Kenny’s Lunchtime Walk in Yosemite

Are you familiar with Kenny’s Lunchtime Walk in Yosemite? If you have an Instagram account, you can find a collection of breathtaking Yosemite photos by searching with hashtag #kennyslunchtimewalk. If you are not an Instagrammer, you can see some of the photos on our Pinterest board, “Kenny’s Lunchtime Walk in Yosemite“. But what exactly is Kenny’s Lunchtime Walk and who is Kenny?

Kenny Karst is the Integrated Marketing Manager for DNC Parks and Resorts at Yosemite. He has lived and worked in Yosemite Valley for thirteen years and he also happens to be a professional sports photographer. In the spring of 2014, Kenny began sharing photos from his daily lunch walk with us to post on the DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite Instagram account and we called them “Kenny’s Lunchtime Walk in #Yosemite”. It’s enough that Kenny’s photos of his daily walks in Yosemite Valley are stunning, but soon enough, followers began asking, “Who is Kenny?” To answer that question, we hosted a giveaway on Facebook: Lunch With Kenny in Yosemite. The randomly selected winner from 140 applicants won a free night’s stay in Yosemite lodging by choosing Curry Village or Yosemite Lodge at the Falls and lunch with Kenny in the Ahwahnee Dining Room.

kenny campaign banner

Today, contest winner Deb and her son Derek participated in Kenny’s Lunchtime Walk prior to having lunch at The Ahwahnee. Viewing Yosemite in all of its fall glory, Kenny guided Deb and Derek down the bike path toward Mirror Lake and Backpackers Campground on the east end of Yosemite Valley. After walking and photographing the sunny fall morning, all three headed for the famous Ahwahnee Dining Room.

Deb & Derek 102714 SQ

Deb had this to say about her experience: “Thank you so much for the wonderful walk and lunch! Derek and I were honored to be your first “Kenny’s Walk” recipients. We saw parts of Yosemite that were completely new to us, and the weather was gorgeous. Lunch at the Ahwahanee ‎was delicious, and “Kenny’s Special” dessert was the crowning touch! Best of all, we learned so much from Kenny about Yosemite. It’s also the first time we’ve stayed at Yosemite Lodge, and it’s been thrilling to experience the Valley Floor in a whole new way.”

Though Kenny uses professional equipment for his sports photography, he uses his iPhone 5s for his lunchtime walk photos. He uses Photoshop to minimally process the photos before they get posted to Instagram and shared on Facebook and Twitter. Kenny is also an accomplished musician who plays the trombone in local bands like The Groove Orphans. Kenny’s adult daughter, Renee, also lives and works in Yosemite Valley and you may have seen her contributions to social media, such as an amazing video of a bobcat at Curry Village. Kenny’s favorite spot in Yosemite is Tuolumne Meadows, and he is an avid kayaker who loves to kayak High Sierra lakes like Tenaya Lake in Yosemite. Kenny is a person who loves Yosemite and is lucky enough to live and work in one of America’s most treasured places.

Learning to Share: An Interview with Nell Newman and Jesse Cool from Session 5 of Chefs’ Holidays in Yosemite

shareThe remarkable cookbook, Share, gathers together the stories of women in war-torn countries as it explains how food connects people in each country. Interwoven within these stories are recipes from the book’s collaborators, people such as Paul McCartney, Meryl Streep, and Judi Dench.

In January 2015 at Chefs’ Holidays in Yosemite, two of the book’s collaborators will be joining us – Nell Newman, daughter of Paul Newman and head of Newman’s Own Organics, and Jesse Cool of Flea Street Café in Menlo Park. We recently had the opportunity to talk with Nell and Jesse about their experiences working on this cookbook.

How did you get involved with the Share cookbook?

