Ladybug’s Picnic

Clusters of ladybugs
Clusters of ladybugs

Re-inspired by some questions from a couple from LA at the Visitor’s Center a few weeks ago, I decided I really needed to know more about lady bugs.

Turns out, ladybugs huddle together during the winter. This supposedly accomplishes three things. 1 – they stay warmer, 2- it’s a great time to meet other ladybugs and get it on, and 3- ladybugs are supposed to release some foul scent that deters predators, especially when they’re all crowded together. Whatever their reasons, seeing these masses of ladybugs is a pretty amazing sight.

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Ahwahnee Fire and Life Safety Renovations

Sometimes there are great perks to my job.

I got to go on a tour of The Ahwahnee Hotel while the building is temporarily closed for renovations, and see first hand some of the amazing work that is being done there. There is so much going on! The whole place is buzzing with purposeful activity as teams of people are working on getting the renovations completed before the the hotel re-opens.

We have to be very careful of what is said about the project, because the PR people are watching everything like hawks, but I can honestly say that I was impressed by the amount of work being done, the attention to detail, and as they’re starting to reassemble various rooms, a very promising finished product. (Sorry for the lack of pictures, I don’t know which of them are approved.)

I can’t wait to see what it will look like when the tools are stowed, and the doors re-open in just over a week! It’s amazing how much will be accomplished in such a short time – so many different contractors working in parallel, trying to keep every aspect of the project moving forward in concert without getting in each others way. A very big round of applause should go out to the folks that are managing it! Some things will probably be obvious to the casual observer, like the remodeled public bathrooms. But there is also a ton of stuff going on behind the scenes, things like replacing ancient wiring, fixing leaky pipes, and adding unobtrusive fire alarm systems. And then there are all the environmental decisions (recycling and reusing carpet) and historic decisions (getting the original light fixture manufacturers to return to rehabilitate and refinish the dining room chandeliers, or preserving stenciling) that I hope will make the rounds as full stories in their own time.

I’ve always been more interested in stories of the natural Yosemite outside the doors of buildings, rather than inside, but these are times when the unique history of the building itself really comes to the fore, and walking through, I was struck with the feeling that we aren’t just observing history from the high and mighty seat of the present, but also actively participating in the ongoing story of that place.

Yosemite Forum – GIS in SAR

A small group of us went to the Yosemite Forum presentation today by Paul Doherty on using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to help aid Search and Rescue operations. These once-a-month forums are a chance for the community, and the public at large to learn about some great ongoing Yosemite research.

Today we learned about how researchers are using GIS to try to facilitate Search and Rescue operations. GIS is a system of overlaying complex information on maps that allows you to plot relationships and visualize patterns over a geographical area, and make predictions about the behavior of populations. As a technology, it is already being used by a wide variety of researchers, and policy makers, as well as by fire management teams and rescue personnel. Paul’s preliminary research covers creating systems that will help rescuers anticipate how far a person might have traveled since they were last seen, and plot out a search strategy within that range, (GPS units can then also reveal exactly what ground rescuers have covered.) Finding safe landing areas for helicopters when they are needed for rapid evacuation, and trying to look for patterns in where people are injured and when to help manage resources.

What I liked about this talk, was that Paul has real in-the-field experience, and blends that nitty gritty academic interest with a very practical interest in giving search and rescue teams tools that give them the best possible chance of finding someone and getting them out safely. He pointed out a couple of times during the talk that Yosemite is lucky to have some amazing expertise, people who, after decades of experience, are shockingly good at SAR strategy, but those people won’t always be around, and these new tools can help even some of those with less experience make smart decisions in the field.

Snow Day

When I looked out the front window, I saw a whole family running back and forth outside our house – sliding happily down the street in their plastic sleds. They’d been at it for an hour at least, and didn’t show any signs of stopping soon. Snow brings so much joy to the mountains! I consider shouting to them that there is an even better sledding street around the corner, but they’re having so much fun, I decide to just let it be.

Snow also brings some travel headaches. My plans to get up early and catch a quick ski in the morning before work, turned into an hour of shoveling and snow-blowing, only to find out that the road to Badger Pass is closed for the day due to snow. Unfortunately, when we get a heavy snow like this, the plows just can’t keep up, and they focus on keeping the main roads clear instead. Even so, Hwy 41 was listed as R3 for most of the morning, meaning that all vehicles were required to use chains, even those with 4WD (rare!), and Hwy 120 was closed entirely for snow removal.

If only the snow had come a week ago, it would have been perfect. As it is, holiday travelers are struggling to get into the park, or making decisions to stay home instead. I hope the family renting our downstairs apartment make it here safely! The conditions are going to be fantastic.

