Beautiful Rainy Weekend

colorful umbrellas at tunnel view
Hanging Out In The Rain At Tunnel View

A friend of mine really wanted to take advantage of the new moon tonight to test drive a new fancy camera. Another friend I haven’t seen in many months is coming for a weekend visit with her two boys. And it’s going to be raining. And that’s really, in the overall scheme of things, a great thing.

California still really needs the rain. It will be interesting to see the result of the April snow survey, but we’re hovering right around average now but with a big water deficit to make up for. You only need to look around at all the dead trees to see that lack of water is affecting the local ecology.

The forecast is for rain in Yosemite Valley and at our house in Yosemite West, but it’s still going to be cool enough that there will snow up at the higher elevations – snow that is going to be stored up for later on this summer when the weather get drier.

It’s getting warmer and it’s hard not to get ahead of the seasons, anticipating warm weather activities, but there are still some inspirational people going out and getting some great skiing at higher elevations.

Rain makes for some pretty dramatic scenery too. When the sky is a cloudless blue, there are masses of people out taking pictures with their phones and point and shoot cameras. When the storms roll in, that’s when you see the serious photographers with their big cameras come out. The clouds swirl around the Yosemite cliffs making them seem even bigger and lending a feeling of mystery about what lies beyond.

Rain also makes puddles. Don’t  underestimate those! Puddles are great for photography too, creating beautiful mirrors of the landscape everywhere. They are also great for splashing in. I’ve had great fun in the last year hunting puddles to splash in with a friend’s toddler.

And finally, I circle around to a Tim Ferriss Show podcast that I listened to recently where he interviewed Josh Waitzken. Josh is the chess prodigy who inspired the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer, and who has since that time won national and world championships in martial arts, and now has a successful business coaching elite mental performers – currently mostly in the world of finance. He has lots of interesting things to say in that podcast, but the one that is relevant here, is that he started noticing that people put value judgments on the weather. “The weather is bad,” means it is raining. But actually, that’s arbitrary. Josh made a point of going outside to play with his son in every storm that comes through. When she visited us, my own Aunt Jaq would get up in the morning, walk outside to sniff the air, and stretch her arms up and say “Ah… it’s a beautiful day.” When we questioned that because it was raining, she said, “Oh, Honey, I decide before I get up that it’s going to be a beautiful day.”

That’s it. I’m fully planning to enjoy the beautiful weather in Yosemite this weekend. I’ll do some puddle splashing with my friend and her boys, take some photos, and revel in the great reason to curl up with some hot chocolate afterwards.

Firefall Video By Shawn Reeder

If you haven’t seen it already, be sure to take a look at the beautiful new-this-year video of the Horsetail Fall “Firefall” that happens in February when the conditions are right.

When we first moved to Yosemite, we were driving out of the valley on South Side Drive, came around a corner and were mesmerized by what seemed to be a waterfall on fire coming off the shoulder of El Cap. Quickly, we pulled off in to the pull-out (which had plenty of space) with just a few other people equally surprised and entranced.

I didn’t own a fancy camera or tripod back then, or a cell phone/camera, so I didn’t get the amazing image, but the experience of discovering the magical event is etched into my memory.

These days, when you come to Yosemite during “Firefall Season” the event is hard to miss. Photographers travel from across the country, and start setting up in the morning in order to claim their spot before the masses show up. NPS sets up cones and turns an entire lane of the road into a parking lot. By 2p, practically the entire corridor along the viewing angle is elbow-to-tripod with people, trampling vegetation and setting up lawn chairs in hopes that the day will bring just the right combination of sunshine and water to make Horsetail Fall light up.

And this year didn’t disappoint. It was the first year in many that the waterfall had enough water to be truly spectacular, but I didn’t go down to see it. Not even once. It’s OK. I’ve seen the amazing pictures, Shawn’s video, and I still have that memory of rounding the corner and enjoying Horsetail Fall magic in a wilderness setting.

Seasons In The Mountains

Bee hovering in front of wildflowers
Sipping from the Bird’s Eye Gilia

One of the great things about living in the mountains is being able to change out seasons by driving up or down in elevation. The same day I took the above picture at 3000 feet, people were skiing and snowboarding in beautiful spring snow conditions above 7000 feet.

I remember growing up in the mid-west that the first few snow days of winter might have been exciting and new, but by the time February or March rolled around I was just aching for the first warm days of spring. And they would arrive – warm and sunny at maybe 55 degrees F, and everyone, conditioned by months of bone-chilling weather, would be out in shorts and t-shirts throwing frisbees on the still-brown lawns.

