Restoration Projects in Yosemite: Helping Restore the Natural Beauty of the High Sierra

Restoring Tuolumne Meadows Lodge in 2008.

Restoration of Tuolumne Meadows Lodge in 2008.

Since 1916, concessioners in Yosemite National Park have provided wilderness experiences for thousands of visitors by operating the Yosemite High Sierra Camps in some of the park’s most beautiful backcountry locations.  High Sierra Camps are spaced 5.7 to 10 miles apart along a loop trail in Yosemite’s high country, accessible only by foot or saddle. After decades of operation, the once pristine camps became impacted by heavy visitor use combined with minimal land management. Merced Lake High Sierra Camp, the largest, oldest and most remote of the high camps was the first to benefit from planned restoration efforts, which began in 2001.  DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite employees worked to restore the camp with the guidance of the National Park Service at Yosemite.

Restoration workers at Merced lake High Sierra Camp.

Restoration workers at Merced Lake High Sierra Camp.

The success of the Merced Lake restoration inspired DNC to plan extensive restoration projects for the other High Sierra Camps during the summers of 2005 and 2006. The plan was expanded to include White Wolf Lodge in 2007 and Tuolumne Meadows Lodge in 2008. Since then, most High Sierra Camps have benefited from multiple efforts at ecological restoration. In 2011, ten years after the first restored pathway, it was time for the restoration crew to go back to Merced Lake High Sierra Camp. DNC partnered with the National Park Service and Yosemite Conservancy to improve the ecological health of the camp with grounds maintenance.  A group of 11 Yosemite Conservancy volunteers lead by DNC environmental managers Mark Gallagher and Debora Sanches donated 416 hours of labor to Merced Lake – helping to restore the camp to a more natural condition. The ecological restoration techniques included soil decompaction; collection and spread of native seeds and duff; transplanting native plants; trail delineation, erosion control and the creation of proper drainage for run-off.

Merced Lake High Sierra Camp after restoration in 2011.

Merced Lake High Sierra Camp during restoration in 2011.


Restored drainage at Tuloumne Meadows Lodge in 2008.

Restored drainage at Tuloumne Meadows Lodge in 2008.

In 2012, two major restoration projects took place at May Lake and Glen Aulin High Sierra Camps. In addition to trail delineation, decompaction and spread of duff in closed-off areas, volunteers also helped with deferred maintenance work such as roof replacement, corral post and hitching rails additions, plumbing improvements to prevent water waste and lodge foundation replacement.

In addition to the High Sierra Camps, DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite recently started work on a two-phase ecological restoration project at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls – also in partnership with National Park Service and Yosemite Conservancy. The restoration work includes removal of dirt roads, social trails, & non-native plants, and also transplanting of site-specific native plants and seeds. Yosemite Conservancy recruited 15 volunteers to work on the first phase of the project. DNC will work with the National Park Service at Yosemite to source native vegetation seeds in Yosemite National Park to be planted at the site in October.

Restoration at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls in 2014.

Restoration at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls in 2014.

Badger Pass Ski Area and Bike/Raft Rental Manager Sean Costello at the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge restoration in 2008.

Badger Pass Ski Area and Bike/Raft Rental Manager Sean Costello at the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge restoration in 2008.


Favorite Yosemite Spots: Tuolumne Meadows

Lembert Dome rises above the Tuolumne River, flowing northwest towards Hetch Hetchy and San Francisco. Photo by Kenny Karst.

Lembert Dome rises above the Tuolumne River, flowing northwest towards Hetch Hetchy and San Francisco. Photo by Kenny Karst.

An ongoing series, “Favorite Spots”, will feature the favorite places of Yosemite National Park community members and park visitors. Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite’s high country is a favorite spot of Kenny Karst, who lives and works in Yosemite Valley. “Of all of the special places there are to roam in Yosemite National Park, my favorite is Tuolumne Meadows.  On the north side of the meadow, the meandering flow of the Tuolumne River is perhaps one of the most peaceful places on earth, with abundant wildflowers in the spring, and visiting fauna throughout the year.  Tuolumne Meadows is also the home of special trailheads into the backcountry, including Elizabeth Lake, Cathedral Lakes, the High Sierra Camps north and south, and the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne.  Yes, this meadow is magical.” Kenny often provides photos for the Yosemite DNC Instagram account (@yosemitednc) known as “Kenny’s Lunchtime Walk in Yosemite”. To view all of Kenny’s photos on Instagram, search hashtag #kennyslunchtimewalk or check out the Pinterest board, Kenny’s Lunchtime Walk in Yosemite.

