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Welcome!

Join me in my adventures in California, Yosemite and beyond! I've spent over twenty years in environmental leadership roles--and in two of the largest national parks, Yosemite and Yellowstone.

Through my work as the California Director for the National Wildlife Federation (my dream job), I'll enjoy sharing my encounters with wildlife and my explorations of California's beautiful landscapes with you--especially my favorite place on earth: Tuolumne Meadows and the High Sierra.

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"Life is a dog and then you die. No, no, life is a joyous dance through daffodils beneath cerulean blue skies. And then? I forget what happens next."                                        Edward Abbey

"Within National Parks is room--glorious room--room in which to find ourselves, in which to think and hope, to dream and plan, to rest and resolve."   Enos Mills

"The animals of the planet are in desperate peril. Without free animal life I believe we will lose the spiritual equivalent of oxygen."                                         Alice Walker

"I have never been in a natural place and felt that was a waste of time. I never have. And it's a relief. If I'm walking around a desert or whatever, every second is worthwhile.”                                           Viggo Mortensen

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Must reads! Some good books I am reading or rereading.
  • Last Chance: Preserving Life on Earth (Speaker's Corner)
    Last Chance: Preserving Life on Earth (Speaker's Corner)
    by Larry J. Schweiger
  • The Golden Shore: California's Love Affair with the Sea
    The Golden Shore: California's Love Affair with the Sea
    by David Helvarg
  • Letters to a Young Scientist
    Letters to a Young Scientist
    by Edward O. Wilson
  • Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, Revised Edition
    Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, Revised Edition
    by Marc Reisner
  • The Future of Life
    The Future of Life
    by Edward O. Wilson
  • Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
    Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
    by Bill McKibben
  • Saving Homewaters: The Story of Montana's Streams and Rivers
    Saving Homewaters: The Story of Montana's Streams and Rivers
    by Gordon Sullivan
  • Pika: Life in the Rocks
    Pika: Life in the Rocks
    by Tannis Bill
  • The World Is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean's Are One
    The World Is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean's Are One
    by Sylvia Earle
  • Decade of the Wolf: Returning the Wild to Yellowstone
    Decade of the Wolf: Returning the Wild to Yellowstone
    by Douglas W. Smith, Gary Ferguson
  • Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone: A Mountaineering History & Guide
    Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone: A Mountaineering History & Guide
    by Thomas Turiano
  • The Invention of Clouds: How an Amateur Meteorologist Forged the Language of the Skies
    The Invention of Clouds: How an Amateur Meteorologist Forged the Language of the Skies
    by Richard Hamblyn
  • Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity
    Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity
    by James Hansen
  • The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents Earth (The Book): A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race
    The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents Earth (The Book): A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race
    by Jon Stewart
  • The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean
    The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean
    by Susan Casey
  • Jane Goodall: 50 Years at Gombe
    Jane Goodall: 50 Years at Gombe
    by Jane Goodall
  • The Wolverine Way
    The Wolverine Way
    by Douglas Chadwick
  • Wolf: The Lives of Jack London
    Wolf: The Lives of Jack London
    by James L. Haley
  • Gloryland
    Gloryland
    by Shelton Johnson
  • Faith of Cranes: Finding Hope and Family in Alaska
    Faith of Cranes: Finding Hope and Family in Alaska
    by Hank Lentfer
  • State of Change, A: Forgotten Landscapes of California
    State of Change, A: Forgotten Landscapes of California
    by Laura Cunningham

 “The valley... the granite domes around, and last of all, the snowy peaks of the higher Sierra just beyond...all conspired to form a scene of grandeur seldom met with. I have seen some of the finest scenery of Switzerland, the Tyrol, and the Bavarian Alps, but I have never saw any grander than this.”                                                      

So writes William H. Brewer about a hike in Yosemite Valley, in my favorite book on California, Up and Down California, a collection of letters about his four year and 14,000 mile exploration of the Golden State that he embarked in over 150 years ago.

Join me in my travels as I pay homage to the spirit of Brewer’s appreciation and enthusiasm for the wonders of California. What I write about: the remarkable wildife of California (especially frogs and pika), the natural world, my favorite place on earth Tuolumne Meadows, eccentric and interesting Californians, environmental issues, and places for really good sunsets.

"At the edge of geographic possibility and under a paradisiacal sun, California has played America's wild child. America's America."        Richard Rodriguez

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Thursday
Jan162014

A sad, almost dry Yosemite Falls and mosquitoes in January 

A sad, almost dry Yosemite Falls today. (Photo by Beth Pratt)Yosemite Falls on January 27, 2012 (photo by Beth Pratt)Yosemite Falls on February 16, 2010 (Photo by Beth Pratt)Yosemite Falls, January 25, 2007 (photo by Beth Pratt)December 29, 2005 (Photo by Beth Pratt)

To paraphrase a line from one of my favorite shows, winter is never coming. Even I am getting nervous, and I usually celebrate a short winter not being particularly fond of the season. And I earned the right to living in the land of California sunshine, having grown up in New England and surviving through three of Yellowstone's sub zero endless winters.

