Ranger-naturalists have been interpreting the natural and cultural resources of Yosemite for park visitors for nearly a century. In this blog, some of Yosemite's park rangers share recent observations from around Yosemite.
All posts are shown below, or you can view posts by topic.
March 29, 2014Posted by: CF - Park Ranger (Yosemite Valley)
The American dipper is North America’s only aquatic songbird and are typically found near clear, cold, streams, and swift moving rivers (like the Merced). Their main diet consists of underwater invertebrates and even with the frigid winter water and air temperatures, the dipper will forage all year round. This little bird has thoroughly adapted to this semi-underwater lifestyle.
February 26, 2014Posted by: BW - Park Ranger (White Wolf/Big Oak Flat/Yosemite Valley)
At the lowest elevations of Yosemite National Park, there is an amphibian that is making quite a scene. Sierra newts (Taricha sierrae), formerly a subspecies of the California newt, are beginning their breeding season. Like all amphibians, this newt requires water to reproduce and the males returned to their breeding pools earlier this winter.
February 06, 2014Posted by: MO - Park Ranger/Web Manager (Yosemite Valley)
Yosemite was once the stage for avid winter enthusiasts. It was even an option for hosting the Olympic Winter Games in 1932. Stephen T. Mather, the first director of the National Park Service, believed strongly, that “Yosemite is a winter as well as a summer resort…That it has not been more patronized during the winter months is due partly to limited accommodations and partly to lack of publicity.” In some ways he was right, and his hopes for Yosemite later came to fruition.
January 09, 2014Posted by: BW Park Ranger (Yosemite Valley)
More than century ago, bird populations were declining at an alarming rate. Birds were being hunted to extinction to be used for food (like the passenger pigeon) or for fashionable ladies hats (like egrets). The steepest declines were in the late 19th century. During that time, a common holiday tradition was to participate in “side hunts”. These hunts would be competitions between two sides to see which team could bring in the most game. I response to the decline of bird populations, groups began forming that would become organized as the National Audubon Society. Ornithologist Frank Chapman, one of the early officers of the National Audubon Society, suggested the idea of counting birds at Christmas instead of hunting them. The first ever Christmas Bird Count (CBC) was conducted in December of 1900 at 25 locations.
Yesterday, December 19, was the centennial of the Raker Act, the bill that allowed the building of a dam in the Hetch Hetchy Valley. The Raker Act was highly controversial and the points of view that were argued on both sides of the controversy are valuable perspectives that are still relevant today.
James Chenowith Lamon (pronounced “lemon”), a native of Virginia, came to California during the Gold Rush in 1851. Lured by stories of a great valley, he was one of the first few hundred tourists to visit Yosemite in the late 1850s. In the winters of 1862-63 and 1863-64, Lamon stayed in Yosemite Valley while all other settlers and pioneers moved down to the foothills. Can you imagine what that was like?
November 05, 2013Posted by: CL - Park Ranger (Yosemite Valley)
Red-tailed hawks are top predators. In the words of author Pete Dunne, “...anything readily available and catchable is an odds-on favorite to become prey. Any furred, feathered, or scaled creature that is smaller than a groundhog and turns its back on a meal-minded red-tailed hawk might safely be said to be courting a shortcut toward the cosmic.” Dunne’s poetic description does not exaggerate.
October 22, 2013Posted by: SB - NatureBridge Educator
Visitors embarking on Yosemite’s popular hikes along the John Muir and Mist Trails to Vernal and Nevada Falls, Half Dome, or beyond, begin their journey on a half mile walk from Happy Isles through a lush boulder garden draped in deep green mosses. Unfortunately, some of these boulders have been vandalized by visitors who have etched initials, words, and symbols into the mosses exposing the bare granite beneath.
September 27, 2013Posted by: MS - Park Ranger (Yosemite Valley)
The first taste of winter visited Yosemite’s high country on the last day of summer, bringing 6-10 inches of snow to the upper elevations of the park. I had the good fortune to be camped at Young Lakes, north of Tuolumne Meadows, for the flurry.
