The Art of Exploring the High Sierra in Yosemite

Painting at Townsley Lake. Photo: Emily Nash

James McGrew painting at Townsley Lake.
Photo: Emily Nash

James McGrew has been visiting Yosemite his entire life, and guiding High Sierra Camp loop trips through the Yosemite backcountry for the last 14 years. His artwork gives him, and those who travel with him on these trips, yet another way to connect to the beauty of the Sierra landscape. We were honored to be able to catch up with James this year before he started his backcountry season to find out more about his unique perspective on Yosemite and some of the places that he loves.

As this season winds to a close, the High Sierra Camp lottery for next year is right around the corner. Beginning September 1, 2014, you can apply for the popular High Sierra Camp loop trips, with James or another one of the amazing rangers who lead these high country trips.

What is your favorite High Sierra Camp or spot along the High Sierra Loop, and why is it special to you?

That’s a tough question because all the camps are unique and special to me. I truly love them all. I love Glen Aulin for the breathtaking view down the canyon and the reddish oxidized and glacially polished rock. I love May Lake for the sparkling gemstone-like qualities of the lake, relatively short hike up Mt. Hoffmann in the center of the park, and the ridge next to camp with spectacular views across Tuolumne, the Cathedral Range and down to Yosemite Valley. I love Sunrise for the breathtaking view of alpine peaks across Long Meadow which changes its colors from week to week and is often frost-covered in morning. I love Merced Lake for the diversity of leisure activities and things to explore on layover days. We get a chance to slow down, relax, swim, fish, explore without a backpack. I like the larger campfire circle that allows for the largest audiences of our campfire programs in the high country. Finally, Vogelsang, perched so high, offers spectacular scenery, a steep scramble up Vogelsang Peak or short walks to alpine lakes. We can’t do campfire programs, but I enjoy the large crowds that gather for the sunset talks and open views and clear skies for the astronomy programs.

What do you remember of your first trip to the high sierra?

I was just four months old so I don’t actually remember my first trip. However, my parents said I was enthralled with my fist in my mouth and eyes wide open, looking up at the towering granite. By eight years old, I really remember thinking how much I loved Yosemite and asking my parents to take me backpacking for my birthday in late June. We were not really in the high country, but rather back packing out of Hetch Hetchy and that year, 1983, was the highest snow pack year on record so the waterfalls roared with a power I’ve never seen since. The mist of Tueulala falls spread across the trail and hundreds of newts crawled about. Then crossing the bridge below Wapama falls was another memorable experience as my father carried me across the bridges which crossed the raging water and torrential spray. When I returned home following the trip, I remember drawing the waterfalls from memory.

Sunrise Impressions. Oil on Linen 9x12

Sunrise Impressions. Oil on Linen 9×12
James McGrew

 

You sometimes incorporate art into your evening programs/presentations; how do you go about that, and what does it look like?

Art and Artists played a key role in the preservation and management of Yosemite. I conduct several programs which sometimes involve plein air painting and art to help illustrate the art history, natural history and help people see and experience Yosemite and find their own interpretations. These include sunset talks or daytime programs and even the entire loop trip.

Although a loop trip consists of many individual interpretive programs including day hikes, sunset talks, evening campfire and astronomy programs, all with different topics, I tie them all together with an overriding art theme for the week. It actually applies to everything from art and history, to geology, biology, aesthetics, philosophy, ecology and management.

I give specific programs on art history in Yosemite, as well as an actual art class and have the participants produce their own interpretation of Yosemite with pastels and pastel paper. At the end of the trip, we have an art show and each participant shares their unique interpretation and experiences.

If I’m actually painting during a presentation, I set up my tripod and pochade on my “stage” in front of an audience so they can clearly see my painting and the scene I’m painting. I paint extremely fast so people are usually surprised to see a painting take shape in just a few minutes. The purpose is to help draw the crowd and help them observe or study things more carefully, especially certain elements I will focus on during the program. It’s a way to hook the audience, inspire contemplation and get them thinking about my topics, which may range from geology, sunsets, atmosphere, light, aesthetics/emotion and beauty in nature.

I don’t complete a painting during a ranger program. Rather they are just oil sketches or impressionist starts to serve a purpose involving the audience as an interpretive technique. I usually just scrape down the panel to reuse for the next program.

Painting

James McGrew.
Photo: Emily Nash

What art supplies are must-haves for the backcountry for you?

