Yosemite National Park is 761,757 acres of breathtaking beauty in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of central California. "No temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite," wrote naturalist John Muir, whose crusading led to the creation of the park. To this temple come more than three million visitors a year. And about 90 percent of them go to the valley, a mile wide, seven mile long canyon cut by a river then widened and deepened by glacial action. The park is about the size of Rhode Island and only a small fraction of it is seen by most visitors.
There are four major areas of the park as far as visitors are concerned; The Valley with its overwhelming beauty; Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias; Glacier Point where visitors get the most spectacular view of The Valley below; Tioga Road and Tuolumme Meadows. The last two we have not been able to explore yet. The roads are closed until Memorial Day because of snow at those high elevations. Since we will be here until mid July, we will be reporting on each major section of the park a little at a time. The rest of the park must be seen by experienced backpackers because it remains wilderness.
John Muir wrote to Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1871 and asked him to come and see Yosemite. Emerson was not disappointed in Yosemite. The philosopher's journal records: "In Yosemite, grandeur of these mountains perhaps unmatched in the globe; for here they strip themselves like athletes for exhibition and stand perpendicular granite walls, showing their entire height, and wearing a liberty cap of snow on their head."
When we traveled from our temporary home in the Wawona campground (near
the Mariposa Grove) to the valley (22 miles) the first time, I thought
the scenery along the way was magnificent. But when we rode through the
tunnel and had our first glimpse of the valley with its towers of granite
and waterfalls, I cried. Words cannot even begin to describe the majesty
here but we will try. This month we are reporting on the big trees of the
There are three groves of big trees in Yosemite National Park and one of them is the Mariposa Grove at the southern end of the park near Wawona.
I was in such awe of these majestic trees that when I learned the interpretive staff was short one, I volunteered to do some roving and walks. It is great fun to share in everyone's amazement as they walk up to one of the giants.
The largest tree in Yosemite, is in the Mariposa grove. It is named
"The Grizzly Giant" and is believed to be 2,700 years old. Just think -
this tree was a seedling in 709 BC. One of the branches on this giant is
six feet in diameter - that is bigger than any other non-sequoia in the
grove and if you just saw the Ponderosa Pine, Sugar Pine, and Incense Cedar
trees here you
Early explorers gave them names like "giant", "mammoth", "colossal" and "big" but one cannot even begin to imagine the stature of the trees until you are standing next to one. They are awesome.
In 1852 when A. T. Dowd stumbled upon the trees, he went back to camp and tried to convince the rest of his group that he had seen trees with bases 30 feet in diameter.They laughed at him. No one would believe him. A few days later, Dowd, ran back into camp saying that he had shot a big grizzly bear and needed help getting it back to camp.When they got to the Sequoia area, Dowd admitted to telling a lie just to get them in to see the trees and finally believe.
Lots of people were coming to California during those years. The gold rush had begun and this area filled with people. Gradually word spread about the big trees.
To a lumberman, the trees were like gold. One giant sequoia can yield as much wood as an acre of virgin Pacific Northwest forest. Thus began the lumbering of these giants. There were several problems though. It took many men, many days just to cut through one of the trees and when it fell, it was so heavy, it broke in many pieces. Many different tricks were tried to successfully fall one of the trees. Some waited until the snow was deep, hoping that it would cushion the fall.
Few trees were ever taken out of the grove in one piece. When you see one of the trees, you realize that you would need a big crane, train or rocket mover to get the tree moved. The sad part of the lumbering of Sequoias is that over 50% of the trees that were cut are still lying where they fell and the trees that were taken out ended up as shingles, grape stakes and match sticks. To me and many others, this is not a fitting end for such stately trees. The good part is that because the wood is short grained and useless, more trees were not cut and we can see them today in their majestic grandeur.
Galen Clark came to the Wawona area in 1857 and he is credited with convincing President Lincoln to set aside the Mariposa Grove and Yosemite Valley to be protected. In 1864 they became a California State Park and Galen was made guardian of both the grove and the valley.
