Eastern Sierra Road Trip

Before heading off to my new job in Yellowstone, I decided to join my BFF Jack Laws for a road trip on the Eastern Sierra. He had a series of school visits and a presentation with the Eastern Sierra Audubon in Bishop, and we had great fun exploring the area in between his engagements. To provide me with a fitting farewell to the place I love best in the world, we decided to circumnavigate the Sierra Nevada Range—we drove out via Tahoe and came back via Bakersfield.

Stuck%20Subaru.JPGJack is a wonderful travel companion and we had some marvelous adventures. During the long drive we entertained each other with raven, coyote, and frog puppets, and Eagles sing-a-longs with the help of iTunes. We searched valiantly for big horn sheep, with Jack courageously plowing his Subaru through steam crossings on dirt roads in pursuit. Even though we had plenty of time for a sighting as we waited for the stalled out Subaru to recover from one such crossing, the sheep eluded us.

Jack’s talents are immeasurable and his enthusiasm contagious. I enjoy seeing his work being so well-received. Don’t miss him if he’s speaking near you!


Dollywood.jpgOur management team took a recent trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park to learn from their cooperating association. Steve Kemp, the publications director for the association, is a close friend and talented writer (he’s the author of “Who Pooped in the Park”, among other works). After touring the bookstore operations, we took some time to sample the local culture.

Mt. Conness (Almost)

UFO.jpgA wonderful two days in the Sierra! I spent two hours on Pothole Dome in Tuolumne Meadows watching stratiform lenticular clouds form over Mt. Dana and Mt. Gibbs and measured 35 mph winds at Ellery Lake. The next day I had a wonderful hike up the Sierra Crest via Saddlebag Lake. Although my destination was Mt Conness, the icy conditions on the crest made it too dangerous (at least for a wimpy hiker like me) to proceed. Yet my inability to reach the summit didn’t mar the beautiful day one bit. Blue skies, 60F temperatures and a rainbow of oranges, browns, and reds of the fall landscape made for a perfect hiking day.

12.4 Miles, Only One Hill!

Beth%20and%20Holly%20at%20the%20Finish%20Line.jpgYes, I am nuts. Why else would I run twelve miles up to Tioga Pass from Lee Vining? I guess I am even crazier to admit that we had fun! Running amidst such spectacular scenery is great for the adrenaline rush. My fellow runner, Holly Kuehn, and I chatted most of the way, especially about what we would eat once we finished. Our top-notch support crew included YA staffers Corrie, Todd, Michelle, and her husband Ted who kept us well supplied with water, Gatorade, and beer. At the finish line I ate about a thousand cookies and then we headed down to the Mobil Station for a well-deserved dinner. Jack Laws and his wonderful parents, Robert and Beatrice, bought us a chocolate cake to celebrate.

YA Members' Meeting with Jack Laws

Can you imagine a more perfect members’ meeting speaker than Jack Laws, the author of the new illustrated guidebook to the Sierra Nevada? As he’s a close friend, I admit to being a bit bias, but his talent is undeniable. Being around Jack, one recaptures that sense of wonder we had as a child but lost in the busy world of adulthood. He spoke not only about his new book, but also about the importance of developing new stewards for the wild places we love. I also was able to spend time with his delightful parents—I see why Jack is so gifted—it’s in the genes.P1010073.jpg

Scat Identification on the Dana Plateau

Jack%20Laws%20Scounting%20for%20Raptors.jpgA hike with Jack Laws is never boring. I thought I was going to fail my first big test as a major naturalist. After a brief lunch stop, Jack and I continued up the trail on our way to the Dana Plateau. He stopped and picked up a piece of scat on the trail and we examined it for identification. He broke off a piece, considered it, and then popped it into his mouth, exclaiming, “Yes, it tastes like coyote.” He offered me a taste. Although I certainly wanted to appear like a dedicated naturalist, I was not going to eat scat, even in the pursuit of scientific inquiry. After a few moments, he revealed the scat to be, indeed, chocolate.