How NOT to get cell phone reception in Yosemite

Cell Phones in Yosemite
Cell Phones in Yosemite

(If you somehow ended up here in hopes that you’d find some information on cell phone reception in Yosemite, please skip down to the end. The middle part is a rant, but it’s going to make me feel better.)

PS. I wrote this a while ago and somehow never posted. If the weather doesn’t seem to match up, that’s why.

The first Yosemite cell phone story

A few days ago, on my way home from work, after dark, I passed a white van stopped in the middle of the oncoming lane of traffic, just after a sharp corner. As I passed, I noticed that some of the passengers had climbed out of the van, and that the reverse lights were on.

Two days before that we were stopped by the rangers as they tried to clear 50 cars that lost control due to snowy conditions on that very road, and my first thought was that these people had gotten into an accident and might be in trouble. So, I pulled over into the nearby pull-out, opened the door and called out to them. “Hey, are you guys OK?” They told me that, yes, they were fine, and that they were just looking for a connection.

To my credit, I did not then ask them straight out if they were out of their minds. I very politely suggested that they might get better reception further down the road, past the tunnel, and that they might pull out of traffic before someone came around that corner and crashed into them from behind. For example, they could use the very convenient pullout that I was in, right on the other side of the road.

The second Yosemite cell phone story

Also, a few days before that, I drove down into my neighborhood, came around a very icy corner, only to find another guy parked in the road, in his car, talking on his cell phone. There seems to be precisely one spot in Yosemite West where ATT and Verizon customers can get a strong enough signal to have a conversation. Unfortunately, the outside edge of a turn just past the corner where people can’t really see you, on an icy section of the road is just not the place to park your car. (And while I’m at it – neither is the middle of the road at the bottom of a steep icy hill. That’s another story, but we’ll save it.)

Searching for reception

We all love our cell phones, and driving around until you get a signal seems like an obvious solution, but seriously people, risking life and limb by doing dangerous things in traffic just isn’t worth it. If you’re lucky you will see something in Yosemite that will make you want to stop your car right where you are – whether that’s amazing scenery, wildlife, gorgeous spring wildflowers, or an extra bar on your phone. Do yourself (and everyone else) a favor and take stock of your surroundings. Is there someone already behind you, who may NOT think that Mountain Pride Penstemons or mule deer are worth stopping for? (Sometimes they are, sometimes not.) Can you see far enough back that if someone is approaching you’ll be able to accelerate to not inconvenience them? Is the road icy? Is there a spot where you can pull completely out of traffic so that you can stop and stare to your heart’s content? Sometimes you’re going to have to continue on to a place where you can get off the road and then get out of your car and return to the spot of interest on foot.

Finding a cell signal

Cell phone reception is improving, but is still spotty in the mountains. Here are some of the best bets for getting a connection that I know of.

Coming into the Park:
Cell phone reception starts to get shaky after Oakdale on Hwy 120 and after Oakhurst on Hwy 41. I think you can usually get good reception in Mariposa on 140 but I don’t travel that way very often. If I’m trying to coordinate with people by cell, I usually try to call from outside the park and then estimate the time it will take until I arrive at my destination.

In Yosemite Valley:
The ATT and Verizon signal in the Valley is strongest near the Visitors Center/Village Store area and decreases the further you get from there. For example, I have 5 bars (ATT) in the Village area, and can have a reliable conversation if I’m outdoors at Curry Village, but if I’m indoors my phone may or may not ring. Most climbers can make calls from the face of El Capitan, but the true (hiker’s) summit isn’t reliable.

There are payphones available in most of the likely spots, including at Curry Village, and Yosemite Lodge at the Falls near the front desks. There’s a booth at Camp 4, and some phones next to the Village Store, at the Glacier Point Gift shop etc. If you aren’t sure you’ll get reception, bring change (there are also calling cards available for purchase in the stores).

In Wawona:
I’m told that even ATT doesn’t work that well in Wawona. Verizon customers can get service, but other people might have to use a pay phone. There is one at the Wawona Store next to the gas station.

In Tuolumne:
Apparently they installed a new cell tower in Tuolumne a few years ago, which means that we are getting better reception now than we used to in the high country. No promises. There are payphones by the Tuolumne Store.

In Yosemite West:
There are two payphones in the neighborhood. One is located at the first intersection next to the mailboxes. The other is supposed to be somewhere up by Yosemite West Condos, but I haven’t seen it. The cell reception is pretty limited, but as you head down into the neighborhood, you’ll go by a guard rail on the right with a great view of Forresta. Usually you can get a signal there. If it is dark or slippery, I would recommend taking the left option at the Y, and parking a short distance up that road and then walking back. If you step over the guard rail, there is a cleared out spot that should keep you out of traffic.


Send Text – When reception gets spotty, it’s easier to send a whole text than have a partial conversation.