Jesse: I was approached by Lauri Pastrone, the woman who conceived the book and made Share happen through her work with a group of amazing women. Also, I have always had a draw to Africa. Most of my reading for years was about despair turned to hope and love in the midst of the worst of the worst. After meeting Lauri, I sponsored two women in Rwanda and then joined a trip with Lauri and others to go and cook in Rwanda and meet one of the women I sponsored (a few photos in the book are the women I cooked with). You can actually read the story on page 212 of Share.

Nell: My dear friend Jesse Cool asked me if I had recipe to donate to this wonderful book she was helping put together to support the Women for Women International Project, which supports women in war-torn countries.

What does the Share cookbook mean to you?

Jesse: It means love, beauty, joy in the midst of pain and dark injustice, generosity, local and global care for women, and families in need.

Nell: The Share cookbook is a perfect example of how together we can make a change; through food, education, and love for humanity.

What did you learn from collaborating on this project?

Jesse: I met amazingly generous women who are real and care without attachment. It took my personal and businesses beyond my decades of being a local girl to stretch out and reach out to our abundance on a more global level. It helped me and my staff attach more deeply to our own beautiful life and learn how to give to those who have less.

What is your favorite recipe in the cookbook?

Jesse: Well, honestly it is Nell’s olive oil cake. I make it and serve it in the summer with berries and in winter with honey crème fraiche. The first time I had it, Lauri made it for me and I had to take a few slices home to eat as a midnight snake. I love Nell, so it meant even more that it is her recipe and so good. It holds up well for days, and is so yummy.

Any hints about what you’ll be preparing for Chefs’ Holidays in Yosemite this year?

Jesse: In my recipe, I tried to offer something that I felt was more African in feel…that is how I came up with the pork stew.

Nell: I’m definitely making my Orange Scented Almond Olive Oil Cake

Are you excited about coming to Yosemite? Why?

Jesse: My kids have always known Yosemite as their summer and winter and whenever-we-can-steal-a-day-away place to go. We say that it remains the most beautifully moving place on the plant, and I have traveled the world cooking in many amazing places.

Nell: How could anyone not be excited about coming to Yosemite! I’ve only been there once before and have never seen it in its winter splendor! I can’t wait!

Interview by Jeanne Haegele

A Change of Pace: Autumn in Yosemite Valley

I tried to hold onto summer as long as could. I tried to deny that summer would ever leave me. But the truth is upon us: summer is gone and autumn is here to stay, for a while.

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The magnificent Milkweed, spreading its seed for next year.

The nights are cooler, the days are shorter, the Big Dipper is hiding behind the granite walls, and not only are the leaves starting to drop but also the number of visitors. Yosemite Valley seems to be a bounty of endless beauty with each passing day and change in season.

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A large Black Oak, behind the Ahwahnee Hotel.

Although Yosemite is  well-known for its evergreen trees: Giant Sequoias, Pines, Cedars, and Firs, Yosemite does host a variety of deciduous trees as well. From Oaks, to Maples and Dogwoods- these trees give us our fall colors. Some trees seem to burst with excitement and color as fall creeps in, but what causes these changes in color each year?

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Black Oak leaves, showing their range of colors.

This change of color is due to a breakdown in the green pigment found in leaves: chlorophyll. Chlorophyll helps the leaves make their food and when that breaks down, other pigments start to show their true colors. Depending on the climate and type of tree determines what colors will be present. The colors range from red, orange, yellow, brown, and even purple!

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Sugar Maple, across from the Chapel.

Although I was sad to let summer go, I welcome autumn with open arms as I enjoy the cooler and more colorful days headed our way. Yosemite National Park, you truly do inspire me everyday.

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Vine Maple, near the Yosemite Lodge.

Written by DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite interpretive guide Gena Wood. All photos were taken on October 10th, 2014 by Gena Wood. Come see Yosemite National Park in autumn for yourself!

 

Gallery

Where to See Fall Color in Yosemite

This gallery contains 9 photos.