To publicize the trees, a tunnel was cut through one of the trees in 1881. This tree which became known as the Wawona Tunnel tree attracted thousands who visited the tree and rode through it in buggies, then cars. You have probably seen a picture of this tree in an encyclopedia. When the tree fell in 1969, the park service decided that no new tunnel trees should be made.
Giant Sequoia trees are extremely disease and fire resistant and have survived millions of years without help from human beings. But one of the things the caretakers of the trees protected the trees against turned out to be the very thing they needed. That was fire. Fallen trees that were examined presented proof that fire (naturally caused by lightening) occurred in the grove every eight to 20 years. Up to two feet of water based bark on the trees help protect it from fire. Fire cleaned up the litter of the forest floor, preparing the soil for the tiny seed of the Sequoia and burned the shade tolerant trees (the weeds of the forest) to keep them from chocking the sunlight from the grove. The Sequoias need much sun light and good soil in which to germinate.
100 years of fire suppression changed the grove. Few new Sequoias grew
and the shade tolerant trees grew in abundance. Since the mid 1960's, when
they realized their mistake, the park service has been using prescribed
burning to restore forests to a natural state. Burns are very carefully
started only after all the conditions are right usually in the fall when
mother nature herself would do it. If you have never
seen Giant Sequoias, I hope you get to see them someday.
As I sit here typing this I am aware of the sound of the Merced River nearby---I can see the white water from my window here in the Wawona Campground. Our house sets just a chip shot (90 feet) from the river. It is quiet here except for the water and the birds; occasionally I hear the breeze rustling the leaves; once in a while I hear a deer searching for tender foliage just across the road in the woods.
Even when the campground is busy, it is a quiet campground. People seem to sense the peacefulness here and keep it that way. At night I can look around and see lots of campfires, but all I hear is the crackle of the logs burning.
This is truly different from the Coast to Coast campgrounds and their club houses, swimming pools, and tennis courts. There we would have electricity. Here we don't.
When we arrived on April 1, we were relieved to find that we had water and sewer hookups because our ranger boss, Kevin, had mentioned the day before that we didn't. We really didn't think we could stay under those conditions since there are no showers, and it was one mile to a dump station. We were so happy when the first thing Kevin said was, "I made a mistake, you do have water and sewer." We were getting settled at the campsite and wondered aloud where the electrical hookup was. Kevin answered, "There is no electricity anywhere in the campground." We said, "April fool" (remember, it was April 1) and he said, "No, I wouldn't kid you." We discussed the situation and thought we could make it, especially, since we had our little 600-watt generator and they promised to give us lots of firewood.
It gets mighty cold here in the evening and not a lot warmer during the day. The first three weeks, we saw night time temperatures in the mid-twenties. At first, we ran our furnace enough to be comfortable and quickly ran our battery down. Ron tried running the generator during the day to charge it up, but we were losing ground. We made the decision to use the furnace only in the morning to take the chill off.
We build a fire at night and stay by it until 10 o'clock when we come in, light a candle (for warmth), climb on the bed with our clothes on, cover up with the afghan, turn on the light over the bed and read until the cold gets unbearable, about 30 minutes. By then, the bed has been warmed and we undress and climb under the covers. Our duvet (down comforter) is so nice and warm that once under the covers we are toasty. Only our faces get cold by morning. In fact, it gets so cold in our house at night that ice left in a glass of water at night is still there in the morning.
Before we get out of bed I turn on the furnace (the thermostat is right on the wall next to my side of the bed) and wait for the indoor temperature to get to at least 40 degrees before I get up to make coffee. Since we use the gas stove to make coffee, that helps warm us too. Once the coffee is done, we go outside and build a fire again to keep warm.
We had to have son Karl get our long johns out of storage and send them to us; and we always wear several layers of clothing. I am so glad we had winter coats, hats and gloves with us too. We have made a game out of keeping warm.