Disclaimer – Reception depends on many factors including service provider, phone and weather conditions. Cell phones are not as reliable in the mountains as elsewhere. Plan accordingly. Also, I haven’t done an exhaustive survey of cell phone reception, or pay phone locations. If you have other experiences or information, please don’t hesitate to share.

Half Dome Permits – 7 days a week

Half Dome cables in 2006
Half Dome cables in 2006
It’s finally official – NPS announced a new interim program to require permits to hike Half Dome all week long while the cables are up in 2011. Permits will be available online through only March 1, for May and June dates, and then April 1 for July etc. One more time – you can ONLY get these permits online about 3 months before you want to come up and hike the dome. There are no first-come first-served options. Plan ahead.

I can’t say that I’m particularly surprised at the decision. After the report detailing the effects of limiting Half Dome access during weekends and holidays last summer came out (you can get the pdf of the report here along with other information on Half Dome trail use and management), this seemed like a logical extension of the permit policy. Limiting access during the weekends simply transferred traffic to other days, and the new restrictions address those concerns.

However, I can’t help gritting my teeth in anticipation of all the disappointed people that will arrive this summer after training for nine months to get in shape for the iconic hike, only to find out that the permits have been sold out for months… and I’m not even one of the people who will bear the brunt of that reaction on a full time basis. Please help spread the word. You need a Permit to Hike Half Dome now. All. The. Time.

Tuolumne Snow

We walked to to the top of Lembert Dome and got caught in a small snow storm
Lately, the weather keeps conspiring to precipitate on weekends only. Tioga keeps closing, and then re-opening in the sunny 60-70 degree weather during the middle of the week while I’m working. Fortunately, this weekend, the rain/snow forecast was a bit late in coming, and even though we slept in until almost noon, the road stayed open just long enough for Tom and I to hop in the trusty Subaru and take a peek.

I don’t know how many leaves this most recent storm will knock to the ground, but the autumn colors were magnificent on our drive, and we stopped, oohed and aahed, and snapped pictures. There are elderberries growing alongside the road, blue and tasty next to the reds and yellows of dogwoods and big-leaf maples. Western foliage season isn’t like its eastern counterpart. There are so many conifers here that the colors are just patches of flame against the cool greens of the firs, cedars, and pines. Not the same, but still beautiful.

Hwy 41 foliage and elderberries
When we got to Tuolumne, the skies were a dramatic blend of storm clouds and blue sky, and we walked the slabs to the top of Lembert Dome for a view. There were several other cars in the Lembert Dome parking area, but once we left the parking lot, we didn’t see anyone else. At the summit, we were treated to a few minutes of snow before it cleared up again. By the time we were halfway back down the slabs, the sun was warm on our backs again.

On the drive, we listened to the audiobook version of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. I was so impressed with Dave Eggers’ talk on, that I was really looking forward to this story. We’re a little less than three full chapters into it at this point, and I’m afraid to turn it back on. It’s not that it isn’t good writing. It’s powerful writing. And the craziness of losing two parents to cancer inside of a year and having to raise your younger brother… hearing about it makes me a little crazy too. So, I took a break from that by reading City of Thieves by David Benioff. You wouldn’t think that a WWII story about the craziness of war in and around Leningrad would be much of an emotional break from craziness, but there it is. The introductory chapter is absolutely brilliant, and I had no idea until afterward that this is also the writer that is responsible for screenplays for Troy, X-men Origins: Wolverine, and The Kite Runner. A look at his highly acclaimed first novel, The 25th Hour is in order.

A New Season

First dusting of snow in Yosemite West
It’s a cold almost-November day, 40 deg and raining, and everywhere I looked this morning, there were photographers, with their big cameras on tripods set up next to the road, wearing their rain gear and happily snapping away. Serious photographers are a unique bunch here – it’s like they bloom when the skies turns dark and cloudy, the rain starts to fall, and other people are grousing about the awful weather. But it’s easy to understand why. The clouds and fog skirting the big cliffs make them seem that much more majestic and mysterious. And no one, not even Ansel Adams, has seen just exactly this play between the clouds and the light. Heaven.

My own morning’s photographic exploits were more modest, and more furtive. There was a tiny dusting of snow at the top of our neighborhood this morning, hanging in the changing leaves along the side of the road, and I stopped to snap a photo out of my car window. (The visitors might stop randomly in the middle of the road for deer or bear, but me, I stopped for a couple of snowflakes. I need to remember to be more patient when others see something photogenic. But, for the record, I did check behind me to make sure I wasn’t on a blind corner, took only 2 quick snapshots and was moving again before anyone else came up behind me.) Snow on the ground. Ski season is coming up fast.