Now, the moment that longing for spring weather hits, we can just drive downhill for an hour and find emerald hills, wildflowers, and soak in 70 degree temperatures.

Not to brag. But it’s nice living here.

Yosemite Transition

As neglected as this space is from time to time, I thought it would be remiss not to at least mention the big changes that have been happening all around me this month.

On March 1, Aramark took over the Yosemite concession contract, and that ushered in a new cultural era for the park.

The public would be most aware of the name changes: The Ahwahnee has become the Yosemite Majestic Hotel. Yosemite Lodge at the Falls has been shortened to Yosemite Valley Lodge. Curry Village is Half Dome Village. Wawona Hotel adopted an old name, Big Trees Lodge, and Badger Pass has been stripped of character and renamed with the functional, if less poetic, Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area. There has been a huge outcry about this, and friends of mine have received threats and have been virtually screamed at by strangers who have only the vaguest idea of what is actually happening. Ultimately, though, I have to agree with Pete who has written about the history of name changes in the park (there have been many), and the endurance of the things that actually matter.

Not neglecting the importance of labels and traditions, I genuinely feel that Yosemite won’t be changed. Have amenities distracted us from what the national park and the land truly are? Rocks and trees, water and seasons, won’t be a whit less wonderful. Jays and oaks won’t care, bears and domes won’t be diminished if we re-label a hotel.

If you’re interested in hearing stories of Yosemite from an amazing naturalist and interpreter/communicator/nice guy, you ought to wander over and check out Pete’s Yosemite Nature Notes blog. On a similar note, the National Park Service is in the process of re-examining the rules governing wilderness use in Yosemite. Now, this is something that will most certainly impact those of us who want to do more in the park than take pictures from the road. Now is the time to pay attention and participate.

On a personal level, the transition has had more of a social impact than anything. Because Aramark didn’t replace all positions within the park, many people who have lived here for years, and sometimes decades, have suddenly found themselves out of a job (like me). But in Yosemite, where employees tend to live in company housing, being out of a job often means being out of a place to live too, and so friends are scattering far and wide and rebuilding entire lives – home, job and community. If you can imagine how disruptive it is for one person to make a major life change, imagine an entire community doing it simultaneously and in multiple dimensions. Even many of the people who have found a way to stay have new employers, new co-workers, new housing and often a slightly different job description to adapt to. It’s been a stressful time, filled with uncertainty, and I’m glad to see things settling back down. In fact, one of the most encouraging reports was from a friend who works at the Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area, who said that it all seems like business as usual, right down to the shouted morning welcome… “Good Morning, Badger Pass!” Ha!

On a personal note, I am so grateful to Delaware North for the opportunity that allows me to work remotely from Yosemite. In spite of derogatory slogans to the contrary, I’ve been impressed with how much Delaware North has cared to try to find creative ways to help people through the transition process when they can.

Begin Chapter Next.


First snow of the season

Dogwood leaves covered in snow
Dogwood leaves covered in snow.

The first snow of the season at our house in Yosemite West is always a treat, and worth a quick mention. After a few years of drought, it’s even more welcome. The dogwood leaves at 5000-6000 feet elevation in our neighborhood are still turning, and I loved seeing the contrast of the bright colors against the snow.

Badger Pass is reporting 9 inches, which is also a good start. My co-worker, pointed out that the first snowfall of last year was about the same date, so this in itself isn’t going to get us very far, but hopefully it’s just the first taste of more snow to come. The storm wasn’t cold enough for snow to fall in Yosemite Valley itself, but from the valley you can see the frosty rim all around.

Neighborhood cedar in snow
My favorite neighborhood cedar
shaggy mane mushrooms in snow
Shaggy Mane mushrooms from our yard, surprised by the dusting we received.
Bridalveil Fall
The water in Yosemite valley is no longer gushing the way it was while it was raining, but it is still nice to see Bridalveil Fall flowing again.

Halloween 2015

Halloween office parade
Left: Co-workers alerted the kids will be here soon. Right: Handing out candy to the kids.

So much as been going on this October that Halloween was here before I knew it. Non-costume plans had been made for the weekend, and although those changed, I still didn’t have costume party plans. So, my single whirlwind dose of Halloween festivities was the parade of kids that come through the office each year.