In spite of the tense moment around feces, we had a delightful day. We watched for an hour a pika scamper around the rocks, fetching stalks of lupine. I also got prime viewing on the formation of a thunderstorm, anvil cloud and all. Once the thunder began, however, I had to give up my prime seat and head down to a safer area.

Silver Lake Swim

Team%20Silver%20Lake.jpgTeam Tioga reunited for a swim at Silver Lake (in the June Lake Loop). This time Mara Dale and I were joined with Heidi Pusina and her dog for the 3/4 of a mile swim. Our faithful kayaker guide, Ed Billington, came well-supplied again with beer, and Heidi's family followed in a large canoe. I had purchased a slick swim skin last year and it made swimming much more fun (and warm!).

Naturalist Dream Team

Jack%20at%20Elizabeth%20lake.jpgOur association offered a three day Natural History of the Sierra Nevada with Jack Laws and David Lucas- a naturalist's dream team. I tagged along for a few sessions, and had a delightful time peering at insects, looking under rocks, and picking up sketching tips from Jack. Jack also offered a nighttime astronomy viewing and we all lay huddled against the cold in Tuolumne Meadows gazing at the Milky Way.

A personal highlight--on our way down to the Mobil Station for dinner one night, Jack made me stop the car so we could help pollinate some evening primrose on the side of the road.

Goodbye, Smedley


On October 5th, 2006 I lost my boss and close friend, Steve Medley. The night before he died, we were working on this weblog and it has been difficult for me to update it after his death. Below is the tribute I wrote for him for the Yosemite Association's memorial book, The Complete Guidebook to Steven P. Medley. I miss him every day.

Everything I Needed to Know in Life I Learned From Smedley

Steve and I had the perfect partnership, sort of a professional “dynamic duo,” although we lacked really cool costumes and our delivery van hardly served as a batmobile. After working together for almost eight years, we had learned to appreciate the many ways we complemented each other (he cringed at anything even resembling teambuilding and I gladly ceded any copyediting tasks to him). We had also accepted each other’s idiosyncrasies—I didn’t mind that he played Mexican rock on our business trips and he made an effort to support my love of bar charts and spreadsheets.

We had also become good friends, a rarity in a boss-employee scenario, and that he managed this speaks to his wonderful character. He could transition seamlessly from administering a performance review to enjoying a margarita by the pool while giving me tips on my swim strokes. (Yes, he did hold review sessions by the pool!)

Although I wouldn’t want to emulate his propensity to save old computers for decades or his consistent lunch menu over the last twenty years of yogurt and peanuts, Steve also served as an excellent mentor and teacher. Under his tutelage, I gathered many important tenets of the “Smedley philosophy”:

1. If at first you don’t succeed, a cold beer sure helps before you try again.
Steve’s beer nights with his friends were legendary.
2. Meetings are optional and trainings are for the weak.
I remember being in shock at my first APPL conference when Steve encouraged us to skip a scheduled session so we could walk around Anchorage in search of moose.
3. A bad joke is better than no joke at all.
His humor kept me going during difficult times. After a particularly long week at the office, I lamented to Steve that “I just wasn’t seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.” He quickly replied, “that’s because there isn’t one.”
4. There really is a song for every occasion.
Steve never failed to relate even our most dire situations to a song. He even “crafted” a song about our Johnny Partner toilet cans at Ostrander.
5. Never make a decision before 10:00 am, and delay it until noon if possible.
Steve was not a morning person. On one of my first days at work, I strode into his office with a big smile and gave an energized, “good morning!” I still remember the look of utter horror on his face. He asked, “What are you, on drugs?” We all knew not to bother him until after 10:00 am.
6. Be kind.
Steve truly wanted everybody to be as happy as he was. He was a kind, gracious person who cared about the people around him.
7. You can always find it cheaper on ebay.
I don’t think he paid full-price for any consumer good. His ebay habit also procured him an unrivaled collection of Gilroy postcards.
8. Don’t worry, be happy.
In our working relationship, we balanced each other. Steve worried about nothing; I worried about everything. His humor and calming manner saved me from many a nervous breakdown, even the ones he may have provoked from not worrying enough
9. Never use the word “bling-bling” in a sentence.
We had an ongoing debate about grammar and language. He refused to acknowledge any word not listed in his ancient dictionary (of a 1950’s vintage).
10. Family and friends always take precedence over anything else.
He cherished Jane and his sons. And he never let his friends run dry on beer.