Over breakfast, I read Tom’s copy of TUNA News, by a nordic ski group out of Utah. Lord knows why we get their publication – something Tom did at some point. There is new ski gear in the catalogs we receive daily in the mail, and I’m contemplating new AT boots to go with the big plans I’m making for this ski season. I’m always excited about snow, but this year I’m preparing for long weekends in the high country, in Tahoe, or if I’m really ambitious, over on the East Side. October 22nd was my 4th Boulder Day, and it seems like a long time, but I finally feel like I’m in the position to get back into ski shape. The first few years after the boulder event, I just didn’t feel like I could take the pounding, and last year there were so many house projects that we didn’t seem to be able to find the time. This year, everything is coming together.

I’m now on day 20 of my new fitness program, and already starting to see some results. I’ve lost some weight overall – just a couple of pounds – but between fat loss and muscle gain, I can see some significant differences in the way that my body looks, and those pants that were getting too small are starting to feel comfortable again. Most importantly, I’m feeling stronger than I have in a long time. Years. Long enough that I’d forgotten what it was like, and what it’s like, is good.

The program I’m on is only 30 days long, and so I’m shopping for a new program. I checked out the Mountain Athlete program because, that seems pretty sport-specific. Lots of functional movement and sport-specific exercise. Tom mentioned a guy named Eric Cressey who is well-known for building strength. Tom also thinks that between us, we know enough that I could probably design something good for me without spending a bunch of money – which is certainly true – but for some reason, I work out a lot harder when I’m on someone else’s program. So, I’m still shopping (and taking recommendations if anyone has them), but committed to finding something in the next few weeks.

A serious program might have to wait until after our vacation to Hawaii though. Can you believe it? After years of planning mountain vacations and family vacations, Tom and I are finally headed to the beach, just the two of us. Running on the beach, surfing?, hiking near Haleakala, exploring the Road to Hana, resting, reading, and relaxing. I’m looking forward to the change of pace.

The other new season that is just around the corner is NaNoWriMo. Last year, not only did I finish the challenge of writing 50K words during the month, not only did I enjoy spending hours typing up a story that no one will ever read, I also managed to learn something in the process. Naturally, I’m excited to do it again this year. November is only two days away.

Lots of new things starting for me. New season. New fitness level. New commitment to play. New exercise program. New NaNoWriMo challenge. Life is good.

After the Rain

Yosemite Falls - Oct. 25,2010
Yosemite Falls - Oct. 25,2010
Yosemite is particularly beautiful this morning. Not just the, of-course-it’s-Yosemite-after-all, beautiful, but exceptional. After the steady rain yesterday, there is water everywhere, more reminiscent of spring than fall. The Merced River has gone from being little more than a creek, to wild and full, and the thin stream from Yosemite Falls has also blossomed into spring-ish glory. You can see in the photo that the boardwalk that leads out into the meadow is flooded this morning, providing a nice reflection of the falls. What you can’t see is the clearing clouds, clinging to all of the cliffs and features.

The rain has knocked down a few of the autumn-colored leaves, but there are still many trees that hadn’t turned yet, and so these will still be good viewing in the days to come.

Thank goodness we got caught in road construction!

Well, you don’t hear that too often, but I guess there are always people out there looking on the bright side of things.

The road to our house, Hwy 41, has been under construction for most of the summer. They are doing a major re-grading and re-paving project along the entire section of road from the entrance station to Yosemite Valley, and has meant that for the entire summer, we’ve been subject to 30-60 minute construction delays (sometimes more than 60 min. although that is supposed to be the outside limit, and when we’re lucky, no stopping at all). Fortunately, that’s given us time to perfect our construction delay technique.

Construction delays are nothing like traffic jams. In traffic jams, you’re stuck inside your vehicle continuously inching along with everyone else. In our construction delays, there’s a guy with a big stop sign, and a long line of cars that are absolutely stopped until the pilot car returns with the string of cars going in the opposite direction. That means, that when you hit the construction, you can turn off your engine and hop outside and start looking around, and only jump back in when cars start passing in the other lane. Not every place along the road is as scenic as others, but there is usually something interesting to look at – wildflowers by the side of the road, if you don’t have a beautiful mountain overlook.

Tonight, they stopped us right at the juction with South Side Drive before you make the right turn to Bridalveil Falls parking. As usual, we popped out of the car and started looking around. I found a couple of interesting flowers near the culvert and started busily sketching. Tom uprooted an evil, invasive Wooly Mullein, and then set about making friends. First I heard him explaining to one guy that if he really needed to use a restroom, he could walk up to the Bridalveil parking and catch his friends as they went by there. Then, like a natural-born interpreter, I hear him making hiking trail recommendations and explaining about fire management in the park and how it helps to keep the forrests healthy. A crowd is gathering. He and his new friends are pulling out maps when the pilot car appears, and everyone has to get back to their cars.

As Tom is heading back toward the car, the man says, “Thank goodness we got caught in construction traffic! That was worth it!”