It’s a highly anticipated event in the office. We order much too much candy in advance. Those of us who are more prepared and/or festive dress in work-appropriate costumes, and throughout the day there is a gentle buzz. “When are the kids going to come by?” “Make sure you get me when the kids are here.”

And when they come, escorted as usual by the Yosemite mounted patrol (What other kids get horses in their Halloween school parade, honestly?) People line up at the door to see the costumes, candy at the ready.

There are two waves. The little kids in daycare come first. Some are held by their parents. Others surge forward on their own. One enterprising boy this year held his pumpkin out hopefully to every adult he saw whether or not they had any candy. The older Valley School parade is later in the day. Last year there were a lot of Elsas, but this year there was much more variety.

In addition to this school parade, the kids also make the neighborhood rounds on Halloween night. Yosemite’s small community seems like the perfect place to trick or treat. National Park’s are nice and dark but people know each other here so safety is less of a concern than it might be elsewhere. Besides, I know of one person who makes it a point of pride to offer full-size candy bars.

Those kids must have quite the haul at the end of the event. If their parents aren’t clever enough to come up with a Pumpkin Prince-like story, those kids are probably buzzing on candy right up until the moment that they sit down to Thanksgiving dessert.

Another great Halloween idea to remember – an early October costume exchange party!

Cycling back around

People like me, people who have a long string of hobbies that would take up several lifetimes, and a list of interests that extends even further than that, end up cycling through things, returning to favorites, and constantly adding a few more cool things to the list. That way the list gets longer and longer.

I haven’t been paying much attention to this blog lately, but that’s because I’ve been playing the piano, drawing pictures, exploring some different social media sites, and trying to keep a steady eye on fitness levels and all the physical recreation that I like to do as well. Lately, I’ve added a new thing to my list of hobbies. Cycling.

I got excited about riding the road bike that my friend, Beth, gave me last year, and over the course of this very dry winter, Tom and I bought mountain bikes. As it turns out, although perhaps every boy rides a bike this way, there are some fundamental bike riding skills, that I never managed to pick up in my girlhood, and I’ve been getting an education riding around the trails behind our house.

Plus, I’ve been invited on a bakery to bakery bike tour this spring, and I’ve been trying to get into shape enough to enjoy, or at least survive, the ride. I’m unused to spending much time in the saddle, but am trying to remedy that. My friend Chris, made the following video with a new GoPro, and although I wasn’t with him on this ride, we’ve done a few loops of the Valley together. It’s a great way to get out and “get the news” as John Muir would say.

Biking Southside Drive from Chris Publiski on Vimeo.

“I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news”
― John Muir

First Skate Ski of the Season

I wish I had stopped to take a picture. Really. But sometimes, you’re having so much fun doing what you’re doing, that you just don’t want to stop and dig the camera out… even if you had it stashed in a convenient pocket to do just that.

Skiing was Great

The Cross Country Center at Badger pass opened this weekend, and Tom and I wandered up to see what the skiing was like. The previous storm dropped about 12 inches, meaning that the road had a decent coverage, but there wasn’t enough on the hill for the lift-served area to open. In some ways that was fine with me. I was excited to get a nice aerobic workout in.

The connector trail from the parking lot to the road wasn’t groomed, so we put our striding skis on, but then turned back when we realized that the road itself was freshly groomed, and changed to our skate skis.

With all of the fresh snow, the skating was slow enough that we skated most of the downhills, but firm enough to be fun. We went out past the Bridalveil Creek bridge and up to just before the next section where it starts downhill again. I was feeling surprisingly tired from the P90X workouts I’ve been doing lately, and decided that was a good place to turn around. Tom went a little further and then caught me on the long climb back up to Summit Meadow.

I’m looking forward to more of that!

Watch that Last Turn

We had just pulled out of the Badger Pass parking area, and were getting ready to make the left turn onto Badger Pass road when we caught sight of a green Subaru driving entirely too fast for the conditions. Sure enough, although the driver turned the wheel, his car kept going straight, careening wide into our lane. Fortunately, Tom managed to slow down just enough and the Subaru smacked hard into the snow bank just in front of us. I suppose it’s a no-harm-no-foul sort of situation. We backed up to give him space to back out of the snow bank and he pulled himself clear, wheels spinning and sliding across the ice. I thought at one point he was going to hit us after all and Tom muttered that someone needed to learn to drive in the snow.

Naturally, the guy was very apologetic. He hadn’t had any other issues with handling on the way up, and was surprised to lose control so spectacularly and completely.