Holy, heartbreak, Batman! How can Robin go on without a leader? Smedley, your friendship was a gift. I will miss you for the rest of my life.

Beth Pratt
Yosemite Association Vice President/CFO

Winter Arrives & Rocks Roll

Winter wasted no time in arriving in the Sierra and gave us very little warning as well. One moment I was lounging on my desk in shorts basking in the sun and reading Richard Dawkins’ new work, the next I was bundled up inside watching the trees sway from wind gusts and listening to the footsteps of rain on the roof.

Of course the real reason the first rain is so significant this year is our fear over what water will do to the rockslide. And sure enough, when I drove across the bridge this morning, large clouds of dust rose across the river while boulders bounced down the slope. Although the small release put us in no danger, it served as a reminder that the rockslide still has a few more acts to go.

North Peak

North%20Peak%20above%20Greenstone.jpg“Glorious!” “Bully!” “O the Joy!” How many other historical figures can I quote to describe my hike up to North Peak? John & Elizabeth O’Neill (perhaps not as well known as Muir, Roosevelt, or Clark) write in their book, Tioga Tramps, that the view on North Peak is “one of the best! Far below, the turquoise Conness Lakes, and thrusting up just across the way, the spectacular peak of Conness. To the north and east you can gaze down dizzying steep cliffs and snow and ice couloirs.” Truly, the day was perfect. Once I left the shuttle boat that transported me across Saddlebag Lake, I encountered no one. A clear blue sky, slight breeze, and moderate temperature made for ideal hiking weather. Fall had begun her colorful painting on the landscape and hues of yellow, red, and orange adorned the vegetation. Delicate white alpine gentian flowers still dotted the terrain, the last vestiges of summer.

Olmsted Point Dedication

Today the Yosemite Fund celebrated its beautiful renovation of the most scenic of Yosemite’s scenic vistas. "Olmsted Point is a feast of nature and scenery of immense proportion," said Bob Hansen, Yosemite Fund president. I could not agree more. From Olmsted, one can gaze at the formidable wall of granite beneath Clouds Rest and view Half Dome standing like a sentry over the valley. To the east, the “gates of Tuolumne,” (as I term it)—Tenaya Peak and Pywiack Dome—rise over Tenaya Lake. Kudos to the Yosemite Fund for providing donations for so many wonderful park projects. They are currently embarking on a campaign to upgrade the trails in Yosemite. For more information visit www.yosemitefund.org

Members' Meeting

Cartoonist Phil Frank delighted our members at our 31st annual Members’ Meeting in Wawona. Proving to be an adept multi-tasker, he entertained the audience with tales of his Farley crew while sketching his characters on a large flip chart. We raised over $3,000 for our organization when we auctioned the cartoons during our wine and cheese event. Park Superintendent Mike Tollefson updated our members on park issues, and many park rangers provided interpretive programs for the event. Authors Gerald Haslam, Eric Blehm, and Michael Ross signed copies of their news books, Grace Period, The Last Season, and Baby Bear Isn’t Hungry respectively. I highly recommend The Last Season—it’s well written and an engaging read, despite the tragic story of the search for a missing backcountry ranger. Sierra Nevada hikers will recognize many of the characters and locales. (Grace Period is next on my reading list, and the beautifully illustrated Baby Bear Isn’t Hungry is a wonderful book for very young children).

