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

Chapter V


My first patrol assignment was in June, 1921. Orders from the Chief Ranger were to take my complete pack outfit and go to the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees for a month. It was a long day’s ride of approximately thirty-one miles with a full pack and saddle horse. My duties were to patrol the Grove, give information to the visitors, watch for forest fires and check for trespassers. In a day or two Martha arrived and we managed to set up a comfortable camp in a little shake cabin.

The Mariposa Grove is a most impressive place. Here the large Sequoias tower into the sky some two hundred and fifty feet and are up to thirty feet in diameter. The famous Wawano Tunnel Tree is in Mariposa Grove. The Tree was tunneled in 1881 by the Stage Coach Company, and the road from that time to the present ran through it. Another famous tree is the California Tree near the Grizzly Giant. This is also a tunnel tree.

The Yosemite Park Company operated a Lodge in the Upper Grove, where they maintained eating and lodging facilities. Ed Baxter ran a studio and photograph shop in the old Galen Clark Cabin near the lodge. Baxter held this concession from the early days when the Big Trees were still under State control.

During the morning I patrolled the boundary. From noon on I would be at the places of special interest answering questions. The Big Trees were of particular interest to the visitors.

The weather was superb, beautiful clear blue skies, so common in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The nights were pleasant and balmy at this elevation of 5,500 feet. Martha and I enjoyed living close to nature where we could study the trees, flowers and animals, so the time passed all too quickly. The end of the month I was to report back to headquarters, thus ending my first month’s experience in this most interesting place.

For the rest of the summer I was assigned to the Tuolumne Meadow District. I was glad for this experience as it gave me an opportunity to get acquainted with the high mountain country. Martha owned her own horse so rode with me often. Ranger Merrill Miller, the Checking Ranger, was already there when we arrived.

The ranger cabin was a rough shake building, located near the first soda spring, in the Meadow. It had only two small rooms, one room was just large enough for a bed, a couple chairs and a few boxes. The kitchen had a small wood stove and table. We had to carry water from the Tuolumne River about one hundred yards from the cabin. There was no plumbing in the cabin, just a little Chick Sales in the back yard.

We had to bell our horses and turn them loose each evening to graze as there was no barn or corral. Toward fall when the frost came and ice

Yosemite Ranger Force 1924—Nelson, Sault, Silva, Bingaman, Rich,
 Adair, Wegner, Skelton, Boothe, Townsley.
Yosemite Ranger Force 1924—Nelson, Sault, Silva, Bingaman, Rich,
Adair, Wegner, Skelton, Boothe, Townsley.
froze in the bucket at night the horses would take off and get into the heavy timber up near Dog Lake. We would have several miles to hike to round them up for the day’s patrol.

We patrolled the trails, contacting the hikers and fishermen and checking on the campers. That summer was not particularly busy or crowded like the last few years. Our maximum camper count was 120 people compared to the present 2,000 count.

On one of my patrols I encountered a band of sheep grazing near the park boundary. There were approximately 2,000 sheep in the flock. I contacted the herder near the pass. He was apparently nervous and reluctant to talk. To further complicate the situation he could not speak English and I could not speak Basque. I tried to make him understand who I was and what I represented. I think he understood all right, as he pointed in the Park and said, “mucha heirba.” I had to make him understand that the Park was a protected area and that is why there were such wonderful grassy meadows. He listened patiently to my story but whether he understood I never knew. He then offered food and coffee and appeared to be friendly. He made signs that he would travel back down the canyon. For several years this same herder came up with his sheep the first week in September. He always observed the park boundary and obeyed the regulation, no trespassing. Each time he invited us to his camp, and offered coffee and his famous sheep-herder bread.

Travel was light that fall over the Pass. Soon the snow would come for the nights were getting cold. With the end of the hunting season on the east side of the Sierras, the Chief Ranger gave orders for us to report back to headquarters.

Another summer, Ranger Billy Nelson and I patrolled the Tuolumne District, covering all the trails from Donohue Pass to the most northerly pass, called Buckeye Pass. This is a vast wilderness area, a spectacular part of the Park with its enormous steep canyons, rushing streams, alpine meadows and mountain peaks up to twelve thousand feet.