September 25, 2013Posted by: BR - Park Ranger/Resources Management & Science Liaison
The Yosemite Cemetery is filled with echoes of Yosemite’s past. For American Indians the origins of these echoes reach back many hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. The echoes of non-Indians go back only to the mid-nineteenth century, yet this was a time of great change in the American perspective on wild lands and scenic resources. A visit to the Yosemite Cemetery will bring you closer to many of the personages that began the development of what we now call Yosemite National Park.
September 19, 2013Posted by: BH - Park Ranger (Yosemite Valley)
Wildfire: friend or foe? Within the Sierra Nevada, fire has been an integral part of the ecosystem for thousands of years. During that time the flora and fauna have adapted to a Mediterranean style climate of hot and dry summers allowing for a vastness of fire tolerant plants to adapt to that natural cycle. A unique plant that has a rich and distinctive life cycle within this unique ecosystem is buckbrush Ceanothus.
September 11, 2013Posted by: BR - Park Ranger/Resources Management & Science Liaison
August 29 marked the 142nd Anniversary of the first recorded ascent of Mount Lyell, Yosemite’s highest peak (13,114 feet). J. B. Tileston made that ascent in 1871. He left his base camp at four in the afternoon the day before he summited. Darkness found him bivouacked high in the mountains where he....
September 07, 2013Posted by: CF - Park Ranger (Yosemite Valley)
Yosemite is home to many things. Our most recognizable features are towering granite walls and waterfalls, but if you take a closer look you just might be lucky enough to see some of the tiny creatures that dwell in and around them. One such creature is the Pacific tree frog.
September 07, 2013Posted by: JL - Park Ranger (White Wolf)
Sometimes the planet Earth seems like an inventor constantly coming up with new ideas. On a walk near White Wolf earlier this season, I was surprised to find a jammed-together patch of milk-white rocks almost two feet long; geologists call this pegmatite.
September 05, 2013Posted by: SC - Park Ranger (Yosemite Valley)
Collecting is an art. Some of us take pleasure in matching the dish towels to the throw pillows or the tea kettle to the living room rug, while others are transfixed by the newest and most exciting gadget on the market. A glimpse at our homes may provide insight into the fashion, technology, and stories of our time, while a historic home might feature up-and-coming trends from 1864. But, a close look at the home of a packrat can give us a glimpse at life 50,000 years ago! Packrats, also known as woodrats, are professional collectors.
September 05, 2013Posted by: TA - Park Ranger (Yosemite Valley)
Every year millions of people come from around the world to witness the spectacular mountain scenery of Yosemite National Park and to catch a glimpse of a wild animal. During my time as a ranger, I have found that most people are here to see one elusive animal in particular: a bear! But I will let you in on a little secret. There is an animal in Yosemite that has an even more magnetic personality than a bear and an absolutely unmatched sense of courage in the face of danger. And I can almost guarantee that anyone who has visited Yosemite has seen this little guy...
August 23, 2013Posted by: JT - Park Ranger/Web Manager (Yosemite Valley)
On August 28, 1913, Park Ranger Forest Townsley issued the first automobile permit in Yosemite National Park. While early visitors had driven automobiles in Yosemite as early as 1900, cars weren’t formally allowed until 1913.
August 16, 2013Posted by: EH - Park Ranger (Yosemite Valley)
When you hear the word “Yosemite,” you may immediately think of Half Dome, El Capitan, wildflowers in Tuolumne Meadows, and blue alpine lakes. But on the western side of the park, roughly 2,000 feet in elevation below the towering El Capitan of Yosemite Valley, lies El Portal, home to park administration buildings, and a plethora of plants well suited to a dry, and hot life.
August 16, 2013Posted by: KL - Park Ranger (Wawona)
Wawona is home to the Pioneer Yosemite History Center, a collection of historic buildings that have been relocated from all over the park. Each building tells a different story about Yosemite’s history. A visit to the Pioneer Yosemite History Center provides the opportunity to look into the lives, homes, and workplaces of the people who shaped and were shaped by Yosemite in centuries past.
