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


Chapter III

RANGER LIFE IN THE PARK

In the early 1920’s ranger life was primitive. The roads leading into the valley were narrow dirt wagon trails for the most part and very dusty in summer. When the first snow fell the roads were closed for the winter. The only road kept open was from El Portal to Park Headquarters. This was done in order to get supplies and mail through. It was hard grueling work for a wooden V snow-plow pulled by horses. This was used for a number of years.

Today rotary snow plows are used around the clock to keep the roads open for visitors’ use.

In 1918 the rangers used saddle and pack horses for transportation. The Superintendent had an old White touring car for his official use, the Chief Ranger an old Dodge pickup and that was our motor transportation. Wagons and teams were used up to that time. Soon afterwards big cumbersome F.W.D. trucks came into use.

The Hotel Company had changed to Whites and Pierce Arrows for the stages, and the first motor coaches were used in 1913. By 1921 there were ten permanent rangers and twenty-five seasonal rangers, sometimes called “90 day wonders,” to take care of all the 1131 square miles of Park. In 1956 we had twenty-five permanent rangers and fifty-five seasonal rangers.

Our first quarters assignment was the old George Fiske house, one mile below the Old Village, across from the foot of the Glacier Point Trail, on the bend of the river. It was a comfortable rambling house made of shakes, built about 1890 by the photographer and used as a studio and residence. It was in this house that Fiske shot himself in 1912. He lived alone and had often told the neighbors that he was tired of living.

In this house we had many interesting visitors. One social event I remember particularly was on December 17, 1921. A party of eight came for an evening of games and music. It had been a clear cold day and about midnight someone looked out and saw that it was snowing hard. There was already three inches of snow and it was beginning to drift. Our guests decided to make their way home while they could. It was well that they did for before that snow storm stopped there were four feet on the level and it stayed all winter. I had to use my faithful saddle horse to break trail and keep it open by packing the snow down by the horse going over it several times a day. Otherwise we would have been snowed in.

Winter nights we planned social functions such as pot luck dinners and bridge parties so as not to get cabin fever. We attended Christmas parties and held open house during the Holidays.

The Bingamans’ residence, 1921-1922. “The Old Fiske House”
The Bingamans’ residence, 1921-1922. “The Old Fiske House”

It had been the custom for many years for the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Valley to celebrate Christmas with the world famous “Bracebridge Dinner.” This ceremony dates back to 1819, and Washington Irving’s account of the Christmas festivities at Bracebridge Hall in Old Yorkshire. A dinner of Old English variety was served. Boars head, baron of beef and peacock pie, made up part of the menu. Between four to five hundred guests attended this function each Christmas night at the Ahwahnee Hotel.

The fall of 1936 we were allowed some annual leave. We drove East to Bellevue, Ohio. My mother was failing in health in her 76th year and it was felt that we should visit her. We had a most happy visit with Mother and other members of my family. It was a real family reunion. Then we drove on to Washington, D.C., to visit good friends in the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service. We were extended every courtesy including passes to the many places of interest and escorted by members of the Park Service. It was an education for we learned many interesting things about our government and the operation of our National Parks.

Our return was through the Shenandoah National Park, along the Great Smokies, Carlsbad Caverns National Park and the Southwest Monuments. We often reminisce of the contacts, visits and delicious meals we have had with many of our good Park friends, some of these have passed on, but are not forgotten.

There is a little Chapel in the Yosemite Valley which has brought peace and comfort to many. The original Chapel was built in 1879 at the foot of Sentinel Rock and was moved to its present site in 1888. Here both Protestants and Catholics hold weekly services. In summer the Church Bowl is used for outdoor services. The religious services are sponsored by all denominations, and have served the people of the Valley as well as the visitors.


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