Though not as brilliant as New England’s fall display of changing leaves, Yosemite National Park offers plenty of autumn beauty thanks to big leaf maple, dogwood and black oak trees. Fall itself can be changeable as a season, since turning … Continue reading

5 Easy Ways to Enjoy Yosemite

Whether you are visiting Yosemite with small children, have specific mobility needs, or simply plan to take it easy on vacation, Yosemite can be enjoyed in many ways with little effort once you arrive. Below are five easy ways to enjoy the beauty of Yosemite National Park.

1. Mirror Lake: Easy One Mile Paved Walk

Location: Yosemite Valley
Access: Shuttle Bus Stop #17, paved road/bike path to beginning of hiking trails (road closed to private vehicles except those with disabled person parking placard), nearest parking at Curry Village, restroom (pit toilet),
Availability: Year-Round
Don’t Miss: The unique view of Half Dome from this vantage point!

2. Lower Yosemite Falls: Paved Path to Yosemite’s Largest Waterfall

Location: Yosemite Valley
Access: Shuttle Bus Stop #6, paved trail to Lower Yosemite Fall, nearest parking at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls or on Northside Drive, restrooms, picnic area
Availability: Year-Round, though Yosemite Falls runs dry in late summer, later refreshed by fall and winter rain/snow
Don’t Miss: The lunar rainbow during the full moon in April/May/June!

3. Glacier Point: Drive to Yosemite’s Most Famous Overlook

Location: Terminus of the Glacier Point Road
Access: Glacier Point Bus Tour, Stargazing Bus Tour, large parking lot with RV spaces, paved walkways lead to viewpoints and hiking trails (Four Mile Trail, Panorama Trail), restrooms (pit toilets), Glacier Point Gift Shop, Glacier Point Snack Stand
Availability: Spring through Fall when the Glacier Point Road is open
Don’t Miss: Hot dogs and ice cream at the snack stand and the Geology Hut with killer views of Nevada Fall!

4. The Ahwahnee: Walk, Bike or Drive to Lunch at a National Park Lodge

Location: Yosemite Valley
Access: Shuttle Bus Stop #3, parking lot, paved bike paths, hiking trail section of the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail
Availability: Year-Round
Don’t Miss: the Great Lounge, a meal in The Ahwahnee Dining Room, cocktails on The Ahwahnee Bar patio in summer, Chefs’ Holidays in January

5. Happy Isles: Ride the Bus to Yosemite’s Nature Center

Location: Yosemite Valley
Access: Shuttle Bus Stop #16, paved level walkways and boardwalks, Happy Isles Nature Center, Happy Isles Snack Stand, restrooms
Availability: Year-Round, though the Nature Center and Snack Stand are open summer only
Don’t Miss: The NOAA weather station, The Fen (pictured) and the interpretive sign marking the location of the 1996 Happy Isles Rockfall

Need a place to stay to enjoy all that outrageous Yosemite beauty? Make reservations for all Yosemite National Park lodging here: http://www.yosemitepark.com/lodging.aspx

Learn more about accessibility in Yosemite at the links below and download the park’s accessibility guide [873 kb PDF], which describes access to areas, facilities, and services for people with disabilities.

http://www.yosemitepark.com/accessibility.aspx

http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/accessibility.htm

 

 

 

Favorite Spots: Higher Cathedral Spire

View from the summit of Higher Spire, looking toward Yosemite Falls (left) and Sentinel Rock (right).

View from the summit of Higher Spire, looking toward Yosemite Falls (left) and Sentinel Rock (right).

The “Favorite Spots” series features the favorite places of Yosemite National Park community members and park visitors. Theresa came to the park on an extended rock climbing vacation in 2003, and still hasn’t left. Although she also loves to hike and explore the Yosemite backcountry, it’s no surprise that wild, airy places are among her favorites.

“Whenever someone asks me what my favorite spot in Yosemite is, the first place that comes to mind is usually the one that I’ve been to most recently. The fresh memories are so vivid and clear, and Yosemite is full of jaw-dropping places. Still, if pressed, I’d have to admit that over the years, the summit of Higher Cathedral Spire often ends up rising to the top of the list.