August 04, 2013Posted by: JL - Park Ranger (Wawona)
"He is, without exception, the wildest animal I ever saw, --a fiery, sputtering little bolt of life." Imagine for a moment, if we had opportunity to spend the day with John Muir as our mountain guide. As Muir leads us into the upper montane forest, he excitedly speaks of searching out the “wildest animal I ever saw.” Would you be delighted or disappointed to discover that this creature is less than a foot in length and weighs just a few ounces?
August 04, 2013Posted by: KP - Park Ranger (Yosemite Valley
It is that time of year again! Yosemite Valley meadows are in bloom and the showy milkweed plants are living up to their names. The showy milkweed, native to western North America, is both a home to the milkweed beetle and a vacation layover for the monarch butterfly.
August 04, 2013Posted by: SS - Park Ranger (Wawona)
As I lace up my running shoes, the early morning air is crisp and clean with an aroma of pine and wet grass; it is the beginning of my day unfolding. The Wawona Meadow Loop is a 3.5-mile dirt road that encompasses one of few lower montane Sierra Nevada meadows: terrain gently rolling through ponderosa pine, incense-cedar, and California black oak woodland. Mountain dogwoods tightly crowd and overhang the path along one section I have dubbed “Dogwood Alley.” The dramatic blossoms in spring and the peach and rose-hued leaves in autumn lure me back to run this particular scenic loop regularly. Even in winter, the thin snow crunches underfoot and utter silence offers a cold meditative run for me in the low angle light of solstice.
August 03, 2013Posted by: LO - Park Ranger (Yosemite Valley)
This summer has brought some hot days. To cope with the heat, animals may try to avoid it. By being crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk) or spending time in the river or shade, animals can stay cool as the temperature soars. But, on those searing days, you may notice what seems to be unusual animal behavior.
August 03, 2013Posted by: JJ - Park Ranger (Wawona)
The early morning sun in Wawona tells me there’s something very special about this place. Hearing the flow of the South Fork of the Merced River is calming, smoothing, and refreshing. Sitting quietly in the Wawona Meadow and closing my eyes creates another dimension of Wawona. Wawona, Yosemite's Sleepy Hollow, is like no other place in the Sierra.
July 26, 2013Posted by: JR - MAPS Avian Technician
It's been a hot, busy summer so far during this year's field season of bird banding in Yosemite. Banding occurs at six stations clustered on the west slope of Yosemite, which are each operated once every ten days as part of the Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) program. Data are collected at over 300 MAPS stations across the U.S. and Canada every summer between May and August, and scientists and land managers use these data to look at demographic trends in songbird populations both locally and continent-wide.
July 19, 2013Posted by: JW - Park Ranger (Big Oak Flat Entrance Station Ranger)
A common trail companion and "square one" for a Sierra wildflower lesson, lupine is easy to find and easy on the eyes. It has multiple flowers of bluish purple and the two most common types found in Yosemite either grow close to the ground or as a small bush. This group of flowers is in the genus lupinus and the legume family. They can be referred to as lupine, lupin, or even bluebonnets (if you're in Texas). Like a movie star on the Riviera, give lupine a sandy spot with plenty of sun and they're as happy as can be.
July 19, 2013Posted by: EH - Park Ranger (Yosemite Valley)
Eating lunch at Taft Point (a lovely overlook reached by a trail leaving from Glacier Point Road), my favorite bird paid me a visit. A large, black bird with an inquisitive nature, the common raven is a frequent visitor to campgrounds, picnic areas, and picturesque overlooks. While the raven kept an eye on my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I caught the raven's eye on film.
July 06, 2013Posted by: AH - Park Ranger (White Wolf)
A walk to Lukens Lake from White Wolf these days presents you with a panorama of colors that only deepen with your continued observation. Don’t be distracted by the meadows bubbling with Jeffrey’s Shooting Stars leaning and bending in every direction or the towering Mountain Bluebells overtaking certain sections of the trail. Take a closer look on your hands and knees at the 4 different species (and colors) of little violets blooming or the herds of pink elephants (Elephant’s Head) gathering higher up above the ground in a few special places. Don’t miss the Green Rein Orchids as you bound along the trail towards the glowing Sierra Butterweed.