Lightweight, sturdy carbon fiber tripod with quick release plates mounted to each of my cameras and pochade for easy switching; pochade box with quick release plate to mount on the tripod and loaded with a limited palette of professional oil colors made with California walnut oil (mfg. by M. Graham in Oregon); oil-primed linen panels ranging in size from 6×8 to 12×16; brushes; paint knife; about an ounce of walnut oil (for making paint more fluid and for cleaning brushes safely); steel palette cup for the oil; some paper towels; nitrile gloves; ziploc bag for waste. The walnut oil dries more slowly than linseed oil so I can backpack for a week and the paint stays fresh without having to reapply any paint to my palette or carry tubes of paint. Obviously that means that the paintings remain wet for at least a week or two. So, I developed some lightweight and compact methods for transporting wet paintings.   The art supplies all fit into a ziploc freezer bag, and the tripod straps to the outside of my backpack. I’ve refined my supplies so that it’s all surprisingly compact, lightweight and efficient.

Note: Although many people mistakenly think that oil paints are toxic, when used properly, they are naturally safer for the artist and environment than acrylics and many watercolors. In fact, the oils themselves are loaded with omega-3 and can double as cooking and salad dressing oil.

How does your artwork change or affect your experience in the high country?

Painting greatly affects my experience in many ways but overall most prominently in three primary ways including observation, focus, and a tangible visual memorabilia.

First, it forces me to carefully observe and explore while looking for unique or ideal compositions. Also, as a vehicle for communication good paintings often serve a valuable purpose in sharing information or ideas to an audience. Therefore, when painting I’m thinking more critically about the landscape, wildlife, history, atmosphere, as well as my emotions and how to best interpret those into a visual medium with pigment and brushstrokes. In the process of standing in one location, quietly observing, I find that I’m using all my senses, not just eyesight and this all goes into the painting. Moreover, that process enables me to experience Yosemite as wildlife often passes by as I’m standing in one location. I think that most of my greatest wildlife observations and discoveries have occurred while painting. I’m more acutely aware of the subtle shifts of light, weather and atmosphere, geology, insect hatches, migrations, etc. That awareness in turn helps me as a naturalist just the way my science background (Degree in Biology with Chemistry and Geology Minors and Graduate work for a Master’s of Science in Environmental Education) helps me in my painting nature.

Second, painting helps me focus. Most naturalists go through some sort of process to clear their minds and mentally prepare for a program. For me, sometimes it’s going for a walk, splitting firewood, sitting by the river studying notes, or the meditative rhythm of fly fishing. But one of the best ways to focus and clear my mind is actually to find a quiet place and paint for a while. It really forces me to slow down, focus, relax yet energize at the same time. Painting requires a tremendous amount of energy and focus and that energy also carries over into presentations.

Finally, painting produces a tangible object that accurately represents an experience or location in Yosemite, not just visually but emotionally as well. I compare my photography with my paintings and the paintings always convey much more of the natural light, atmosphere, edges, and emotions I felt while experiencing a scene or event. A camera is merely a recording device, quite different and pales compared to the human visual processing system comprise of densely packed cells at the center of the retina, looser arrangements of cells peripherally, a combination of color, detail, motion, location tracking systems which are wired to different parts of the brain and which influence physiological responses. Those elements influence painting which is an interpretation, not just reproducing a visual scene.

Do you have any recommendations for people visiting Tuolumne Meadows and the high sierra for the first time?

Whether leisurely relaxing or pushing an adventure like rock climbing, I think that people benefit from just taking some time to use their senses and experience someplace for a period of time.   Get out away from the crowds and spend some time and watch how many things reveal themselves, especially when looking from different perspectives and focusing on one thing for a while. Take time to observe from different perspectives and use all senses. At those moments, I find that most people make wonderful discoveries.

Painting on Sentinel Dome

Painting on Sentinel Dome
Photo: Emily Nash

Meet a DNC Yosemite Naturalist

Yosemite is a place of true wonder and we have a staff to help you explore the beauty and understand all of its intricacies. We introduce one naturalist, through a letter written to Yosemite, showing her love and passion for this National Park. Meet Ashley McComb:

My dearest Yosemite,

You might know me as the interpretive naturalist that lives and works within the cozy valley formed by your majestic granite walls. Working as an  naturalist has been my dream job ever since I was a small child, because you stole my heart at an age that seems so far away now. Though I was 19 years old when I first stepped foot on your precious soil, I have dreamt of you ever since I was capable of dreaming.

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Tears streamed down my freckled face when I first laid eyes upon your heart, and the waterfalls that pour from it. You warm my soul with each breath I take of your fresh air.

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Snow Plant

Your assortment of wild-flowers, woody shrubs, mushrooms, and trees keep me grinnin’ all day long! Your wild raspberries nourish my happy little body each morning,  afternoon, and night. I have never known wild berries to taste so good, so sweet, and so fresh. Maybe it is all the love your treasured soil contains. Or maybe it is because you are just pure magic.