If you look across the meadow from El Capitan, there are two long slender fingers of rock rising up to the left of Middle Cathedral Rock, Lower Cathedral Spire, and above that, Higher Cathedral Spire.

Middle Cathedral with Higher and Lower Spires to the left.

Middle Cathedral with Higher and Lower Spires to the left.

Part of the appeal is that this summit is challenging to get to. Unlike the summits of more vaunted cliffs like El Capitan or Half Dome, there are no hikers’ trails to the summit. Technical rock climbing skills and gear are required, which means my partners and I have almost always had the summit all to ourselves.

On the other hand, it’s relatively accessible and only a moderately difficult climb. The easiest route to the top is 5.9 on the climbing scale where beginners often start out on 5.6 and the hardest climbs in the world are currently going at 5.15c.

From the top of the spire, you get a magnificent birds-eye view of Sentinel Rock, the top of Yosemite Falls, Royal Arches, and of course, El Capitan. The summit is also the perfect size. Big enough that you can relax, walk around a little, and even take a nap, yet still small enough to give you the feeling of being on top of the world.”

Climbing on Higher Cathedral Spire

Climbing on Higher Cathedral Spire

Higher Cathedral Spire was first climbed in 1934 by Jules Eichorn, Bestor Robinson and Dick Leonard, in the era when climbers were just beginning to explore Yosemite’s cliffs with ropes and gear.

Veterans Commemorate September 11 in Yosemite

Cody Elliot on Royal Arches

Cody Elliot on Royal Arches Photo: Paradox Sports

In the days leading up to September 11, Yosemite proudly hosted some of the most “can-do” people you could ever meet. 15 veterans from across the country came together in Yosemite to challenge themselves, to find community, and to honor those that have served our country during the events of September 11, and beyond. Paradox Sports, an organization dedicated to helping people discover what is possible post-trauma, led the way, supported by partnerships with the National Park Service, Yosemite Search and Rescue (YoSAR) and DNC Parks and Resorts at Yosemite.

During their visit, different veterans participated in a number of significant ascents and activities in Yosemite, including visits to the summit El Capitan, Royal Arches, Ranger Rock, Sierra Point and many more. Afterward, DJ Skelton, one of the co-founders of Paradox Sports, and himself a disabled veteran, was generous enough to give us some additional insight into these significant ascents.

We’re so excited to have Paradox Sports make the trip to Yosemite! Can you tell us why you chose Yosemite for this special September 11 climb?

Paradox Sports was founded by two rock climbers, Timmy O’Neill and myself. It seemed fitting that we did an event based on climbing/hiking in one of our National Parks. There is really only one park in the US, or world for that matter, that is iconic for rock climbing, Yosemite National Park. Although we provide opportunities for ALL types of disabled Americans, we wanted to dedicate a series of events to disabled veterans. When looking at what date to pick, we thought it was fitting to do an event on the anniversary of Sep 11th, 2001. That day and our Paradox Sports have a lot in common. The tragic events that occurred on Sep 11, 2001 involved some horrific scenes that caused permanent damage to both lives and communities. However, that day, despite the tragedy, fostered an environment that bonded our Nation stronger than it had been in decades. A positive growth occurred in the aftermath of the traumatic wake. Paradox Sports thrives on building communities based upon that post traumatic growth that occurs in our disabled athletes. One can become stronger in spite of the traumatic event rather than the negative outcomes so prevalently found in media stories of disabled and wounded warriors.

Paradox Sports veterans and volunteers met with National Park Service Rangers prior to their ascents.

Paradox Sports veterans and volunteers met with National Park Service Rangers prior to their ascents.

The trip is about so much more than just summiting Half Dome. What are some of the other activities you participated in, for example some of your collaborations with NPS?