But we get to take brisk walks in the morning (that is always good for warming one up) and breathe lots of fresh air. We watch the coyotes, and the deer watch us. We spend hours searching the woods for firewood and meet lots of wonderful people (and a few not so nice ones). The rangers, as usual, are super and can't do enough for us and in return, we try to do a good job for them.
So, if you are wondering why your newsletter is late, it is because I hate to ruin the quiet here by running the generator (I need it for the printer and to recharge the computer) and I'd rather be wandering in the woods, by the fire where it is warm, or talking to our campers. Sorry about that!!! Bear with us for one more month while we struggle without electricity.
Editor's note:They don't usually
use campground hosts in the Wawona Campground until mid-May. We were an
experiment. When we arrived, there was four-feet of snow on the ground.
It was a great experience.
Do you know what a bear box is? Every campsite here at the Wawona Campground has one. It's a long metal box where campers protect their food from the bears. If you leave food unattended in this campground, you may be fined. Yogi has to find his own food in the woods.
Speaking of bears, Ranger Kevin McMillan in his talk on bear encounters gives tips on storing food while backpacking. He also says that when hiking in bear country it is best to go with someone who runs slower than yourself.
The river that runs next to this campground is so cold that even the fish pass it up. It looks like a beautiful northern Michigan trout stream with rushing water over the rocks, but no one has caught a fish yet.
Our Plymouth Horizon tow car is showing its age. This month it needed a new clutch and a catalytic converter. Luckily we found an excellent repair shop in Oakhurst, 25 miles from here.
I like the host part of our campground hosting job, such as helping campers with site selection and information. I don't care much for the policing activities that are too often necessary.
Istill look at the sports page every day, but only to keep track of how many games Jack Morris (spoiled millionaire formerly with the Tigers and now with the Twins) has lost.
You should see my partner in her new ranger-type uniform. Very sharp!
by RonMany of you may remember or have heard about the German U-boats of the World War II era. They were German submarines, some of which were even spotted off the eastern coast of the United States. Here in Yosemite National Park we have our own version of the U-boats and they are also manned by Germans. They are rental motor homes and can be identified by the wide green stripe around them and are numbered beginning with the letter "U". It seems that the California company that rents these motor homes, advertises heavily in Germany. There are hundreds of them and the Yosemite staff has jokingly called them U-boats. It's interesting to note that over 25% of the visitors to the park are from foreign countries.
Although the German U-boat campers are neat and conscientious about paying their camping fees, at times they can be a pain. It seems that they do not understand the American concept of camping space and assigned camping sites. In Germany the areas designated for camping are usually large fields or meadows with very few facilities. When the German visitor looks at our campgrounds they see a lot of wide spaces that according to their culture could hold many campers. Many then try to camp anywhere, particularly by the river. It doesn't matter that there isn't a campsite there. It then becomes our job to relocate these illegal campers if we have space available. We have to be particularly alert in the late evening as they head for remote spots towards the rear of the park and just park -- usually in no parking zones. A bigger problem exists when the campground is full. It's almost impossible to convince them that there is no room when they see a patch of grass that is not occupied. As one couple exclaimed, "We only need ten square meters."
In spite of these cultural differences, we do enjoy our foreign visitors and I am finding that my rusty German is coming in handy. Luckily I remembered the German words for occupied, full and pay. It's also good to know that in a small way we are helping our country with it's balance of payment problem by taking in some of that foreign currency.
This 'N That
Mr & Mrs Markowcyz from New York had a brand new motorhome and their maid with them when they came camping here. It was their first experience camping and their first experience with the bear boxes that Ron described in his column. Mrs M. came and asked us if she put everything from her cupboards into the bear boxes did she have to empty her refrigerator too? We explained that the bear boxes were for tenters who had no place to store food except out in the open. I wonder how she is managing on the rest of her trip.
I would love to have had you meet Chris and Jayne Kirner from Wales who nicknamed themselves "The Traveling Terrors". This young couple sold everything and came to visit the US for a year. They bought a used motorhome and travel. When they go back to Wales they will sell the motorhome and buy a car to take back. Although he is a veterinarian, he might open a horticulture business when back in Wales.