June 25, 2013Posted by: BR - Park Ranger/Resources Management & Science Liaison
I was exploring Yosemite's mountain forests at about 5,000 feet elevation recently, when I found my favorite patch of lady slipper orchids still in bloom. I say "favorite patch" because the first time I ever saw such lovely and unusual flowers was here in this gorgeous little swale. It was love at first sight and a turning point in my life. I was so taken by them that I decided to study botany in college.
The Wawona Meadow has played many different roles throughout its history: a home to wildlife, a food preparation area for American Indians, a hotspot of biological diversity, and more recently, a pasture, a golf course, and an airstrip! Like all Sierra Nevada meadows, our meadow here in Wawona is important habitat for plant and animal communities, including some of Yosemite’s rarest birds. It also serves as a natural floodwater reservoir and filtration system.
Over the South Fork of the Merced River in Wawona is a covered bridge. There are only a dozen covered bridges here in California, which is reason enough that this bridge is special. But Wawona’s covered bridge is special for a whole host of other reasons, especially for the story it tells of Wawona’s past, and the people who called this place home.
June 14, 2013Posted by: BW - Park Ranger (White Wolf)
Even though the dogwood flowers have faded away by now, there are plenty more plants ready to continue the show as they begin to bloom throughout the park. A drive along the Tioga Road reveals more than the epic scenery of the high country.
June 10, 2013Posted by: EH - Park Ranger (Yosemite Valley)
Hiking along a trail in the White Wolf area, to my surprise I saw an orange peel on the forest floor! Did someone litter? No, it wasn’t the discarded shell from a delicious fruit we know well, but a cup-shaped fungus growing upward from the ground.
June 07, 2013Posted by: BW & AH - Park Rangers (White Wolf)
Hetch Hetchy is a wonderful place to experience wildflowers early in Yosemite’s summer season. At about 3,800 feet, it is lower in elevation than many other parts of the park–so it’s also one of the first places that flowers bloom in Yosemite. Here is a small sampling of flowers recently seen blooming along the 2.5-mile trail to Wapama Falls.
April 23, 2013Posted by: BR - Park Ranger/Resources Management & Science Liaison
Dangerous snake? It sure is... if you are a lizard, nestling bird, or small mammal. If you are a human being, it is mostly harmless. The Sierra mountain kingsnake (Lampropeltis zonata multicincta), with its rings of white, orange, and black, has to be the most spectacularly colored snake in Yosemite. Some call it the coral kingsnake because of its somewhat similar appearance to the venomous coral snake. Fortunately for Yosemite visitors, the nearest wild coral snake lives in Arizona.
Galen Clark was the first “Guardian” of Yosemite after the Yosemite Grant was signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1864. Clark persuaded lawmakers to protect the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias as well as Yosemite Valley for future generations.
April 09, 2013Posted by: BW - Volunteer Interpreter
Observant visitors to Mirror Lake over the past month may have noticed evidence of beaver (Castor canadensis) activity. Several cottonwood trees around the main reflection pool are showing the toothmarks of gnawing by beavers.
April 05, 2013Posted by: BW - Volunteer Interpreter
It is hard to overstate the importance of the California black oak (Quercus kelloggii) to Yosemite National Park. With so many other icons, it may be easy to overlook the black oak, but it is one of the most important cultural, biological, and scenic resources in the park.
March 15, 2013Posted by: BW - Volunteer Interpreter
Spring in the mountains is a funny thing. Like a wave slowly washing over the Sierra Nevada, spring will crash first onto the foothills and then, following the warmer temperatures, work its way up to the highest peaks in a spray of late summer wildflowers.
March 09, 2013Posted by: BW - Volunteer Interpreter
We were all young once. You may not remember it well now, but we often possess an innocence and honesty in our youth that is uncommon as adults. Such is the case of Evie, a young junior ranger, who recently returned a couple of sticks she took from the park saying in an adorable letter, “I know I’m not supposed to take things from the park…..Please put them back in nature.”
