Yosemite Ranger Notes

About This Blog

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.

A View from Cook's Meadow

August 10, 2017 Posted by: KCS - Creative Media Assistant (Yosemite Valley)

As John Muir once said, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” It’s a sentiment I can certainly believe in when I walk out on the creaking boardwalk in Cook's Meadow.


America's Lizard

October 21, 2015 Posted by: KG - Park Ranger (Yosemite Valley)

It was another beautiful Yosemite morning. I walked out the door onto my sandy lawn to get things started.  I grabbed my bike to head over to the office and that’s when I saw… the body.  Smooshed on the shoulder of the road was a snake-like yet flattened form.  Closer inspection revealed little legs sticking out the side.  I assumed it used to have a tail, though the animal must have lost it in some other battle.  What was this creature?  Being from Wisconsin originally, I’m not exactly from lizard country, so I’ve always been fascinated by them and this was a different specimen than anything I’d ever seen.  After a few moments, I was back on my bike and headed for my usual daily adventures.  Going about my day, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  What was that?  Maybe it was an escaped pet of sorts?  Ranger naturalists are naturally curious people, and I decided to do a little bit more investigating.


Bear Series, Part Four: “Bear-Men” of the American Frontier

November 19, 2014 Posted by: PB - Park Ranger (Yosemite Valley)

Long ago, some believed the stereotypical rugged, resourceful, and individualistic American was created by challenging and pushing back against the wilds of the western frontier. Despite cultural connections dating back to the “Old World,” bears at first were not spared from extermination.


Bear Series, Part Two: Bears of Our Forests and Our Imaginations

October 29, 2014 Posted by: PB - Park Ranger (Yosemite Valley)

The opportunity to view wildlife, in particular, charismatic megafauna is one of the key attractions that draw hundreds of millions of visitors to national parks across the United States each year. At Yosemite, arguably the most iconic and charismatic of all wildlife present is the American black bears. People want to experience something truly wild here, something apart from our highly structured and ordered, some might say overly-civilized, and increasingly urbanized world.


An Uncharacteristic Aerial Fisherman

October 08, 2014 Posted by: KF - Park Ranger (Yosemite Valley)

When we think of a bird, some blanket characteristics come to mind: seasonal migration, flashy male plumage and less-noticeable female plumage, a semi-circular nest made of grass and sticks and feathers, and cute, downy nestlings. The belted kingfisher in Yosemite National Park defies all of these stereotypes in unique ways.


Yosemite…A Soundscape, Landscape and Nightscape Escape!

October 03, 2014 Posted by: SP - Park Ranger (Yosemite Valley)

Imagine the sounds you would hear in urban areas…horns honking, motors revving, car alarms blaring…these sounds quickly add up to what could be an unhealthy accumulation of decibels. Will these sounds soon flood out Yosemite’s natural sounds?


Yosemite Valley: A Land of Beauty, Peace, Sanctity, and “ELMER!”

September 29, 2014 Posted by: AR - Park Ranger (Yosemite Valley)

Perhaps the strangest and most mysterious question people ask in Yosemite Valley is “Where’s Elmer?”


A Bird with a Plume

September 25, 2014 Posted by: TA - Park Ranger (Yosemite Valley)

Woooooot! Hike after hike I would hear this mysterious noise and puzzle over its source....


Yosemite Walls

September 22, 2014 Posted by: CK - Park Ranger (Yosemite Valley)

Yosemite Valley is a place best characterized by the contrast between stalwart permanence and ephemerality. Nowhere is this more evident than Yosemite Falls. Granite, 100 million years old, pitted against individual drops of water whose tenure on the canyon wall is a mere blink of the eye as they travel between the high-country snow and the Merced River. Following the course of the waterfall itself, we can find tenacious inhabitants.  Lichen, the union between algae and moss, proliferates.


The Whole Story About Half of a Tree

September 13, 2014 Posted by: KG - Park Ranger (Yosemite Valley)

As you venture into Yosemite Valley, your journey will undoubtedly involve a trip down Southside Drive. You pass a beautiful little chapel while pulling up to a stop sign, and glance to your right for just a moment. That’s where you will catch a glimpse of a broad opening in the forest with a single tree in the middle. This tree, however, is very peculiar indeed.


Danger in the Beauty Above

September 12, 2014 Posted by: LH -Park Ranger (Yosemite Valley)

In Yosemite Valley, the California black oaks are one of the beautiful tree species we enjoy; unfortunately that beauty comes with inherent dangers.