You would have loved the Mc Case family from Cambridge, England. Janet, Brian, Helen and Ana were so delightful and they promised to look up our friends George and Ann Peake who live near them. The Peakes own a bed and breakfast that we stayed at on our trip. Janet and Brian want us to come and see them when we get back to England.
Werner and Ingrid Lippert are from Peissenberg, Germany (Bavaria) and arrived in our campground in the strangest looking vehicle. It was a big 4 wheel drive VW bus which Werner had completely customized inside. They are going to be traveling in North America for two years - that includes Mexico, Canada and Alaska. They are on their way to Alaska now. Ingrid has written a book on their travels in South America and is writing one on this trip. If we could read German, she would have given us a copy. It is amazing how much can be communicated in one evening.
I can't forget Gene and Rita Hornby from Brainerd, Minnesota. They spent nearly a week here and think they will look us up when we are at LBJ next spring.
And just the other day, Ron was talking to a couple who were coming into the campground. I was busy with something else and when I was free, he introduced me to Carl and Beverly Stone from "New York State". I mentioned that I was born in Hornell - they said that they lived in Binghamton - I said I had an uncle there - Harry Dodd and they nearly fainted. They go to the same church as my aunt and uncle and know the family well. Small world!!! We enjoyed learning about how they are traveling on this trip. It is a combination of Amtrack sleeper and camping in a tent. They get to stop off and stay a while in three cities. That is when they rent a car and go camping. The logistics impressed me and the effeciency in their packing. They had to bring their tent, sleeping bags and all on the train. We enjoyed their company.
Like Ron, I love the "hosting" part of our duties and dislike being a police person but it has to be done. So many people visit this park and most are not the real camper type. Some just don't know the rules of camping.
Ron was given the additional job of writing a manual for future campground hosts. And I got to go around to each campsite and make note of anything that needed repair. Then I volunteered for the interpretation walks and roving at the big trees.
Only one third of our campground is open now (30 sites) - the other 58 sites will be open by May 17th and we expect to be terribly busy from that day until after Memorial Day when we are free of our duties here in the campground. I think we will need a break by then.
We will be moving to a special campsite (kind of off in the woods by itself) by the first week in June and come June 14th, we will begin working in the Pioneer History Center for our friend Paul Pfennenger. We get to dress up as Pioneers and act the part too. I always wanted to go back in time - now I have my chance. We will be there until mid July when we will take off for the Northwest. I am really glad that we are staying longer since much of the park is still closed.
Next month's newsletter will be devoted to the Pioneer History Center and the terrific program they have for school children. I will introduce you to ranger Sue Austin who heads up this program and is my boss on the grove walks and ranger friends Paul and Deb Pfennenger. If we can hold Kevin Mc Millan (our boss in the campground) still long enough, I might be able to get an interview from him also.
We like to go to Oakhurst on our days off. We take the car with the bikes on top - drop the car off for repairs (it has been a weekly occurrence), ride around town, visit the library and even go to the early matinee at the movies. For lunch we like to eat at the Oakhurst Bakery. They serve a "Loaf of Soup." Soup or chile is served in a hollowed out loaf of round bread. I asked owner Janet Nigro how she happened on that idea and she said that she wanted to serve soup but didn't want to wash dishes. "You can either eat the bowl or not and I don't have to worry about dishes," she said. It is really yummy and we thank the Pfennengers for clueing us in on this treasure.
Bill Gordon from Gordon's Transmission is one super guy. He should change the name of his business though 'cause they do much more than transmissions - all of it quality. He has neat stories to tell too. We are exchanging some computer software stuff.
The next time you think about it, ask Ron which wire goes on the positive
post of our motorhome battery and what happens when they are crossed.
Sign in BJ's Kountry Kitchen
We guarantee fast service
no matter how long it takes.
Sign in the Sierra National Forest
A beautiful forest
is a matchless sight
A boutique in Fresno
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