The Bridges of Mariposa County, II

Highway 140 is now open 24 hours, with only a fifteen-minute delay at the lights routing one-lane traffic across the bridges. Although no vehicles over 28 feet can use the detour, the completion of this temporary solution will allow some semblance of normalcy to return to our lives. For those of you who have not seen the rockslide, I highly recommend coming to Yosemite via 140. You’ll have an excellent view of geology in action from across the river!

Dana Plateau

Lenticular%20Over%20DP.jpgI led my friends—Kimi, Anthony and Iris—up the Dana Plateau today (see Team Half Dome on June 5). As this was their first hike to this wondrous region, I delighted in their delight, as the Dana Plateau is my favorite place to wander in the park--a Martian-like landscape, with fantastic rock gardens grown over millions of years.

The instability aloft continued today, leaving vestiges of the conditions that produced the wave yesterday—a fine display of lenticular clouds. At times, the wind blew so fiercely that we had trouble walking.

Sierra Wave

On my drive up to Tuolumne this afternoon, I witnessed the most spectacular Sierra Wave cloud display that I have yet beheld. Regular readers of my blog will be familiar with my addiction to clouds, and seeing a Sierra Wave is akin to a birder viewing a condor in the wild. Shad, my partner, said he had a full view of the wave across the mountain range when he drove home from Catheys Valley and I chided him for not having a camera. For the fascinating story behind this magnificent cloud, see my article

Twice when I have witnessed the wave, major fires were occurring in the park, and I now wonder if there is a relationship. I am working on an update of the book, Hot, Dry, Cold, Wet, and Windy: A Weather Primer for the National Parks of the Sierra Nevada with James Huning—I shall ask him about a connection.

Han Solo in Yosemite

I wish I had been hiking in Hetch Hetchy this past week! Harrison Ford dashed into Yosemite piloting his own plane and filmed a sequence for the Environmental Defense Fund’s documentary “Discover Hetch Hetchy.” He has joined the battle for the removal of the O’Shaughnessy dam, a cause that has gathered much attention lately. As the San Francisco Chronicle asked, “Can Indiana Jones rescue Hetch Hetchy Valley from its watery Temple of Doom?” For anyone wanting to learn more about this controversial and complicated issue, I would recommend two good books:
Dam!Water, Power, Politics, and Preservation in Hetch Hetchy and Yosemite National Park

The Battle Over Hetch Hetchy - America's Most Controversial Dam and the Birth of Modern Environmentalism

The Bridges of Mariposa County, II

Today the second bridge opened for traffic on the 140 detour, and there was much rejoicing. Instead of driving six miles on a dirt road on the riverbank opposite the rockslide, we will now only have a half-mile to navigate, which has been nicely paved. A convoy still leads us, but once the traffic lights and sensors are in place we’ll be on our own.

Mono Pass and Spillway Lake

Dad%20and%20Beth%20at%20Spillway%20Lake.jpgMy family visits me from New England annually, and this year I warned my father and brother to be prepared for a long hike. After trying to narrow down one of my favorite places to share with them, I finally decided on Mono Pass and Spillway Lake, one of the less strenuous hikes on the list (which included Mt Dana and Conness—perhaps a bit ambitious for two people who have lived at sea level their entire life). The area provides a great introduction to the high country as the fairly level trail up to Mono Pass leads though inviting forests to reveal, at the end, a picturesque alpine basin guarded by the Kuna Crest, Mt. Gibbs, and Mt. Lewis. A short hike over a ridge brought our intrepid group to Spillway Lake, its depths fed by water cascading (i.e., spilling) down from the Kuna Crest. Although the altitude proved trying for Dad and Kevin (and Kevin had never walked as far in his life!), both sauntered on and finished the hike.

Surf’s Up at Mono Lake?

While having lunch at the Whoa Nellie Deli, I noticed what I thought were whitecaps on Mono Lake. As the wind was blowing heartedly, I assumed it had stirred up waves. Yet as I kept watching, the white lines did not appear to be moving. After lunch, we headed to the Mono Lake Visitor Center to inquire about the phenomena. Apparently, on windy days when conditions are right, a constant wind can create stripes of alkaline foam in the water.