An Artist and His Chocolate

September 02, 2014 Posted by: SS - Park Ranger (Wawona)

Although not as well known in national artistic circles as the now-famous names of Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hill, William Keith, and Thomas Moran, Chris Jorgensen is locally known and beloved by those of his adopted state of California. Born in Norway and brought to San Francisco as a boy by his widowed mother, Christian Jorgensen initially showed little sign of his future success....


Incredibly Steller… Jays

June 15, 2014 Posted by: KG - Park Ranger (Yosemite Valley)

If you’ve been to Yosemite, you’ve almost certainly seen them. Some visitors might identify them at first glance, while others may just settle in for the moment to watch “that blue bird with the triangle head” as it forages for acorns or (unfortunately) scours populated areas for crumbs.


Toboggan runs, ice skating competitions, and a bid for the Winter Olympics

February 06, 2014 Posted 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.


The First Pioneer Settler of Yosemite Valley

December 17, 2013 Posted by: BW - Park Ranger

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?


Red-tailed Hawk - One of Nature's Top Predators

November 05, 2013 Posted 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.


School Students “Adopt” Boulders to Make a Difference

October 22, 2013 Posted 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.


Stewards of Stone - Stabilizing Yosemite Cemetery

September 25, 2013 Posted 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.


Oooh, Shiny!

September 05, 2013 Posted 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.


Back Off! Rodents of Unusual Size and Courage

September 05, 2013 Posted 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...


Meadows of Milkweed

August 04, 2013 Posted 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.


Staying Cool During the Heat of Summer

August 03, 2013 Posted 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.


Sierra Mountain Kingsnake

April 23, 2013 Posted 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


Busy Beaver at Mirror Lake

April 09, 2013 Posted 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.


California Black Oak Grove Study Begins in the Valley

April 05, 2013 Posted 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.


Rollercoaster Rivers

March 15, 2013 Posted by: BW - Volunteer Interpreter

This week has been very warm in Yosemite. Yosemite Valley’s average high temperature for March is 58°F but this week, we have seen highs nearly 15 degrees warmer.


Spring has Sprung Somewhere

March 15, 2013 Posted 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.


Our inner 6-year old

March 09, 2013 Posted 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.”


Hunting for the Hutchings House

March 09, 2013 Posted 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.


Horsetail Fall

February 22, 2013 Posted 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.


Winter Wind Valentine

February 15, 2013 Posted by: BW - Volunteer Interpreter

Some travelers to Yosemite this winter may be surprised to find something besides snow in the air.  Pollen from the incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) is flying far and wide this February.


The Buckeyes are Looking for Spring

February 15, 2013 Posted 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.


Acorn Woodpecker

January 14, 2013 Posted 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.


Our Reservoir of Snow

January 14, 2013 Posted 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.


First Blooms of the 2013 Wildflower Season!

January 11, 2013 Posted by: Bob Roney

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.



January 04, 2013 Posted by: BW

A beautiful phenomenon with a funny name, hoar comes from Old English and means grayish white or gray-haired with age.  This type of frost forms large white crystals on cold surfaces.


Winter Solstice

December 21, 2012 Posted by: BW - Volunteer Interpreter

With just over nine and a half hours of daylight here at Yosemite National Park, today is the shortest day of the year.  This day also marks the lowest point the sun will reach in our daytime sky.


2012 Christmas Bird Count

December 18, 2012 Posted 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.


Leafy Mistletoe

December 20, 2012 Posted 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 16, 2012 Posted by: BW - Volunteer Interpreter

The fresh layer of snow in the Valley has brought out the coyotes.  Several have been spotted over the past few days, roving around in search of food.


What Causes Rockfall on Calm Days in Summer?

December 19, 2012 Posted 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?


The Real Return of Yosemite Falls

December 04, 2012 Posted by: BW - Volunteer Interpreter

Yosemite Falls may have been flowing by Thanksgiving, but it's not really back until the roar of water announces the return.


Birding in Cook’s Meadow

November 26, 2012 Posted by: BW - Volunteer Interpreter

Even though our neo-tropical migrants have flown south for the winter, Yosemite is still a great place to go birding.


The Return of Yosemite Falls

November 18, 2012 Posted by: BW - Volunteer Interpreter

Each year in late summer and autumn, visitors to Yosemite are faced with a troubling question. Where is Yosemite Falls?



November 13, 2012 Posted by: BW - Volunteer Interpreter

This large bobcat, which has been regularly sighted around the Valley in the past month, was spotted behind the Rangers’ Club intently stalking some small prey item.


Showy Milkweed

November 12, 2012 Posted by: BW - Volunteer Interpreter

The most common milkweed plant in Yosemite Valley is putting on its last show of the season.


What's a Bird Like You Doing in a Place Like This?

October 10, 2012 Posted 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).


Last updated: March 27, 2021

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