March 09, 2013Posted by: BW - Volunteer Interpreter
James Mason Hutchings was one of the earliest and most important pioneer figures of Yosemite Valley. It was Hutchings that published the first illustrations of Yosemite Valley, his daughter was the first non-Indian to be born in the Valley, and he owned one of the first hotels in the Valley.
February 22, 2013Posted by: BW - Volunteer Interpreter
Photographers flock to Yosemite year round, but there is a special reason they were here this week. There is a small, ephemeral water fall that puts on quite a show in mid- to late-February. Horse Tail Fall, on the east shoulder of El Capitan, is a great example of the amazing natural phenomena that exist in Yosemite.
February 15, 2013Posted by: BW - Volunteer Interpreter
The recent warmer temperatures have melted much of the snow in Yosemite Valley, revealing damp ground underneath. One of the things that was uncovered was the fruit of the California buckeye (Aesculus californica), which had fallen to the ground at the end of summer.
February 06, 2013Posted by: BW - Volunteer Interpreter
Last week we explored the idea of our snowpack functioning as a reservoir, storing and slowly releasing water for much of California to use throughout the year. This vital function is so important that it has prompted the creation of a scientific army of surveyors that measure and predict the condition of the snowpack. The results of the snow surveys are useful in predicting our water resources for the year, but they can fluctuate greatly depending on the weather that year.
January 14, 2013Posted by: BW - Volunteer Interpreter
One of eleven bird species in the woodpecker family that can be found here, many acorn woodpeckers make a home at the lower elevations of Yosemite National Park. In Yosemite Valley, this is one of the most apparent birds, often making quite a ruckus with loud nasal squawks that could resemble maniacal laughter. Seek out oak woodlands to find these year-round residents.
January 14, 2013Posted by: BW - Volunteer Interpreter
Yosemite brought in the New Year wearing a sparkling white gown of snow, left from a series of storms near the end of December. At one point, there was 14 inches on the ground in Yosemite Valley and much of that has stuck around as daily temperatures have been fairly cold. The snow certainly produced hazardous driving conditions as well as beautiful photos as the park was transformed into a winter wonderland.
Every January the Merced Canyon opens the annual flower show with waterfall buttercups (Kumlienia hystriculus). These beauties live around wet areas where water continually drips or near waterfalls where they are kept fresh by spray.
December 20, 2012Posted by: BW - Volunteer Interpreter
Now that the California black oaks in Yosemite Valley have dropped most of their leaves, something strange has been revealed among the branches. Even though it is winter, big green leafy clumps of mistletoe are still growing up there.
December 19, 2012Posted by: BR - Park Ranger/Resources Management & Science Liaison
What causes rockfall on calm days in summer? When it rains and rocks fall we pretty much know that running water probably triggered it. Likewise we understand that earthquakes and the freezing and thawing of ice on cliffs can also trigger rockfall. However, there are other triggers that remain a mystery. Why is it that rocks also fall on perfectly calm summer afternoons with no apparent cause?
December 18, 2012Posted by: BW - Volunteer Interpreter
2012 Christmas Bird Count
Last Sunday over 40 enthusiastic birders braved the cold temperatures to participate in the 113th annual Christmas Bird Count. This nationwide event is sponsored by the National Audubon Society and features local groups identifying and counting every bird they see in a given area for one day.
October 10, 2012Posted by: BR - Park Ranger/Resources Management & Science Liaison
On October 2, 2012, local naturalist Michael Ross spotted a bird he had never seen before, at least not in Yosemite. After careful observation he determined it was a gray catbird (Dumetella carolinensis).
The Merced River above Nevada Fall and South Fork Merced River above Wawona, numerous small meadows and adjacent riparian habitats occur. Owing their existence to the river and its annual flooding, these habitats help support eight special status animal species: harlequin ducks, black swifts, bald eagles, osprey, willow flycatchers, yellow warbler, western red bat, and Sierra Nevada mountain beaver.