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Amanita

My dearest Yosemite, why are you so good to me? Raspberries, an amazing individual within the rose family, Rosaceae Rubus, grow wild and free; and on my naturalist strolls through the Ahwahnee meadow, park visitors who explore your lands are able to bask in their beauty, sweet aroma, and indescribably wonderful taste! My dear Yosemite, your wild raspberries, Rosaceae Rubus leucodermis, keep all of us sustained and invigorated, as our fingers stain purple and red while picking your delicious little treats.

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Rubus leucodermis

My goodness Yosemite, you make me want to steal away to your green meadows and river shores, for we humans are so eagerly interested in everything alive. On my naturalist strolls, we swim in all that is alive, we taste it, we see it, we understand and delve in every aspect of your beauty. And it does not stop there! You have so many wild and untouched horizons upon your majestic lands.

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A view of Tuolumne Meadows

Tuolumne transformed the carbon compounds that make up my body the first day I saw its glory: open meadows untouched by human toes, gnarled peaks that touch the sky like spines on a dragon’s back, and gaping mountain mouths that reach out toward the heavens. Tuolumne is a whole other world: one that cannot be described by mere words.

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Before you opened my eyes to the immeasurable beauty of open lands I was lost, but now, you have shown me true life, true freedom, and true happiness.I have finally found that our spirits need wilderness to breathe.

Blog 1 Thank you Yosemite. Thank you so much, for everything.

Sincerely,
An Interpretive Naturalist who truly adores you,
Ashley McComb

Have you discovered your passion within Yosemite? Join a DNC Naturalist to learn more about Yosemite National Park and uncover more of its beauty!

 

Art History of The Ahwahnee in Yosemite

In addition to being situated one of the most picturesque landscapes on earth and designated as a National Historic Landmark, The Ahwahnee also boasts an amazing art collection that complements the architecture of the hotel. Did you know that The Ahwahnee displays one of the greatest Persian rug collections in the world? Though the design motifs found throughout the hotel are inspired by Native American patterns, the geometric patterns found in kilims, soumaks, kalamkars and other Middle Eastern rugs blend in seamlessly. The hotel’s original decorators – Dr. Phyllis Ackerman and Dr. Arthur Upham Pope – were experts in Persian arts and selected a variety of Persian rugs for the hotel’s public spaces since there wasn’t enough time before the grand opening to have Navajo rugs created. The Ahwahnee required fifty-nine rugs in total at opening and they were purchased in New York in 1927, ranging in price from 48.75 to $93.75 for a total of $5659. Today, many of the original rugs are displayed in the hotel’s public spaces mounted on the walls. Some are fully framed and the remnants of others are framed that proved too fragile over time.

2014 Ahwahnee Rug Display Mural Room Michelle Hansen

Persian rug from the hotel’s original decor on display in the Mural Room.

2014 Ahwahnee rug sign Michelle HansenThe geometric patterns found in the rugs also inspired six art deco mosaic floor designs created by Henry Temple Howard with a special patent-pending process that combined linoleum, cork, clay, sawdust and linseed oil. Referred to as “rubber tile”, the mosaic designs were based on basket patterns from the Yurok, Hupa and Pomo tribes of California. Baskets and basket patterns are prominently displayed throughout the hotel to this day. U.C. Berkeley graduate Jeannette Dyer Spencer created the striking basket mural above the fireplace in the elevator lobby and the equally colorful stencil patterns found on the walls and ceilings throughout the hotel. Spencer made such a great impression with her work that she was hired permanently as the hotel’s interior decorator after the opening of the hotel on July 14, 1927. The baskets currently on display in the Great Lounge represent the basket artistry of California tribes such as Miwok, Pomo, Mono, Hupa and Yokuts, and another Native American tribe is also represented by the Pima of Arizona.

Floor mosaic at The Ahwahnee.

Floor mosaic at The Ahwahnee.

Basket mural by Jeannette Dyer Spencer.

Basket mural by Jeannette Dyer Spencer.

Native American baskets on display in the Great Lounge at The Ahwahnee.

Native American baskets on display in the Great Lounge at The Ahwahnee.

Though not placed in the hotel as part of the original decor, the watercolor paintings of Gunnar Widforss now line the hallway from the registration lobby to the Dining Room and Great Lounge. A Swedish artist who preferred painting landscapes such as the Grand Canyon was already famous by the time he arrived in Yosemite. Widforss was contracted by the Yosemite Park and Curry Company to create paintings of Yosemite suitable for the grand scale of The Ahwahnee architecture and the landscape that surrounds it.

Vernal Fall by Gunnar Widforss.

Vernal Fall by Gunnar Widforss.