On September 15 we started our boundary patrol, checking all high passes, watching for poachers and sheep trespassers. Our schedule was to make a loop so we would come out via the Hetch Hetchy Valley. We camped where feed and water were to be found. The evening of the 25th, at Bee Hive Meadow, it clouded up and during the night snowed five inches. There was no time to waste if we were going to get out of there safely. We were cold and wet and the horses were anxious to get going. The snow slowed us down but we reached the Hetch Hetchy Dam and proceeded on up to Hog Ranch Ranger Station, where Rangers Sault and Silva were stationed. They greeted us and said, “Come in plenty of room.”

We had been in the rain all day, but soon dried out and were comfortable.. Silva had a big pot of stew on the stove for dinner. We watched it simmer and could almost taste it. Finally it was ready. Silva and Sault were setting the table in the front room real fancy for us. As Sault was about to dish up the stew it slipped off the stove and spilled to the floor. There were some sharp words flying and some one said, “You awkward so and so, now what will we do for dinner?” We had to settle for canned pork and beans.

After our horses were cared for with a good feed of hay and grain we settled down to a good night’s rest. It was the first real bed we’d had for ten days.

Breakfast over, we were on our way via Carl Inn to Merced Grove where we stayed that night.

The next day we patrolled Big Meadow and returned to Yosemite Valley. On the entire trip we saw only two horse parties and two fishermen along the west boundary. The nights were cold for it was about time for the big storms that usually hit at this season of the year. The equinox storms come up fast overnight in the high Sierras.

A rare day in October, 1941, Ranger John Hansen and I made the last fall Mounted Patrol to inspect the Wilmer Lake and Bonds Pass Area. It was Indian Summer; one of those balmy, golden days with cold frosty nights. We left Mather Ranger Station by truck at 6 a.m. driving to Miguel Meadows. There we saddled our horses and proceeded up Jack Main Canyon Trail. We reached Wilmer Lake late that afternoon and made camp. There was a real bite in the air that let us know Old Man Winter was just around the corner. He was closer than we thought.

At four a.m. the first blast of wind and snow blew down a dead tree almost on our camp. Ranger Hansen opened one eye and saw my ranger hat rolling like a cart-wheel toward the tree. If the tree hadn’t been there to snag it that Stetson would have been gone forever. Then the trouble started, for the camp gear wanted to take off after my Stetson. Somehow we got breakfast in spite of the wind and sleet. Then we had to roundup our, horses who’d gone up the mountain to find shelter among the rocks. We got them back to camp, packed and headed for home. Trees fell all around us and we estimated at least one hundred trees were down. Many fell across the trail which slowed us down and gave us trouble getting through. Johnny groaned, “What a job we’ll have in the spring clearing this trail.” Johnny did not return to help, for he had a date with the U.S. Army.

Half way home on Morraine Ridge we ran out of snow but not the wind. We saw smoke off in the direction of El Portal. The power line was down and this started a forest fire. For a time it looked like all Yosemite was burning. When we arrived at Mather Ranger Station we found all roads were closed by downed timber. Communication between the ranger station and headquarters was almost impossible. We heard parts of messages from the fire fighters over a small battery radio. Sam Clark’s voice came on. We didn’t know who he was talking to when he said, “Wonder if the two Johns made it out of the high country?”

About the first of November the Chief Ranger and Superintendent Kittredge came out to Mather Ranger Station and decided that it wasn’t necessary to keep a ranger isolated at the Station all winter and that I’d be more useful at headquarters. So on November 17, 1941, we moved to headquarters and I was assigned to Rangers’ Office. Our quarters were one of the Park Service Houses, near Government Center.

It has been the usual habit of most superintendents to take a pack trip into various sections of the Park to observe local conditions. I was always glad to have the chief ranger and superintendent come out to my district and make an inspection for it showed that they were taking an interest in our field work.

October 1, 1943, Superintendent Kittredge wanted to make a boundary patrol. Ranger Evans, Frank Ewing, Ralph Anderson, Ed Beatty and myself started from Hetch Hetchy, going via Beehive Trail to Jack Main Canyon and to Wilmer Lake, where we camped the first night. The next day we moved on to Bond’s Pass and Huckleberry Lake for our second camp. We checked on boundary passes, grazing and hunters. Near Bonds Pass we found 25 head of cattle grazing in the Park. The cattle were fat and contented for they were getting plenty of feed and water. The superintendent looked at me and said, “John how long has this been going on?”

I answered him by saying, “They haven’t been in the Park long for the grass has not been trampled nor are there many tracks around the area.”