That’s the second time we’ve almost been hit at that intersection. The first time was also due to someone trying to take that corner way too fast. That car had chains on the front wheels, and as the front end of the car turned the corner, the back side whipped around into our lane, pulling the rest of the car with it.

It’s a tough corner. During the summer, as you’re driving up, Glacier Point Road actually takes a slight left bend there, and it looks like a hard right turn into the Badger Pass parking lot – the kind of turn you’d want to slow down for. In the winter, the road beyond the parking area isn’t plowed, and if you aren’t paying attention, it might look like just another right turn in the road. And if you aren’t paying attention, you might not realize how steep the turn is. And if you aren’t paying attention, you might not notice that as you continue up the Badger Pass road, it gets more snowy and more icy as you gain elevation.

My point is – pay attention. I love running into friends at Badger Pass, but not like that.

Yosemite’s last grizzly bear?

I love Twitter. I’m not on it all the time, but sometimes it’s amazing the cool things you read and discover there. This came from YosemiteSteve, the talented creator of the Yosemite Nature Notes films who apparently has a Grizzly bear project kicking around his mind. I’m hopeful that we’ll all get to benefit from that eventually, but for now, I was just interested in the story of what might have been the last grizzly killed in Yosemite, back in 1887. Steve posted a link to the original hand-written letter from RJ Wellman to Joseph Grinnel, and the rough transcription that I made of it is below.

A few things that caught my attention:
– Although Wellman has a great deal of respect and admiration for the grizzly, his thoughts about wolves and cats aren’t nearly so generous.
– Two guys milled a tree, packed the lumber on a mule and built a scaffold 10 feet off the ground in one day, and I wonder what kind of tools they were using.
– Wolves and wolverines!
– The letter written on April 20, 1918, was finally received June 19. I wonder if they thought a two-month transit time was fast or frustrating.

Notes on the transcript:
I tried to preserve the spellings where I could make out the letters, and things I couldn’t figure out are noted with [brackets]. I could probably have figured out more, but was more interested in the spirit of the story, which I think comes through clearly regardless.

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Mono Winds

The Mono Winds are blowing in Yosemite. My Facebook stream echoes with wide-eyed descriptions of the fierceness of the wind shaking the buildings, but in the newer construction over by Curry Village, it’s a regular night in the apartment, tapping away at my computer and learning new things. Oh, yawn.

According to a document that looks like it might have been published as a collaboration between the National Weather Service and the National Park Service, the Mono Winds are a cold wind blowing downhill from the Mono area that can reach speeds of 50 miles per hour as it gets funneled through geographic constrictions like Yosemite Valley. This event is predicted to have 20 – 40 mph winds with gusts as strong as 60 or 75 mph. For some perspective, the fastest recorded winds are 231 mph on Mt Washington on April 12, 1934, (the date my mother-in-law was born), a hurricane doesn’t rate the name until it has consistent winds of 75 mph, and a Category 5 hurricane must have winds of 155 mph or more. The Fujita Scale gives a rough description of the kind of damage that you might expect from strong winds due to tornadoes. From that it looks like the Mono Winds are definitely on the gentle side of serious. However, they are still strong enough to knock down trees and branches, and that poses the biggest danger to people and property here. (Woe to the few remaining autumn leaves that thought they might hold out for another week or so.)

It’s best to be prepared, so the executive team met to discuss possible emergency measures. They are taking the situation seriously. A tree fell down early in the day near where I live in Curry Village. Certain evening programs were cancelled as people were encouraged to stay indoors, and some residents were asked to prepare in case they needed to be evacuated quickly – if a tree fell and hit their building, for example. I called Tom and suggested that he move the car to an open area out from under any trees. The climate around me started to feel a little jumpy. People were trying to figure out what they were going to do with their pets, where they would go etc., and when it came time for me to leave for the evening, the prospect of walking alone in the dark for a mile back to my apartment was starting to make me nervous.

Thank goodness for cell phones. I called Tom and made idle chit chat as I walked, figuring that if the freak accident did occur, at least he would know to call 911 quickly, and I chose a route home that avoided overhanging trees as much as possible. I think that walk home felt like being a mouse for a few minutes – like something big might come crashing down on you at any moment. Best to be alert, and just this side of paranoid. Other than being blustery, it was a beautiful night, crunching my way through all the leaves and pine needles that covered the walkways and roads, but it was hard to enjoy it. All in all, I’ll be happy when it is over. Hopefully we’ll all enjoy a peaceful and uneventful night.