The Mural Room, once known as the Writing Room, features a toile pente (painted linen) mural on the wall created by Robert Boardman Howard for the hotel’s opening in 1927. The fifteenth century style of the mural features the native flora and fauna of Yosemite National Park in a pattern of flowering plants with animals large and small, serving not only as historic decor, but also as a nature guide to Yosemite. The Mural Room also features a unique corner fireplace with a hammered-copper hood and the only oak floor in the hotel’s public spaces.

Detail of the mural by Robert Boardman Howard on the wall of the Mural Room.

Detail of the mural by Robert Boardman Howard on the wall of the Mural Room.

Though all of the decor delights park visitors in the public areas of the hotel, the most striking decorative element is the custom 5 x 6 foot stained glass panels that cap the ten floor-to-ceiling windows of the Great Lounge. Also designed by Jeannette Dyer Spencer, the stained glass panels were a last minute addition to hotel architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood’s original design. Though Spencer went on to contribute to the Ahwahnee decor in many areas, she was initially selected by Ackerman and Pope specifically for her background in stained glass design. Her selection and design experience provided The Ahwahnee with one of its most enduring artistic elements.

One of ten stained glass windows in the Great Lounge at The Ahwahnee.

One of ten stained glass windows in the Great Lounge at The Ahwahnee.

 

 

 

 

Restoration Projects in Yosemite: Helping Restore the Natural Beauty of the High Sierra

Restoring Tuolumne Meadows Lodge in 2008.

Restoration of Tuolumne Meadows Lodge in 2008.

Since 1916, concessioners in Yosemite National Park have provided wilderness experiences for thousands of visitors by operating the Yosemite High Sierra Camps in some of the park’s most beautiful backcountry locations.  High Sierra Camps are spaced 5.7 to 10 miles apart along a loop trail in Yosemite’s high country, accessible only by foot or saddle. After decades of operation, the once pristine camps became impacted by heavy visitor use combined with minimal land management. Merced Lake High Sierra Camp, the largest, oldest and most remote of the high camps was the first to benefit from planned restoration efforts, which began in 2001.  DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite employees worked to restore the camp with the guidance of the National Park Service at Yosemite.

Restoration workers at Merced lake High Sierra Camp.

Restoration workers at Merced Lake High Sierra Camp.

The success of the Merced Lake restoration inspired DNC to plan extensive restoration projects for the other High Sierra Camps during the summers of 2005 and 2006. The plan was expanded to include White Wolf Lodge in 2007 and Tuolumne Meadows Lodge in 2008. Since then, most High Sierra Camps have benefited from multiple efforts at ecological restoration. In 2011, ten years after the first restored pathway, it was time for the restoration crew to go back to Merced Lake High Sierra Camp. DNC partnered with the National Park Service and Yosemite Conservancy to improve the ecological health of the camp with grounds maintenance.  A group of 11 Yosemite Conservancy volunteers lead by DNC environmental managers Mark Gallagher and Debora Sanches donated 416 hours of labor to Merced Lake – helping to restore the camp to a more natural condition. The ecological restoration techniques included soil decompaction; collection and spread of native seeds and duff; transplanting native plants; trail delineation, erosion control and the creation of proper drainage for run-off.

Merced Lake High Sierra Camp after restoration in 2011.

Merced Lake High Sierra Camp during restoration in 2011.

 

Restored drainage at Tuloumne Meadows Lodge in 2008.

Restored drainage at Tuloumne Meadows Lodge in 2008.

In 2012, two major restoration projects took place at May Lake and Glen Aulin High Sierra Camps. In addition to trail delineation, decompaction and spread of duff in closed-off areas, volunteers also helped with deferred maintenance work such as roof replacement, corral post and hitching rails additions, plumbing improvements to prevent water waste and lodge foundation replacement.

In addition to the High Sierra Camps, DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite recently started work on a two-phase ecological restoration project at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls – also in partnership with National Park Service and Yosemite Conservancy. The restoration work includes removal of dirt roads, social trails, & non-native plants, and also transplanting of site-specific native plants and seeds. Yosemite Conservancy recruited 15 volunteers to work on the first phase of the project. DNC will work with the National Park Service at Yosemite to source native vegetation seeds in Yosemite National Park to be planted at the site in October.

Restoration at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls in 2014.

Restoration at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls in 2014.

Badger Pass Ski Area and Bike/Raft Rental Manager Sean Costello at the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge restoration in 2008.

Badger Pass Ski Area and Bike/Raft Rental Manager Sean Costello at the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge restoration in 2008.

 

Favorite Spots: Tuolumne Meadows

Lembert Dome rises above the Tuolumne River, flowing northwest towards Hetch Hetchy and San Francisco. Photo by Kenny Karst.