He said, “Let’s drive them out of the Park.” We did. The Pass was only half a mile away and the cattle drove easily. They seemed to know they were trespassers and not wanted in the Park. We found the boundary fence down. After repairing the fence we headed the cattle down the canyon to the Forest Reserve.

We followed an old dim trail I knew from Huckleberry Lake to Kibbie Lake. It wasn’t a regular trail. An old cattleman who ran cattle in this country many years had showed me the trail which was a much shorter

Pate Valley Indian Pictographs in the Tuolumne Canyon,
 Yosemite National Park
Pate Valley Indian Pictographs in the Tuolumne Canyon,
Yosemite National Park
route and through an interesting part of the Park. We camped at Kibbie Lake that night. The lake is a fisherman’s paradise. The next day we returned to Hetch Hetchy and all agreed it was a fine trip.

On a Patrol with Ranger Walquist to Pate Valley, we spent some time investigating the Indian Pictographs on the Canyon wall, one-fourth mile north of the Trail Camp. Ranger Walquist and I searched over the Canyon Cliff looking for other places where the markings and pictures have been reported for many years. We found one location near the House Pits averaging twelve feet in diameter. It appeared that the Indians occupied these places the year around. The age of the Pictographs could be anywhere from two hundred to one thousand years or even more. Pictographs are found in some fifty places throughout California. Nothing can be told of the significance of the characters contained in the markings. In no case do the present Indians know their origin or meaning. The Indians of this region do not make representations of natural objects as did the Indians of the Plains. The characters may be connected with some important enumeration of calendar keeping. These Pictographs were first discovered and reported by Mr. McKibben and E. W. Hamden, which they discovered while on an outing of the Sierra Club in 1907.

August 22 to 28, 1944, Superintendent Kittredge was making a survey of the High Mountains adjacent to the East Boundary of the Park. He made up a Ranger Party to assist him on this trip. Chief Ranger Sedergren, Park Naturalist Brockman, Ed Davies, Ranger Merrill, Ranger and Mrs. Danner and myself made the trip to observe and take notes. The area in question was the Devils Post Pile, Red Meadow, Thousand Island Lake, Banner, Ritter and the Minnerets. It was proposed that some day this be taken into the Yosemite National Park. It was a wilderness paradise of high mountain peaks and alpine lakes. Some of the area was under lease and some under private ownership, so reports were made of the proposal and additions recommended which would add the area to the Yosemite National Park.

My last official mountain inspection trip was in August, 1956. I had the pleasure of being in a party with Superintendent John Preston, Chief Ranger Oscar Sedergren, Doctor Avery Sturm and Wayne Westfall. We departed from Tuolumne Meadows and headed north via Glen Aulin, Cold Canyon and Virginia Canyon, where we camped the first night. Wayne and I handled the pack mules. Oscar was the cook, and we all agreed he was a good one. Doctor Sturm was along for a change of scenery, rest and relaxation. Superintendent Preston took in all the sights and commented on various aspects of the trails and camp locations.

We had no more than unpacked and started dinner, when a hiker came into camp and asked if there was a Doctor in our party. The man explained his friend was up the canyon about six miles suffering with severe pain. They had hiked over the mountain pass that day from Virginia Lakes. Doctor Sturm and Wayne saddled two horses and in a short time were riding up the canyon with the hiker. Darkness overtook them before they arrived at the emergency camp of the sick man. After treatment and needed medicine the man was made comfortable.

Word was sent over the mountain by another hiker to the Pack Station at Virginia Lake, to send back for horses so the two men could ride out. The horses wouldn’t arrive until the following afternoon for the distance was some fifteen miles. The doctor and Wayne returned about midnight and reported favorably on the condition of the sick man. Doctor Sturm said he would go back to check on him after breakfast. I was up before daybreak for my job was to start the fire and get the coffee going. I had a hard time getting Oscar out of his sleeping bag for he never liked to get up early. Breakfast was over at sun-up and Wayne, Oscar and the doctor were in the saddle riding up the trail to check on the patient. He apparently had rested some but was still very uncomfortable. The packer was expected to arrive shortly with the horses. He arrived at noon and the sick man and his friend were shortly on their way to Virginia Lake where their car was parked.