Not everyone enjoys climbing. Although climbing tends to be the focus of many of our events, we enjoy helping people set all types of goals in the outdoors. In Yosemite we climbed, hiked several classic hikes (Sentinel Done, Taft Point and Sierra Point), swung off of the Alcove Swing on El Cap, swam in the Merced River, and enjoyed the hidden gems that Yosemite nature has to offer. We also have a couple special events that capitalized on the impressive support from the NPS, DNC, YoSAR [Yosemite Search and Rescue], and local population of the park’s residents. DNC hosted a meet and greet with the park’s leadership and key volunteers to meet our Paradox participants on our first night in the park. It was held at the Curry Lodge Pavilion. It was such a warm welcome to our crew and it really solidified feeling like family…part of a larger community. Our last night, the evening of the 11th, we held a campfire celebration of everyone’s successes at our campground at Yellow Pines. Many of our guides, YNP officials and leaders, DNC employees and friends of Yosemite gathered for an evening of celebration, war stories, and reflection of the days’ trials and tribulations. Paradox Sports also ties in stewardship to our event to respect and honor this incredible National Park. We equip participants with gloves, trash grabbers, and trash bags to pick up litter on every hike and approach to the climbs that we visit.

Are there special logistical considerations that you have to take into account when organizing a trip like this one?

There are many. Approach hikes to the rock walls and descent paths from the summits tend to be more our crux than the climbing itself. In fact, it’s sometimes easier to do the climb for our disabled participants than it is to hike in and out. Heat is also our enemy, as it is for most people who play in the outdoors. Sweaty stumps for our amputee population causes discomfort and hardware issues with the prosthetic limbs. Prosthetic limbs and eyes falling off during a climb also poses a unique threat, not only to our climbers, but those climbing, hiking below. It is also getting harder to cook for this next generation. Everyone seems to have some special diet, gluten free, allergies to fruit and nuts, vegans, people who only eat meat…lol.

Veteran Timpson Smith leading high up on El Capitan Photo: Chris Guinn

Timpson Smith leading on El Capitan
Photo: Chris Guinn

Tell us a little more about what inspired you to co-found Paradox Sports and what the organization’s goals are.

I was severely wounded in Nov 2004. At that time, the hospital scene and rehabilitation environment was pretty grim. I saw these very active young adults, who once played hard in the outdoors, feeling trapped by their severe injuries. I wanted to create an environment that would inspire our wounded warriors and disabled Americans to get excited about playing outdoors again and setting goal-based activities. So many organizations were conducting adaptive sports events, but one would have to cater to the organization’s calendar of events. I wanted to create events that empowered our participants to define life on their own terms again. Paradox Sports would help them learn their new normal in outdoor activities, provide assistance in instruction and adaptive equipment, but most of all, provide unconditional inspiration and support to get back out in this thing called life and explore, grow, push beyond these perceived limitations. Come play once or twice, but then we don’t want to see you again. We want you planning family vacations on your own and going on hikes, climbs, etc with friends on your own timeline, not ours. Hah…not a very good business model, huh?!!!

The goals in Paradox Sports are simple, to build and sustain community-based adaptive communities that foster post-traumatic growth through goal-oriented outdoor activities. By goal-oriented I mean, not just go climb a rock, but to set a goal of climbing a specific route. To not just go kayak, but to kayak down the entire Colorado river at the floor of the Grand Canyon! As we hold ourselves to similar standards, we want our participants to continue to grow, and prosper in life however they wish to define success. Paradox Sports acts as sort of a stepping stone for these disabled individuals. Helping them gain confidence and get connected to the broader communities so they can eventually become self sufficient and independent again, regardless of the severity of their injuries.

Participant Cody Elliott works the crack at Manure Pile

Climbing strong

What is the most rewarding part of working with Paradox Sports?