Lembert Dome rises above the Tuolumne River, flowing northwest towards Hetch Hetchy and San Francisco. Photo by Kenny Karst.

An ongoing series, “Favorite Spots”, will feature the favorite places of Yosemite National Park community members and park visitors. Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite’s high country is a favorite spot of Kenny Karst, who lives and works in Yosemite Valley. “Of all of the special places there are to roam in Yosemite National Park, my favorite is Tuolumne Meadows.  On the north side of the meadow, the meandering flow of the Tuolumne River is perhaps one of the most peaceful places on earth, with abundant wildflowers in the spring, and visiting fauna throughout the year.  Tuolumne Meadows is also the home of special trailheads into the backcountry, including Elizabeth Lake, Cathedral Lakes, the High Sierra Camps north and south, and the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne.  Yes, this meadow is magical.” Kenny often provides photos for the Yosemite DNC Instagram account (@yosemitednc) known as “Kenny’s Lunchtime Walk in Yosemite”. To view all of Kenny’s photos on Instagram, search hashtag #kennyslunchtimewalk or check out the Pinterest board, Kenny’s Lunchtime Walk in Yosemite.

The word “Tuolumne” often foils park visitors’ attempts at proper pronunciation on their first trip to Yosemite’s high country. Named after a tribe of Native Americans who lived on the banks of the Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers, these high alpine meadows received their current name by 1863. Today, Tuolumne Meadows is accessible via the Tioga Road in Yosemite for roughly six months of the year due to winter snow accumulation at such high altitude. At 8600 feet in elevation, Tuolumne Meadows offers a cool alternative to summer heat as well as views of some of Yosemite’s most famous peaks: Mount Dana, Cathedral Peak, and Mount Conness. This area of the park  is often cited as a favorite spot by park visitors, and services include lodging at Tuolumne Meadows Lodge, camping at Tuolumne Meadows Campground, a visitor center and wilderness permit center as well as other services: Tuolumne Store and Grill, USPS Post Office, Tuolumne Meadows Stable for trail rides, an outpost of the Yosemite Mountaineering School and a gas station.

We’re collecting more pictures and stories about favorite Yosemite spots. Keep checking back for more.

Night Photography with Kristal Leonard

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Yosemite’s beauty extends far beyond the daylight hours. The clear sierra skies, far from city lights, offer a great opportunity to see the park literally in a new light. Moonbows shimmer in waterfall spray lit by the full moon, and the great expanse of the Milky Way arches above high mountain lakes or Yosemite icons like Half Dome. Kristal Leonard is a well-known local Yosemite photographer whose pictures bring those night-time landscapes to life. We were lucky to catch up with Kristal to find out a little more about her, and get some tips on night time photography.

 

How did you become interested in night photography?

I was always fascinated with the night sky from a young age, so when I got into landscape photography about 7 years ago, it was just a matter of time before I pointed my camera towards the sky at night. It was in 2010 when I took my first shot of a constellation and was immediately hooked.

What makes a good nighttime photograph, in your opinion?

For landscape astrophotography, it’s important to have an interesting foreground, like a lake, a cool looking tree, or people silhouetted. When you can position things on our planet to objects in the sky, it makes the connection between the two more intimate.

What kinds of equipment, camera or otherwise, do you like to have with you for a night-time shoot in Yosemite?

Since I shoot on many dark nights (meaning no moon light) I use a Canon 6d, which has excellent light sensitivity, so it can handle the dark night better. Another must have is a tripod. Most exposures are 5-30 seconds so you need to keep your camera completely still while shooting.

What are some of the techniques you’ve mastered (or are still developing)?

I don’t think I’ve mastered any yet but I’d like to master focusing in the dark. This is probably the single most question I get about night photography: how do you focus in the dark? The answer for me is some planning and a lot of trial and error.

I’m also still developing taking self-portraits at night, which can be much trickier than daytime self-portraits.

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What are your favorite night sky objects to photograph?

By far, my favorite is our galaxy, the Milky Way. In the summer months, facing south, the core of the Milky Way is visible and is so bright and intense. It always takes my breath away to see it!

Another favorite is an atmospheric phenomena called airglow, which is excited atoms in our atmosphere which emit a typically green glow not easily visible to the naked eye, but a long exposure can capture it! Although it looks like aurora, it is chemically different, but just as beautiful.

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Do you need knowledge about constellations and planets to create good night sky photos?

You should have it so you can plan when to shoot certain things, like which constellations are visible in the summer versus the winter, but I don’t think it’s the most important thing.

Do you have any tips for a night photography beginner?

Learn how to focus in the dark! Seriously, it’s the hardest thing to learn.

