privileged few but to citizens generally.   – Roper, FLO, A Biography of Frederick Law Olmsted, p. 144 (emphasis added).

While Vaux’s name is seldom mentioned when commentators speak of Central Park, Vaux’s contribution was every bit equal to that of Olmsted.

Over the next nine years, Olmsted worked off and on with Vaux on the Central Park project. The “off” came with the Civil War, when Olmsted directed his energies to the private Sanitary Commission, a medical philanthropy that provided severely needed support to the Union army during the Civil War. Olmsted served as Executive Secretary of the commission. Both in New York and on the battlefield, Olmsted found his greatest obstacles were political – Central Park’s controller in New York and a host of politicians, especially the army’s surgeon general, in Washington. In both instances, Olmsted learned to work around the obstacles. During the Civil War, he won praise from both Lincoln and Grant for his work on behalf of the troops.

Despite his contribution to the care of the Union soldiers, Olmsted grew tired of the politics, and was persuaded by Charles Dana in August, 1863, to take leadership of the Mariposa Company, the struggling gold mining company that occupied 70 square miles in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. The land had originally been claimed in 1847 by John Fremont, the adventurer who ran as the Republican Party’s first candidate for President in 1856. Whether due to too little gold or poor business acumen, Fremont managed only to run up debts. Despite Olmsted’s best efforts, the mining company remained unprofitable, and Olmsted left his post in the fall of 1865.

Photo Yosemite National Park

Photo I took at Olmsted Point in Yosemite National Park

Olmsted did not leave California empty-handed. While there, he fell in love with Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Sequoias. He wrote in support of protecting the land from private development. His work earned him appointment to the first Yosemite Commission. For the rest of his life, he continued to support the landmark’s preservation for public enjoyment. (Yosemite was designated as a National Park in 1890.)

In the summer of 1865, Olmsted and Vaux were reappointed as landscape architects to Central Park. With an annual salary of $5,000 (at a time when the average annual wage was around $350), Olmsted could return to the profession for which he was most suited. With the rebellion and Mariposa behind him, he was ready to build his legacy as America’s premier landscape architect. That legacy included parks in Boston, Buffalo, Brooklyn, Chicago, and Milwaukee, among others.

He did miss the mark once when he said San Francisco’s climate and topography precluded construction of any park similar to New York’s. Mining engineer William Hammon Hall proved him wrong with Golden Gate Park. But unlike many inflated egos, Olmsted later confessed error and had only praise for the accomplishment. Olmsted’s work included a proposal ultimately put into effect at the United States Capitol – broad marble terraces on each side of the Capitol Building, providing a formal transition from the building to the mall extending to the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.

Whether one visits New York City or San Francisco, the nation’s capital or Yosemite – to mention only a few – the visitor likely sees some significant contribution by America’s preeminent landscape architect. His legacy continues to reward those of us fortunate enough to witness his achievements.


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Filed under 1800s, American history, United States