The word “Tuolumne” often foils park visitors’ attempts at proper pronunciation on their first trip to Yosemite’s high country. Named after a tribe of Native Americans who lived on the banks of the Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers, these high alpine meadows received their current name by 1863. Today, Tuolumne Meadows is accessible via the Tioga Road in Yosemite for roughly six months of the year due to winter snow accumulation at such high altitude. At 8600 feet in elevation, Tuolumne Meadows offers a cool alternative to summer heat as well as views of some of Yosemite’s most famous peaks: Mount Dana, Cathedral Peak, and Mount Conness. This area of the park  is often cited as a favorite spot by park visitors, and services include lodging at Tuolumne Meadows Lodge, camping at Tuolumne Meadows Campground, a visitor center and wilderness permit center as well as other services: Tuolumne Store and Grill, USPS Post Office, Tuolumne Meadows Stable for trail rides, an outpost of the Yosemite Mountaineering School and a gas station.

We’re collecting more pictures and stories about favorite Yosemite spots. Keep checking back for more.

Yosemite Night Photography with Kristal Leonard

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Yosemite’s beauty extends far beyond the daylight hours. The clear sierra skies, far from city lights, offer a great opportunity to see the park literally in a new light. Moonbows shimmer in waterfall spray lit by the full moon, and the great expanse of the Milky Way arches above high mountain lakes or Yosemite icons like Half Dome. Kristal Leonard is a well-known local Yosemite photographer whose pictures bring those night-time landscapes to life. We were lucky to catch up with Kristal to find out a little more about her, and get some tips on night time photography.


How did you become interested in night photography?

I was always fascinated with the night sky from a young age, so when I got into landscape photography about 7 years ago, it was just a matter of time before I pointed my camera towards the sky at night. It was in 2010 when I took my first shot of a constellation and was immediately hooked.

What makes a good nighttime photograph, in your opinion?

For landscape astrophotography, it’s important to have an interesting foreground, like a lake, a cool looking tree, or people silhouetted. When you can position things on our planet to objects in the sky, it makes the connection between the two more intimate.

What kinds of equipment, camera or otherwise, do you like to have with you for a night-time shoot in Yosemite?

Since I shoot on many dark nights (meaning no moon light) I use a Canon 6d, which has excellent light sensitivity, so it can handle the dark night better. Another must have is a tripod. Most exposures are 5-30 seconds so you need to keep your camera completely still while shooting.

What are some of the techniques you’ve mastered (or are still developing)?

I don’t think I’ve mastered any yet but I’d like to master focusing in the dark. This is probably the single most question I get about night photography: how do you focus in the dark? The answer for me is some planning and a lot of trial and error.

I’m also still developing taking self-portraits at night, which can be much trickier than daytime self-portraits.

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What are your favorite night sky objects to photograph?

By far, my favorite is our galaxy, the Milky Way. In the summer months, facing south, the core of the Milky Way is visible and is so bright and intense. It always takes my breath away to see it!

Another favorite is an atmospheric phenomena called airglow, which is excited atoms in our atmosphere which emit a typically green glow not easily visible to the naked eye, but a long exposure can capture it! Although it looks like aurora, it is chemically different, but just as beautiful.

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Do you need knowledge about constellations and planets to create good night sky photos?

You should have it so you can plan when to shoot certain things, like which constellations are visible in the summer versus the winter, but I don’t think it’s the most important thing.

Do you have any tips for a night photography beginner?

Learn how to focus in the dark! Seriously, it’s the hardest thing to learn.

And learn some basic exposure settings to get started and just get out there and do it. If you want to get more advanced, take a workshop which will show you in-field techniques as well as photo editing processes.

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Is there any literature or websites you would recommend?

One site I use a lot is Star Circle Academy The author has a huge variety of tips, from basic to advanced, on a ton of topics, from landscapes to deep sky objects.

What is your favorite spot to photograph in Yosemite at night?

Definitely Glacier Point! It can be crowded at night (lots of flashlights) during the summer but the views are amazing. You can watch the moon rise over the high country, the Milky Way arch over everything, the fuzzy Andromeda Galaxy near Half Dome, meteor showers, satellites including the International Space Station, etc…

See more of Kristal’s amazing photography on her website at:


More Horsepower, Less Emissions: Going Green in Yosemite

DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite's newest fleet vehicle - the Chevrolet Spark.

DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite’s newest fleet vehicle – the Chevrolet Spark.

To keep Yosemite National Park a little greener during a California drought, DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite has introduced two new ways for employees to travel in Yosemite Valley that requires no fossil fuel consumption and adheres to the guidelines of the company’s GreenPath sustainability program. In the first case, an all-electric vehicle was added to the fleet – the Chevrolet Spark. Unlike the hybrid shuttle buses that operate in Yosemite Valley, the Spark plugs in and runs on electric charge only. The Spark is also sized smaller than your average vehicle to make that charge last longer. Used primarily as a mail delivery vehicle in Yosemite Valley, the Spark can go for 82 miles on a single charge! We compared the smallest vehicle in our fleet to the largest horse in our stables, Goliath, and found more horsepower and less emissions with the economically-sized Spark.