And learn some basic exposure settings to get started and just get out there and do it. If you want to get more advanced, take a workshop which will show you in-field techniques as well as photo editing processes.

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Is there any literature or websites you would recommend?

One site I use a lot is Star Circle Academy www.starcircleacademy.com The author has a huge variety of tips, from basic to advanced, on a ton of topics, from landscapes to deep sky objects.

What is your favorite spot to photograph in Yosemite at night?

Definitely Glacier Point! It can be crowded at night (lots of flashlights) during the summer but the views are amazing. You can watch the moon rise over the high country, the Milky Way arch over everything, the fuzzy Andromeda Galaxy near Half Dome, meteor showers, satellites including the International Space Station, etc…

See more of Kristal’s amazing photography on her website at: http://www.isntthatbeautiful.com/

 

More Horsepower, Less Emissions: Going Green in Yosemite

DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite's newest fleet vehicle - the Chevrolet Spark.

DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite’s newest fleet vehicle – the Chevrolet Spark.

To keep Yosemite National Park a little greener during a California drought, DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite has introduced two new ways for employees to travel in Yosemite Valley that requires no fossil fuel consumption and adheres to the guidelines of the company’s GreenPath sustainability program. In the first case, an all-electric vehicle was added to the fleet – the Chevrolet Spark. Unlike the hybrid shuttle buses that operate in Yosemite Valley, the Spark plugs in and runs on electric charge only. The Spark is also sized smaller than your average vehicle to make that charge last longer. Used primarily as a mail delivery vehicle in Yosemite Valley, the Spark can go for 82 miles on a single charge! We compared the smallest vehicle in our fleet to the largest horse in our stables, Goliath, and found more horsepower and less emissions with the economically-sized Spark.

The Chevrolet Spark, Goliath the Horse and JR the Stables manager in Yosemite.

The Chevrolet Spark, Goliath the Horse and JR the Stables manager in Yosemite.

Along with adding the Spark to our fleet, the new Employee Bike Thing rolled out this summer. This employee bike rental program employs 40 retired rental bikes from Yosemite’s bike stands as new transportation for Yosemite Valley employee residents. Each cruiser style bicycle is assigned to an employee for the entire summer season with a required security deposit.  When the bike is returned at the end of the season, a full refund is issued. This new program helps DNC associates get to work on time, provides a daily dose of exercise and lessens traffic congestion in Yosemite Valley.  The Employee Bike Thing will also allow new associates to explore Yosemite Valley and provide more opportunity for adventure.

Matt and Jeff enjoy their new ride from the Employee Bike Thing.

Matt and Jeff enjoy their new ride from the Employee Bike Thing.

If you can’t tool around Yosemite Valley in an all-electric vehicle, bike riding is definitely the way to go. Though not a participant of DNC’s Employee Bike Thing, Yosemite National Park’s Superintendent, Don Neubacher, also commutes in Yosemite on his bike.

National Park Service Superintendent Don Neubacher also bikes to work in Yosemite.

National Park Service Superintendent Don Neubacher also bikes to work in Yosemite.

Yosemite National Park After Dark

Yosemite Valley at Night by Kristal Leonard

Yosemite Valley at Night by Kristal Leonard

Summer nights in a national park include the soft glow of the Milky Way rising over your campsite, a wilderness landscape lit by the full moon during an evening hike, and the twinkle of stars and planets from a roadside vista point. In California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, Yosemite National Park is a harbor of darkness in a highly populated state, providing an excellent opportunity to truly experience the star-filled night. In addition to all the daytime hiking, biking, rafting and rock climbing under sunny Sierra skies, the summer evenings in Yosemite can be just as full of activity and wonder.

With thirteen campgrounds and seven lodging options inside the park, summer nights in Yosemite can be filled with a range of activities such as dining in an historic hotel, socializing with s’mores around the campfire or contemplating the awed silence of fellow stargazers. For the celestially minded, Yosemite’s park rangers give sunset talks, full moon hikes, the “Stars Over Yosemite” Program as well as hosted Star Parties at Glacier Point, and Moonlight Tours aboard the Yosemite Valley open air trams. In addition to ranger programs, DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite offers Stargazing Tours to Glacier Point, Full Moon Bike Rides in Yosemite Valley and the “Starry Skies” program that takes place in the meadows of Yosemite Valley. For the diners and socializers, you’ll find hospitality every evening at The Ahwahnee Dining Room and bar and the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls Mountain Room Restaurant and Lounge, including evening presentations about the natural and cultural history of Yosemite. Summer nights at the Curry Village Pizza Deck & Bar are a park visitor tradition. In Yosemite Village you can experience live theater presented by the Yosemite Conservancy, with topics ranging from historic figures to daring adventures. At the Wawona Hotel, you’ll find dinner and entertainment in the form of vintage Yosemite songs played by pianist and storyteller Tom Bopp.