But this is a bit extreme. We have wildfires burning in Southern California and the Sierra Nevada. The deer in my yard are starving. Some of my native plants have died. My house lacks any form of heating except for a woodstove, and I have lit only few fires this winter. I went for a walk yesterday along the Merced River and thought about taking a dip. Is this really January? 

Being attacked by mosquitoes today at the base of Yosemite Falls, however, ranked as the most stark reminder of the severity of the drough. As I stood gazing at the sad, almost dry Yosemite Falls, a swarm of mosquitoes surrounded me. At first, I was utterly disoriented. "It can't be mosquitoes because it's January, wait no, these are mosquitoes biting me." Investment tip: put your money in bug repellent as we're going to need it year round here. 

Mosquitoes in January in the Sierra Nevada? WTF? (Photo by Beth Pratt)

Thursday
Jan022014

James Franco lends his artistic voice to Yosemite

What did the fox say? I still don’t know, but James Franco gave it his best interpretation on New Year’s Eve in Yosemite while wearing a sparkly mask and dancing at the Ahwahnee Hotel.

This week the multi-talented James and his artistic posse visited Yosemite and my hometown of Midpines and Mariposa to film a segment of his upcoming movie, “Palo Alto Stories.”  Franco sightings raced across social media, from him stopping at the Pizza Factory to filming at the intersection of Triangle and 140 (literally in the middle of nowhere), to hiking the Mirror Lake Trail.

#sadfranco

I had always considered James more of a cool city hipster than someone likely to don fleece and check out the stars in the Ahwahnee Meadow. It just shows you how much I know (nothing). As someone who writes about Yosemite and wildlife both professionally and personally, this summer I stumbled upon the notice for an Indiegogo campaign set up by James for his film. I was intrigued: James Franco-Yosemite-mountain lions-bears? I knew James as a gifted actor, but had no idea he also had penned a book or two (or three or four).

I ordered the short story collection the film is based on not knowing what to expect, but soon placed James on the bookshelf next to my Raymond Carver volumes, one of my favorite short fiction writers. He possesses his same lyrical quality, and a compassionate yet distant eye. The work is also one of the best testaments I’ve read about growing up in California, it both dispels and enhances the mythical life of plenty in the Golden State. I highly recommend the book and his others.

In September, I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Franco at a showing of his film “Sal” in Los Angeles, and became even more admiring of his artistic range. In directing a film about the last day of the actor Sal Mineo, James penned a brilliant ode to the extraordinariness of the ordinariness of life, elevating the mundane to the scared in the context of a person’s last moments.

What does the mountain lion say? Meeting James Franco in LA.

Being my usual goofy self, I started the conversation off with nothing intellectually profound, but told James about P22, the mountain lion living in Los Angeles (he was lucky to escape without hearing my frog stories). We then chatted about how he weaves the natural world in his work. In Palo Alto Stories, wildlife and nature possess a sort of remembrance of things past quality as development has already started overtaking California and the teenagers in his stories seem to long for wildness without quite being able to articulate it. In his story Wasting, one character rediscovers the animal themed children’s books of Bill Peet, and wistfully thinks, “It was good to read those books again, all those feelings came back to me.”

The short story Yosemite, one that the film will be based on, deals with a father and his two sons driving to the park—James plays his father in the movie. The boys discuss the shooting they witness of a ‘friendly’ bear with their dad, which causes one of them to consider his own mortality: “The bear had ribs like I had ribs. Underneath had been lungs, and a stomach and a heart and they all got burned away.”  In another sequence of the film, teenagers deal with “the threat of a killer mountain lion looming over the community.”

James is a welcome modern voice to what I consider the tired writings about Yosemite and nature that place the natural world on the pedestal of untouchable paradise that can only be described in religious terms of perfection. I’m more interested in new interpretations of what the park and wildlife mean in the internal lives of people. Nowhere in his stories do the words “glorious” or “magnificent” appear in relation to Yosemite (my apologies to John Muir—I think him a great man—but enough flowery prose already) as his style is more Charles Bukowski than Aldo Leopold.

I consider this a virtue.

Yosemite is my favorite place on earth, my spiritual center and I work to tirelessly to protect wildlife. But Nature needs a new song—the old record is worn out.

James might not know what the fox says (does anyone?), but I am looking forward to hearing more what he says about Yosemite, nature and wildlife. And of course Bound #4.

Monday
Nov112013

A pika snow angel, the coolest arachnid ever, and an animal track parade in Yosemite

A pika snow angel (photo by Beth Pratt)

With the winter closure of Tioga Pass looming (or is it? no storms in the short term forecast), I've been dashing up to Gaylor Lakes as frequently as possible to spend time with my favorite pika family before they snuggle under the snow and nibble on their dried lupine stalks. 