That day we inspected the trail up to Summit Lake at Virginia Pass which was the eastern boundary of the Park. It was a most beautiful day. We met a family of four hiking up the trail. The party consisted of the father and mother and two small children. They were on their way to Benson Lake for a ten day pack trip. One other horse back party came through the other way headed for the Park. Late that afternoon we returned to our camp at the Virginia trail junction. About the time we arrived another party of campers had moved in. One member had suffered from bad blisters on his feet so the doctor had another job treating bandaging the man’s sore blisters. Doctor Sturm decided that he wasn’t getting the kind of vacation he’d planned.

The doctor had borrowed my Sierra Club Cup when he was treating the first patient. This cup had been given me at one of the Sierra Club’s big outings, some twenty years before. I had prized it very much and carried it along on all my mountain patrols. The doctor when questioned about the cup said that he had given it to the sick man. I was about to leave and go after the cup. The rest of the party was watching me and how I reacted to the loss. After a time they gave it back to me wrapped in tissue paper. They added special presentation speeches and I guess I looked like a boy with a new toy when they handed it to me. I have hung on to my Tin Cup to this day.

The next day we packed up and rode to Matterhorn Canyon, where we stopped along the Matterhorn Creek to have our lunch. It was a beautiful setting for wild flowers were blooming in the meadows. Matterhorn Creek runs through a wild, rugged and spectacular canyon with steep walls three thousand feet high. It is truly a camper’s paradise. After lunch, and a rest, we traveled on via Benson Pass to Smedburg Lake and camped for the night. This is one of the most picturesque alpine lakes in the Park set in a cup of the mountains at an elevation of 9,500 feet.

Superintendent Preston and Doctor Sturm had gone off on an exploratory trip to a small unnamed lake before joining the rest of us at Smedburg Lake. They rode into camp about one hour after we’d arrived. Each night on the trip we’d sit around the campfire telling stories and discussing many happenings of the past about Yosemite.

In the established campsites, the rangers maintain drift fences to hold saddle and pack stock. Otherwise the horses are inclined to wander away many miles for forage and to find a place to keep warm at night in the high country.

Our route the next day was to beautiful Rodgers Lake, Neal Lake and down Rodgers Canyon into Pate Valley. There we made camp for the night. We had dropped five thousand feet into the canyon of the Tuolumne. Fast water runs through the canyon and is one of the famous streams of the high Sierras. It was much warmer in the canyon and we kept a sharp lookout for rattlesnakes for they are common in this location. I had encountered from one to five on every trip through on past patrols. Telephone connections are maintained from this camp to headquarters. After reporting in to the Office, that all was going fine with us, we had a bath and supper. After we had eaten we took a short inspection trip around the area before nightfall. Horse feed we found was very short in Pate Valley. Early the next morning we rode through the grand canyon of the Tuolumne and on through Muir Gorge where the scenery was superb. This particular place was named after John Muir who explored the Canyon many years ago, possibly about 1870.

The trail through the Grand Canyon, past Muir Gorge, connecting Pate Valley with Waterwheel Falls, was completed in 1925 by Park Service crews. I always considered this as one of the most beautiful and interesting routes through the Park. That night we camped at Glen Aulin, a pleasant relaxing place in a grove of quaking aspens, one mile from the Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp. We had a most comfortable night and our stock had plenty of feed. The next day, our last day out, we arrived at Tuolumne Meadows in the early afternoon and we all agreed this was one of the finest pack trips we had ever had in the Sierras.

The weather had been perfect, warm sunshiny days and cool nights. The cook had fed us well and our doctor had finally run out of patients to treat. The Superintendent had learned much about the trails and camps the visitors use in the high country. Wayne and I had thoroughly enjoyed the trip for we had no trouble with the saddle horses and mules which always makes a ranger and wrangler happy. I often think back on this grand trip into the north end of Yosemite National Park and the Tuolumne Meadow District where I had been on duty twelve summers as District Ranger.

Ranger Herb Ewing had taken good care of the District while we were away. He reported everything quiet and no emergencies,

September 1st Chief Ranger Sedergren decided to inspect the Vogelsang and Merced Lake area. We made a pack trip over, via Fletcher Lake Trail and returned via Vogelsang Pass Trail. One day we rode up to Washburn Lake. We inspected the Merced Lake High Sierra Camp and contacted the manager. This part of the Park is extensively used by hikers and horseback parties being on the High Sierra Camps Loop where accommodations, food, and lodging are found during the summer months. Merced Lake Camp was first established in 1916 and has given splendid service to the hikers and fishermen that enjoy this remote area of the Park.

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Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management