Full Moon Bike Ride in Yosemite Valley

Full Moon Bike Ride in Yosemite Valley

Glacier Point Star Party in Yosemite.

Glacier Point Star Party in Yosemite.

Stargazing Tour at Glacier Point

Stargazing Tour at Glacier Point

Yosemite fun and activity after dark doesn’t stop when summer has ended. As the days grow shorter in fall and winter, there is plenty of time for evening fun with fireside storytelling and Yosemite’s Signature Food and Wine events at The Ahwahnee.  Vintners’ Holidays in the fall, the Bracebridge Dinner during the holiday season and Chefs’ Holidays during the winter include lodging and dinner packages to maximize your culinary experience. Vintners’ Holidays features prominent winemakers showcasing their vintages. Bracebridge Dinner transforms the dining room into a 18th century English manor for a feast of food, song and mirth. Chefs’ Holidays provides a cooking adventure showcasing the range of styles, personalities and trends that characterize the American culinary scene. Besides a winter’s eve filled with food and wine, you can also stay active after dark at the Curry Village Ice Rink with evening ice skating sessions and participate in a snowshoe walk under the light of the full moon at Badger Pass Ski Area. No matter the season, there are wondrous things to see and do after dark in Yosemite National Park.

Top 5 Things to Do in Tuolumne Meadows

Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park

Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. Photo by Kenny Karst.

Tioga Road is open for the summer and the weather is fine in Yosemite National Park. With so many options to choose from, how do you decide where to go and what to do during your visit? Certainly any area of Yosemite can provide experiences filled with wonder, but one area in particular provides the opportunity for a summer filled with memories of the High Sierra: Tuolumne Meadows. Located on Tioga Road CA 120 at an altitude of 8000 feet, the Tuolumne Meadows area is inaccessible in winter when the road is closed. This limited accessibility creates a short but sweet summertime window of opportunity to visit high alpine meadows and streams, along with some of Yosemite’s highest peaks. Though services are available in Tuolumne Meadows, the High Sierra views are unobstructed.  In addition to camping and tent cabin lodging, Tuolumne Meadows has a visitor center, wilderness center, store, a grill restaurant, a gas station, a stable and an outpost of the Yosemite Mountaineering School. The following top five list of things to do in Tuolumne Meadows gives you an overview of this stunning slice of the Sierra Nevada in Yosemite.

1. Hiking: Tioga Road is littered with trailheads that can take you deep into Yosemite’s backcountry or offer simple sightseeing. Soda Springs and historic Parsons Memorial Lodge, Lembert Dome, Mount Dana, May Lake, Pothole Dome, the John Muir Trail, Cathedral Lakes, Twin Bridges, and Elizabeth Lake are among the hiking options in this area. These high-elevation hikes range from an afternoon stroll along the Tuolumne River to Twin Bridges to traversing the Sierra Nevada on the John Muir Trail.

2. Camping: Tent cabin lodging and family-style dining is provided at Tuolumne Meadows Lodge and the Yosemite High Sierra Camps. Traditional camping can be found at the national park system’s largest campground in Tuolumne Meadows. Camping allows you to experience the Yosemite landscape up close with opportunities for hiking, wildlife viewing, photography, fishing, swimming and more. But no matter where you lay your head in the High Sierra, the access to the night sky filled with stars will fill you with wonder.

Tuolumne Meadows Lodge

Tuolumne Meadows Lodge

3. Dining at Tuolumne Meadows Grill: Menu favorites include burgers & fries, veggie chili, breakfast, and ice cream cones. You won’t find a dining room at the rustic Tuolumne Meadows Grill, but you will find tasty take-out options after a long summer hike in the high country. Picnic tables are available outside the restaurant and store, where you can trade adventure stories with other hikers and climbers.

4. Photography: Tuolumne Meadows are beautiful alpine meadows riddled with wildflowers in the summer, Tenaya Lake is an easily accessible alpine lake with sand beaches made for summer swimming, Mount Dana provides amazing views of the Sierra Nevada at 13,000 feet of elevation, the Tuolumne River carries snow melt from the High Sierra to points below and the night sky is brilliant with exceptional opportunities for night sky photography.