Although I observed several pika scrambling on the rocks, I was not fast enough on the camera draw to obtain any photographs, which is rare for me at this pika village near Gaylor Lakes. This population is extremely friendly and usually comes out and smiles for the camera. Last time I visited, however, I observed two red-tailed hawks and a prairie falcon scouting the territory, so perhaps they have discovered this pika paradise as well.

Yet I photographed something just as cool as a live pika- a pika snow angel! The pika leapt onto the snow and disappeared into the rocks before I could take the photo, but he left his body print. Animal tracks are another favorite part of winter hiking as I enjoy seeing the paths of wandering wildlife, their tracks invisible for most of the year.

One critter I encountered that left no tracks was a cool spider. Except it wasn't a spider. According to my friend Eddie Dunbar of BugPeople, the arachnid was a Harvestman or type of daddylonglegs as spiders possess two body parts. Spider or no spider, it was one badass bug wandering over snow at 11,000 feet.  

An arachnid at 11,000 feet (photo by Beth Pratt)

Here's 30 seconds of Yosemite Zen from my hike--you can hear the ice melting on Gaylor Lake.

Gaylor Lake on a beautiful fall day (photo by Beth Pratt)

Upper Gaylor Lake (photo by Beth Pratt)Animal track parade near Granite Lake (photo by Beth Pratt)

Beautiful cirrus clouds over Gaylor Lake (photo by Beth Pratt)

Tuesday
Nov052013

Winter Comes to Yosemite--and The Belt of Venus

Last weekend I hiked up to the Lake of the Domes in 55F weather, wearing shorts and t-shirt. Yesterday, gloves, hats and a few layers were required in the Tuolumne Meadows area of Yosemite as winter had definitley arrived. The recent storm had left a layer of snow that did not quite cover all of the peaks, leaving the mountains looking a bit like an unfinished painting.

Saddlebag Lake (photo by Beth Pratt)

Tuolumne Meadows (photo by Beth Pratt)

At sunset, a pink and purple hued sky appeared in the east over Tenaya Lake and Mount Conness, a vivid and rich color that seemed to vibrate above the white granite. I generally referred to it as alpenglow, but Steve Bumgardner, the Yosemite filmmaker, told me it was actually an atmospheric phenomena called The Belt of Venus. Next time you are watching the sunset, turn to the east and see if you can spot the backscattered red sunlight that causes the brownish to pink wedge in the sky named after the Roman goddess, Venus.

The Belt of Venus over Tenaya Lake (photo by Beth Pratt)

Wednesday
Jun052013

Pika, pika poop, Yosemite toads and thunderstorms: just another day in Tioga Country

Thunderstorm over Gaylor Lake (photo by Beth Pratt)

“Mist rising—streams falling—
snow melting—
rocks weathering
us descending.
Clark’s Nutcracker hollering
A day to be alive and wandering through.”

Gary Snyder always perfectly captures the wonderment of a day in the Sierra with his poetry. To complete the story of my amazing hike on Monday, I would just need to add a few lines about pika, pika poop, thunderstorms and Yosemite toads to the verse. 

Gaylor Lake at 11 am (photo by Beth Pratt)Gaylor Lake at 3 pm (photo by Beth Pratt)

My friend Ranger Dick, a Yosemite Ranger for over thirty years, has a saying that "weather is always better when you are outside in it." I agree. At the end of my hike, I sat comfortably under a small grove of pine trees on Gaylor Ridge and listened to the thunder reverberating across the lake, rushing and pounding the surrounding cliffs. The thunder was a physical thing, I could feel it shake and tussle with the granite. 

I wandered in the basin, looking for pika and Yosemite toads, and to my delight found both. A rocky slope near Gaylor Lake has become my almost never miss place for pika sightings--one even ran over my foot one year. Sure enough, as I approached I heard the distinctive warning chirp of the pika, and saw him dash over some rocks. I sat and watched a few of the adorable critters for some time, along with marmots and ground squirrels. And I even found some pika toilets from the winter--huge piles of poop!

Run away! First pika sighting of the year (Photo by Beth Pratt)

At lower Gaylor Lake, I listened for the trilling of the Yosemite toad, a melodious love song that signals the beginning of spring. But the low snowpack--and very dry conditions--had accelerated their annual breeding schedule and I heard only a few lonesome calls instead of the usual deafening chorus. It's not going to be a good year for the toad (and probably Sierra frogs in general) as the conditions in the Gaylor basin resemble mid-summer instead of spring. I found only one pond with egg masses and tadpoles, and many of the usual sites were dry already.

Pika poop (photo by Beth Pratt)

Yosemite toad (photo by Beth Pratt)The storm over Tenaya Peak and Tenaya Lake (photo by Beth Pratt)