Home A - Z FAQ Online Library Discussion Forum Muir Weather Maps About Search
Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management

Next: Ranger LifeContentsPrevious: Tender Foot

Guardians of the Yosemite (1961) by John W. Bingaman

Chapter II


During that first summer, I made many trips into the high country over the trails to Merced Lake, Tenaya Lake and Tuolumne Meadows guiding visitors to the various places for camping, fishing and sight-seeing.

One back country pack trip into the North End of the Park was with a grand party consisting of Lou Foster, Mr and Mrs Keichler and Mr and Mrs Woods all from San Rafael. Ned Pariare was our head guide. I was the packer. We had six pack mules and it was a job to round these up in the mountain meadows and get them packed for our trip each day. We used saddle horses for riding.

One night we camped in the Hetch Hetchy Valley some thirty miles north of Yosemite Valley, on the Tuolumne River. The valley compares favorable to the Yosemite with the river winding through tall stands of pine. The meadow flowers were in full bloom at the time and it was a camper’s paradise. Riding through the Jack Main Canyon we could see herds of cattle grazing in the park meadows. This was allowed during the first World War as a war time measure. We made the circle route returning via Tuolumne Meadows without mishap. Everybody in the party enjoyed the trip.

Another fine camping trip was with the Dibblie Party of four. Ned Pariare the guide, Wilbur Bronner and myself packers and cooks. We were out one month in the north end of the Park, going in via the Hetch Hetchy Valley, Jack Main Canyon, Stubblefield, Kerrick Canyon to Benson Lake and out via Matterhorn and Virginia Canyon.

One day in Matterhorn Canyon we met three women hikers leading three burros. They had just entered the Canyon by way of Benson Pass. The hikers were Mary Curry, Edith Benjamin and Carol Weston. They made camp near us and that evening we all gathered around the camp fire. Carol Weston played her violin, Edith and Mary led the singing.

That night a Mountain Lion came near camp and stampeded our stock. They ran up and down the canyon and nearly wrecked our camp. We were worried about the stock and particularly the safety of the burros as burro meat is a favorite food of the mountain lion. The burros, however, were smart and took shelter back of our camp. When it got light enough to see the trail it was obvious that the lion had been curious about the campfire and had come within three hundred feet of it before going up the other side of the canyon. The following day we broke camp and went our separate ways. After several days’ travel our party returned to Tuolumne Meadows and Yosemite Valley.

On another trip I had the pleasure of guiding Edward M. Groth, U.S. Consul General in South Africa, on a three day camping trip. He had been

The author (Bingaman) guiding dudes, 1918
The author (Bingaman) guiding dudes, 1918
in many parts of the world but loved our Park and was a true friend of the Park Service.

When Stephen T. Mather, Director of National Parks and Secretary Albert Fall came to the Park on an inspection tour they camped near my Ranger Station for several days. It was my pleasure to be their escort and guide on a trip to the Waterwheel Falls.

During the winter of 1920 Tom Farrow, the Company Manager, thought it would be a good idea to keep about ten head of horses in the Valley to draw the bobsleds and cutters. I was assigned to take charge.

When the snows came in December I often hitched up the bob sled with the two trusty team horses, and went down to the Sentinel Hotel. There would usually be five to eight guests who wanted a sleigh ride around the Valley. A favorite horse, was Old Pleasanton, a pacer who made a beautiful sight hitched to the little cutter traveling over the sparkling snow. Sleigh riding in the moonlight through the winter wonderland was popular with the guests.

Another sport was horse skiing (Joring) which reminds one of water skiing. The Skier is towed by means of a long rope attached to the saddle. It is a unique sport and exciting.

Tom Farrow, general manager of the Yosemite Park Company, asked us to accept the position of Winter Caretakers on Glacier Point. Our job was to look after the visitors who came by stage and by hiking and riding the trails. We accepted and went up to the Point the first part of October. The Old Mountain House, constructed in 1878 by James McCauley is the oldest building in the Park still in use. It was our home for the winter. The duties were many and the hours long. I was cook and kitchen worker. Martha waited on table and made beds. The summer cook was a Chinaman, and it was time for him to leave for his winter job somewhere outside the Park. Before he left we asked him how he made the wonderful bread and cookies, all he would say, “O just a little of this, little of that, mixum up, put in oven, that‘s all.” Well our first couple batches did not turn out like Wongs, but I learned from experience. When you‘re over 3500 elevation you add a little water, increase temperature twenty-five percent and reduce baking time about five minutes.

It was during this October that the King and Queen of Belgium and Prince Leopold came to Glacier Point Mountain House for a few days‘ visit. Big preparation took place to entertain the King‘s Party of twenty. Extra help was sent up from the Sentinel Hotel in the Valley. Mrs. Cook, the Hotel Manager sent the best of her personnel to wait on the King and Queen. Meals were served in the main dining room. The Prince insisted that he wanted a pack trip out in the mountains. So Ranger Billy Nelson, the Royalties Body Guard, a Major in the Belgium Army, and I were detailed. I was the cook. We took off after lunch on riding horses for the Bridalveil Meadows, about ten miles back along the old Glacier Point Trail. The four of us camped at Bridalveil. The elevation was about 7,500 feet and it was frosty and very cold that night. We sat about the campfire and told tall tales of the early days in the Park. I cooked the dinner over an open fire with a fry pan and an old coffee pot just like our pioneers did years ago. At breakfast time the Prince made one request of me. He wanted to learn how to toss flap jacks so they would turn in the air and land in the pan in perfect form. The Prince was able to accomplish this after several attempts. He thanked me very much for showing him this old trick of flipping flap jacks. That afternoon we returned to the Mountain House and joined the King‘s Party. The following day the Royal Party departed by motor coach.