The most rewarding part of working with Paradox Sports, for me, is watching this idea that I once had many years ago grow life and momentum and move in directions that could never have been conceived in the beginning. Seven years later, every event creates this energy that inspires and ignites the human spirit of all involved and changes people’s lives. It absolutely changed my life and attitude on dealing with traumatic events with permanent lasting effects in my physical and mental state. To see that impact and the enthusiasm of our volunteers, who make accomplishing our mission possible, is emotional for me, the most positive kind of emotion!

What are some of the other events or activities that you have coming up? And how do people get involved with your organization?

Paradox Sports’ has three Paradox Rocks events in October. They are weekend programs with camping and rock climbing at the Shawangunks (aka the “Gunks”) in New York Oct 3-5, Rocktoberfest at Red River Gorge in Kentucky Oct 10-12, and Shelf Road in Colorado Oct 17-19. We also have an ongoing adaptive climbing club we run at three different climbing gyms in the Boulder and Denver areas. There are several ways to stay up to date on our events:

- Sign up for the Paradox Sports monthly newsletter
– Check our calendar
– Follow us on social media: Instagram | Facebook
– Follow our blog
– Check our individual program pages

A Summer Day at Wawona in Yosemite

Wawona Hotel in Yosemite National Park

Wawona Hotel in Yosemite National Park

Have you ever spent a summer day in the Wawona area of Yosemite National Park? Though summer is winding down for 2014, you can still spend a day here exploring giant sequoia trees, an historic hotel, the Pioneer Yosemite History Center and hit the greens for a round of golf before fall brings shorter days and cooler nights. Wawona is best known as the home of the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias – Yosemite’s largest and most accessible sequoia grove, home to over 200 mature trees that can be thousands of years old! The Big Trees Tram Tour provides park visitors with a detailed tour of Mariposa Grove in an open-air tram vehicle with an audio narrative. This is the last year of the Big Trees Tram Tour as changes resulting from the restoration of the grove get underway in 2015. The tour operates as long as the Mariposa Grove Road is open, so you can still catch a tour until October 2014. Otherwise. you can hike through the grove to admire these lovely ancient trees and enjoy the tranquility of this old-growth forest.

The Bachelor and Three Graces at Mariposa Grove

The Bachelor and Three Graces at Mariposa Grove

Big Trees Tram Tour in Yosemite

Big Trees Tram Tour in Yosemite

After a morning in Mariposa Grove, a leisurely lunch awaits at the dining room of the Wawona Hotel. The summer menu includes classics like Fish & Chips, Caesar Salad and the All-American Hamburger. Dine on the verandah at this National Historic Landmark and admire the Victorian era architecture of the main building as the hotel was built in stages during the 1800s. Before they are pruned in early September, hops vines cover the verandahs. Planted by early settlers in the Wawona area, hops is a main ingredient in the brewing of beer. Though not native to Yosemite, the hops are allowed to remain as part of the historic character of Wawona Hotel.

Fish & Chips at The Wawona Hotel Dining Room

Fish & Chips at The Wawona Hotel Dining Room

Hops vines growing on the verandahs of Wawona Hotel

Hops vines growing on the verandahs of Wawona Hotel

For some exercise and fresh air after lunch, consider playing a round of golf at the Wawona golf course. This historic nine hole course was opened in 1918, and has since become a certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary – an award winning education and certification program that helps golf course managers protect the environment and preserve the natural resource aspect of the game of golf. Though golfing is not an activity usually found in national parks, the course is preserved and protected as part of the historic character of Wawona Hotel and as an Audubon sanctuary. Keep in mind that when you are on the course near the hotel, you are viewing Wawona Hotel from the original approach to the hotel’s entrance where you can see the hotel with Chilnualna Falls in the background.

Hole #5 on the Wawona golf course

Hole #5 on the Wawona golf course

The view of Wawona Hotel from Wawona golf course

The view of Wawona Hotel from Wawona golf course

The photos above were taken on a lovely summer day in Wawona and posted to our Instagram account (@yosemitednc).

 

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 a 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!