Not All Bad News: The Rim Fire in Yosemite National Park

Though we think of wildfire in national parks as a bad thing, the fact is that positive opportunities also arise as a result of this natural process in wilderness ecosystems. For instance, Giant Sequoia trees use fire to propagate as the heat from fire causes their cones to open and drop seeds to create a new generation. A program in the state of California has inmates contributing to firefighting efforts, providing them with a chance to give back to society and perhaps learn a trade in order to craft a better future. And in Yosemite National Park, employees had the chance to rescue horses that were stuck in the fire evacuation zone with no transportation, providing a safe haven for non-humans impacted by wildfire. The Rim Fire that originated in Stanislaus National Forest on August 17 has since spread to Yosemite wilderness north and west of the Tioga Road and Highway 120. Though most of the park currently remains unaffected, road closures have affected the visitor experience. With the exception of White Wolf Lodge on Highway 120, all services and lodging remain open and available to park visitors in Yosemite Valley, Wawona and Tuolumne Meadows. Not only are visitors still enjoying their vacations to Yosemite, but horses from the Mather Saddle and Pack Station enjoyed some rest and relaxation too.

Stables JR and Kermit

Stables Manager J.R Gehres and Packer/Shoer Kermit Radoor take a break from doing good deeds.

“I got the call late Wednesday night, and by Thursday morning we were on our way with empty horse trailers and four stable hands to help rescue and transport 40 head of horse from the Mather Corrals, “ said J.R. Gehres, manager of the DNC Parks & Resorts stable operations in Yosemite.  The Mather Saddle and Pack Station is a family run stables that have been in operation since 1929, located just outside the Yosemite National Park boundary. The Rim Fire, currently the 5th largest wildfire in California history, was quickly approaching Mather Station and the owner, Jay Barnes, had been given notice to evacuate the area.  “Jay had no way to get the forty remaining horses out of the corrals and called us for help.  On the way, we came across fire officials and explained the situation; they gave us one hour to collect the horses and get out of there.”  The horses were brought to the Yosemite Valley stables where they were fed, watered, and put up in corrals until Barnes was able to relocate them a few days later.  “Horse people take care of one another, and the Barnes family has a long history with animal packing in Yosemite – how could we say no?” said J.R.  Joe Barnes, Jay’s father and original owner of the Mather Saddle and Pack Station, was a wrangler for Yosemite’s early concessions back in the 1930s.  Though the Rim Fire came very close to the Mather Station, burning the forest and meadow land nearby, the facilities were saved. “Jay Barnes was so grateful DNC was able to help him, he had no one to turn to and DNC came through,“ J.R. noted while packing up the last few horses for their trip home.


Guest horses from the Mather Saddle and Pack Station enjoying some hay at the Yosemite Valley Stables.

Thanks to Vicky McMichael for reporting on this story.

Favorite Yosemite Spots: The Mural Room at The Ahwahnee


Photo by Richard Nowik

As part of an ongoing series, we’ll feature the favorite places of Yosemite community members and park visitors. The Mural Room at The Ahwahnee in Yosemite Valley is a favorite spot of Lisa Cesaro, who lives and works in Yosemite Valley. “The Mural Room is indeed one of my favorite spots in Yosemite National Park. The rustic hammered copper fireplace, dark wood paneling and stunning mural depicting the park’s native flora and wildlife make this room a great retreat after a long hike to enjoy a glass of wine or read a book. I really appreciate the attention to detail in the design of The Ahwahnee to complement the surroundings of Yosemite, which is one of the reasons I consider this hotel the crown jewel of the national park lodges.”

AHW-Mural-Room---2005The Mural Room, also known as the Writing Room, is located on the ground floor of The Ahwahnee, just off the Great Lounge before the Solarium. The mural is a toile pente (painted linen) created by Robert Boardman Howard for the hotel’s opening in 1927. The fifteenth century style of the mural features the native flora and fauna of Yosemite National Park in a pattern of flowering plants with animals large and small, serving not only as historic decor, but also as a nature guide to Yosemite. The Mural Room also features a unique corner fireplace with a hammered-copper hood and the only oak floor in the hotel’s public spaces. Refurbished in 2011, the Mural Room’s historic furniture was designed to connect hotel guests to the grand scale of the architecture of The Ahwahnee in an intimate setting.

Yosemite Stables Employees Goliath, Sancho and Buzzard

Since the 1850s, when the first visitors were attracted to the legendary valley of Yosemite, horses and mules have provided a means of transportation that takes visitors to some of the most scenic vistas in the world. Today, at the Yosemite Stables operated by DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, you’ll find that mules and horses are part of the park staff and often have impressive seniority on their resume! Mule_IDs_Modified

Slightly older than the average age of 15 -20 years for most stables equine employees, horse Goliath and mules Sancho and Buzzard have a combined 61 years of service in the park. They spend their days ferrying park visitors on trail rides to places like Mirror Lake in Yosemite Valley, Chilnualna Falls in Wawona and viewpoints overlooking the Cathedral Range in Tuolumne Meadows. In addition to trail rides, employees like Sancho, Buzzard and Goliath make pack trips into the Yosemite wilderness and multi-day saddle trips through the high country possible. They can carry over 200 pounds of supplies into the backcountry to re-supply the High Sierra Camps at Vogelsang, May Lake, Sunrise, Merced Lake and Glen Aulin. Sancho, Buzzard and Goliath work six days a week. Like the rest of the employees, they need a little time off for some R&R. The horses and mules spend their summers working hard in Yosemite, but spend their winters out to pasture at the Dalton Station Ranch near the Central Valley town of Madera. How do employees like Goliath, Sancho and Buzzard get their colorful names? Once they are purchased for Yosemite, the horses and mules are named by Stables Manager J.R. Gehres. He is often inspired by circumstance. At 17 hands tall (that’s 5’8” tall at the shoulder), Goliath is one large horse.

Favorite Yosemite Spots: Tenaya Lake

Photo by Kenny Karst

Photo by Kenny Karst

As part of an ongoing series, we’ll feature the favorite places of Yosemite community members and park visitors.Tenaya Lake in Yosemite’s high country is a favorite spot of Linda Eade, who lives in El Portal at the park’s west gate and has worked in Yosemite Valley for 42 years with 33 of those years as the Research Librarian for the National Park Service. “I’ve been asked this question many times and my response is always Tenaya Lake. Not only for the beauty of the area, but because every year I would take my girls [daughters Kelly and Ellen] to spend the day at the beach on Tenaya Lake just before they went back to school. It holds cherished end-of-summer memories for me.”Tenaya_Lake_beach

Tenaya Lake is one of the most accessible high alpine lakes in the Sierra Nevada, but that doesn’t prevent it from also being one of the most beautiful. This stunning location is often first glimpsed by the park visitor as they head east on the Tioga Road (Highway 120) toward Tuolumne Meadows. Vividly blue and nestled amongst pines and shining granite, Tenaya Lake beckons road weary travelers to keep exploring – and provides a cool place to swim on a hot summer day. Named after native Chief Tenaya, the east beach of Tenaya Lake is the focus of an extensive restoration project funded by the Yosemite Conservancy. The shoreline and wetlands will be restored, native Willows will be planted and access to the beach will be designed to protect this restoration.