Many other parties from foreign lands came to the Mountain House. We got to know most of the guests quite well.

Twelve world travelers from Java, representing the world‘s coffee export and import trade, arrived one day. Accompanying them was an interpreter who was also their business manager. It was late fall and the nights were getting cold. They marveled at the scenery but when dinner time came they stayed close to the wood burning fireplace. They asked if they could have their coffee served in front of the fire where it was so cozy, and we were happy to oblige. While this was going on Martha slipped warm bricks wrapped in heavy paper into their beds to warm them. The next morning they all said that they had a wonderful night‘s sleep thanks to Martha. After they had departed and Martha was clearing the breakfast table she found under each plate a bright new fifty cent piece and a thank you note. She was happily surprised. Being considerate of the guests really paid off in more ways than one.

Late in November the heavy snow came and closed the road and trail and we were snowed in for the winter. There was a plentiful supply of food on hand so we were not worried about that. One thing we did worry about

Glacier Point Hotel. Bingamans spent the winter of 1919-1920 as manager.
Glacier Point Hotel. Bingamans spent the winter of 1919-1920 as manager.
was how to keep the heavy snow off the hotel roof so that it would not collapse under the weight. As the snow piled deeper and deeper it took more shoveling. By January the snow measured ten feet deep on the level. Fortunately the storms ceased and we had a spell of good weather.

One day we had an unexpected visitor. We saw a man plodding up the trail on snowshoes. It was Dick Hyland and we gave him a hearty welcome. Dick reported that Mrs. Cook thought we needed help and he was to remain as long as needed. This was good news. From then on between us we were able to keep the roof clear of snow after each storm.

A heavy snowstorm in February left five feet on the level and this meant more roof work. While shoveling and trying to move about the roof I slid off and fell about ten feet and painfully injured my knee. We had no telephone or radio in those days so all we could do was send Dick down the trail to notify the manager, Mr. Farrow. Next day our good Doctor Stein snowshoed up the trail, a distance of four miles and a climb of 3,200 feet. It turned out I had a badly sprained knee. The Doctor put a secure bandage and brace on it so I could hobble around. In about a week I was able to get around again without too much pain.

Many people wonder about the Fire Fall and its origin. James McCauley, one of the early pioneers in the Yosemite Valley, was the first to build a trail up the 3,200 foot climb to Glacier Point. While engaged in work at the Mountain House some one built a. large camp fire at the Point and by accident some of the embers fell over the cliff. People below in the Valley saw this unusual spectacle and they were so thrilled they asked McCauley to do it again and again. Later it was reported McCauley demanded compensation for his work of shoving a fire over the cliff.

After McCauleys left Glacier Point David Curry took over and established this unique spectacle as a nightly feature during his evening programs at Camp Curry.

The fire is made of fir bark and built on the edge of the cliff. It is necessary to let it bum down to embers which requires about two hours. At the scheduled time at 9 p.m. it is pushed over with a long handled rake. The fire over the cliff lasts several minutes thus giving the effect of a fire fall.

The summer crew arrived on schedule May 1, to relieve us. We packed up and returned to the Yosemite Valley, back to my former job guiding the dudes.

Early in June, 1921, Chief Ranger Forest Townsley rode into our camp. I was absent so he left word with Martha that I was to report to the Park Office at once. When I returned Martha gave me Townsley‘s message and added, “Now what did you do?”

On my way to the office I wondered why I was called in but I didn‘t worry too much for my conscience was clear.

Chief Ranger Townsley and Park Superintendent Lewis greeted me pleasantly. The chief said, “How would you like to be a ranger?” My mouth opened and my eyes bugged out. I was so surprised I couldn‘t say a word for several moments. I finally was able to say, “Chief, I don‘t know anything about ranger work.”

“He said, Oh yes you do. We have been watching you for some time. We would like you to fill the vacancy left by Ranger Jack Gaylar.” Jack had died at Merced Lake while on duty April 19, 1921. The ranger had flu early that spring. This affected his heart.

I stammered and stuttered and finally said, “Well, I‘ll have to talk it over with Martha.”

The Chief said, “Of course, but be here in the morning to take your oath of office.”

Martha saw me as I was running back to camp and wondered if I was trying to run away from the law. When I reached her, I said, “How would you like to be a ranger‘s wife?”

Her answer was, “Oh, I don‘t think you would want to be a ranger. Would you?” We talked it over. The pay wasn‘t much but the job offered security. As a permanent employee of the Park wemould have a house to live in. We discussed it at length and finally made our decision. I was at headquarters in the morning to sign my oath of office and begin duties as a Park Ranger.

Next: Ranger LifeContentsPrevious: Tender Foot

Home A - Z FAQ Online Library Discussion Forum Muir Weather Maps About Search
Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management