TM Wildflowers

Tenaya Lake. Photo by Kenny Karst

Tenaya Lake. Photo by Kenny Karst

5. Trail Ride: Take a day trip on a mule at the Tuolumne Meadows Stable and visit Tuolumne View on the Young Lakes Trail, an ideal lookout point for Cathedral Range, Johnson Peak and Mammoth Peaks or take a half-day ride and visit Twin Bridges on the Tuolumne River just above Tuolumne Falls. If you can’t bear to leave the beauty behind, commit to an extended backcountry experience with a saddle pack trip to one of five High Sierra Camps (or take the 50 mile loop and visit them all!).

Sunrise High Sierra Camp

Sunrise High Sierra Camp

This article was published in the Yosemite in Focus newsletter for the month of June. Get stories about Yosemite delivered right to your email inbox every month by signing up here: Yosemite Newsletters.

The Story of Ranger Gabriel in Yosemite National Park

Ranger Gabriel is sworn in at Yosemite National Park. Photo by Michelle Hansen.

Ranger Gabriel is sworn in at Yosemite National Park. Photo by Michelle Hansen.

Gabriel Lavan-Ying, an eight-year-old from Gainesville Florida suffering from Ehler’s Danlos Syndrome, wished to become a national park ranger. With the help of Make-A-Wish Central California, Yosemite National Park endeavored to make Gabriel’s wish come true on Tuesday June 3, 2014. Make-A-Wish Central California grants the wishes of children between the ages of 2½ and 18 who currently have a life-threatening medical condition which is defined as a progressive, degenerative or malignant and has placed the child’s life in jeopardy. Gabriel wanted “to see cool stuff like waterfalls”, and he is a history buff who loves nature. So the rangers at Yosemite National Park put Gabriel through extensive training in order to ensure his success as a national park ranger. Gabriel arrived in Yosemite with his family – mother Tara, father Kon, twin sister Angelica and older brother Dominic – and stayed at Tenaya Lodge just outside the south gate of the park. On Tuesday, Gabriel and his family traveled to Yosemite Valley for his training and swearing-in ceremony.

Ranger Gabriel learns to use the radio before boarding the NPS firetruck.

Ranger Gabriel learns to use the radio before boarding the NPS firetruck. Photo by Michelle Hansen.

Gabriel was dispatched to fight a wildland fire with the Yosemite Fire Crew, attended naturalist walks in Cook’s Meadow, was also dispatched to a search and rescue operation involving an injured hiker and assisted the Yosemite medical team in transporting the patient to a rescue helicopter. After Gabriel’s full day of training, he was sworn in as an Honorary Park Ranger in a ceremony at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center. Approximately 300 people, including Yosemite community members and Yosemite park rangers, witnessed the ceremony in which Gabriel received his badge and credentials. United States Magistrate Judge Michael Seng and Yosemite National Park Superintendent Don Neubacher presided over the ceremony where Ranger Gabriel also received a flag that was previously flown over Yosemite National Park.

Ranger Gabriel assists with the rescue of an 'injured' hiker.

Ranger Gabriel assists with the rescue of an ‘injured’ hiker. Photo by Michelle Hansen.

Ranger Gabriel assists with transport to the search and rescue helicopter.

Ranger Gabriel assists with transport to the search and rescue helicopter. Photo by Michelle Hansen.

Ranger Gabriel is sworn in as an Honorary Park Ranger by Judge Michael Seng. photo by Michelle Hansen.

Ranger Gabriel is sworn in as an Honorary Park Ranger by Judge Michael Seng. Photo by Michelle Hansen.

In addition to the training, DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite provided some down time in the form of a pizza party at Degnan’s Loft in Yosemite Village. Ranger Gabriel relaxed at lunch with his family, the NPS rangers involved in his training and the Make-A-Wish crew. After the ceremony, The Ahwahnee kitchen staff celebrated Ranger Gabriel’s new status with a congratulatory cake created by Executive Pastry Chef Paul Padua. On the shaded back patio at The Ahwahnee, Ranger Gabriel wrapped up his first day as a Yosemite park ranger, sharing cake and lemonade with his family and dozens of his new friends. Returning the next day to Yosemite Valley, Ranger Gabriel escorted his family on a rafting trip down the Merced River, ever vigilant for those that may need the assistance or knowledge of a national park ranger.

Chef Paul Padua helps Ranger Gabriel cut the cake at The Ahwahnee. Photo by Michelle Hansen.

Chef Paul Padua helps Ranger Gabriel cut the cake at The Ahwahnee. Photo by Michelle Hansen.

Ranger Gabriel and family rafting the Merced River in Yosemite Valley. Photo by Michelle Hansen.

Ranger Gabriel and family rafting the Merced River in Yosemite Valley. Photo by Michelle Hansen.

Ranger Gabriel's parking spot in Yosemite Valley. Photo by Michelle Hansen.

Ranger Gabriel’s parking spot in Yosemite Valley. Photo by Michelle Hansen.