The Chevrolet Spark, Goliath the Horse and JR the Stables manager in Yosemite.

The Chevrolet Spark, Goliath the Horse and JR the Stables manager in Yosemite.

Along with adding the Spark to our fleet, the new Employee Bike Thing rolled out this summer. This employee bike rental program employs 40 retired rental bikes from Yosemite’s bike stands as new transportation for Yosemite Valley employee residents. Each cruiser style bicycle is assigned to an employee for the entire summer season with a required security deposit.  When the bike is returned at the end of the season, a full refund is issued. This new program helps DNC associates get to work on time, provides a daily dose of exercise and lessens traffic congestion in Yosemite Valley.  The Employee Bike Thing will also allow new associates to explore Yosemite Valley and provide more opportunity for adventure.

Matt and Jeff enjoy their new ride from the Employee Bike Thing.

Matt and Jeff enjoy their new ride from the Employee Bike Thing.

If you can’t tool around Yosemite Valley in an all-electric vehicle, bike riding is definitely the way to go. Though not a participant of DNC’s Employee Bike Thing, Yosemite National Park’s Superintendent, Don Neubacher, also commutes in Yosemite on his bike.

National Park Service Superintendent Don Neubacher also bikes to work in Yosemite.

National Park Service Superintendent Don Neubacher also bikes to work in Yosemite.

Yosemite National Park After Dark

Yosemite Valley at Night by Kristal Leonard

Yosemite Valley at Night by Kristal Leonard

Summer nights in a national park include the soft glow of the Milky Way rising over your campsite, a wilderness landscape lit by the full moon during an evening hike, and the twinkle of stars and planets from a roadside vista point. In California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, Yosemite National Park is a harbor of darkness in a highly populated state, providing an excellent opportunity to truly experience the star-filled night. In addition to all the daytime hiking, biking, rafting and rock climbing under sunny Sierra skies, the summer evenings in Yosemite can be just as full of activity and wonder.

With thirteen campgrounds and seven lodging options inside the park, summer nights in Yosemite can be filled with a range of activities such as dining in an historic hotel, socializing with s’mores around the campfire or contemplating the awed silence of fellow stargazers. For the celestially minded, Yosemite’s park rangers give sunset talks, full moon hikes, the “Stars Over Yosemite” Program as well as hosted Star Parties at Glacier Point, and Moonlight Tours aboard the Yosemite Valley open air trams. In addition to ranger programs, DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite offers Stargazing Tours to Glacier Point, Full Moon Bike Rides in Yosemite Valley and the “Starry Skies” program that takes place in the meadows of Yosemite Valley. For the diners and socializers, you’ll find hospitality every evening at The Ahwahnee Dining Room and bar and the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls Mountain Room Restaurant and Lounge, including evening presentations about the natural and cultural history of Yosemite. Summer nights at the Curry Village Pizza Deck & Bar are a park visitor tradition. In Yosemite Village you can experience live theater presented by the Yosemite Conservancy, with topics ranging from historic figures to daring adventures. At the Wawona Hotel, you’ll find dinner and entertainment in the form of vintage Yosemite songs played by pianist and storyteller Tom Bopp.

Full Moon Bike Ride in Yosemite Valley

Full Moon Bike Ride in Yosemite Valley

Glacier Point Star Party in Yosemite.

Glacier Point Star Party in Yosemite.

Stargazing Tour at Glacier Point

Stargazing Tour at Glacier Point

Yosemite fun and activity after dark doesn’t stop when summer has ended. As the days grow shorter in fall and winter, there is plenty of time for evening fun with fireside storytelling and Yosemite’s Signature Food and Wine events at The Ahwahnee.  Vintners’ Holidays in the fall, the Bracebridge Dinner during the holiday season and Chefs’ Holidays during the winter include lodging and dinner packages to maximize your culinary experience. Vintners’ Holidays features prominent winemakers showcasing their vintages. Bracebridge Dinner transforms the dining room into a 18th century English manor for a feast of food, song and mirth. Chefs’ Holidays provides a cooking adventure showcasing the range of styles, personalities and trends that characterize the American culinary scene. Besides a winter’s eve filled with food and wine, you can also stay active after dark at the Curry Village Ice Rink with evening ice skating sessions and participate in a snowshoe walk under the light of the full moon at Badger Pass Ski Area. No matter the season, there are wondrous things to see and do after dark in Yosemite National Park.