A DRY HEAT
Exhaust-spewing tour buses and rental cars filled the parking lot. Like sheep through chutes, tourists were herded by railing-protected paths down to the overlooks at Mather Point. It was January. Youth counselor David Line Denali was showing Cale Shaffer, his new outdoor recreation intern, the Grand Canyon for his first time. Cale followed the railings down the stone steps and out to the end of a peninsula of rock until…Whoa! The prosaic atmosphere at the parking lot was forgotten. This was some serious scenery. Struggling for perspective, Cale turned to his new boss and asked, “How tall is Wall Street?”
“I don’t know,” Denali said. “A thousand feet or so?”
Five Wall Streets set on top of one another still wouldn’t match the depth of the Grand Canyon. It was craziness. Cale couldn’t wrap his mind around it. In his home state, there was a place the locals called the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. Now this claim embarrassed him. The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. Right.
Standing there at Mather Point, the twenty-year-old outdoor recreation intern had no way of knowing how intimate he would become with the mysterious terrain in front of him. A beam of sunlight highlighted Zoroaster Temple, a yellow butte to the north. (He would climb it.) The jade ribbon at the bottom of the canyon was the Colorado River. (He would raft it.) The cluster of buildings in the heart of the inner gorge was Phantom Ranch. (He would live there.) Ten miles away on the North Rim, fir and spruce grew from the snowy ground. (He would recover his first dead body there, a victim of a plane crash.) The Grand Canyon guarded many riches—hidden caves, fossilized creatures, ancient ruins, prehistoric paintings, emerald springs sustaining elfin gardens. (And here, among the park’s secret treasures, he would fall in love with more than one girl.)......
It was a gorgeous Sierra day—a warm October afternoon. Showy milkweeds cast their feathered seeds into fall breezes. Red-winged blackbirds bobbed up and down on yellowing blades of grass. Rainbow trout gorged themselves on insects floating down gurgling streams. A hundred and fifty people, some carrying banners and flags, stood at the edges of a meadow below El Capitan and chanted, “It’s our park too!” and “Let them jump!”
A few Yosemite locals among the increasing crowd heckled the park rangers who were doing their best to keep traffic flowing. Families on the way to campgrounds and hotels saw the people and the media cameras. They pulled their campers and rental cars off to the side of the road to determine the cause of all this excitement. “What’s going on?” they asked. Someone pointed to the top of El Capitan and said, “A woman is about to jump off that mountain.”.......
DEAD BEAR WALKING
Ranger Noel McJunkin thought he had the best job in the world. His commute consisted of a four-mile hike into the park wilderness. His office was a canvas tent near a babbling brook. His beat was the backcountry of Little Yosemite Valley. His job was to walk the trails, checking for camping permits and warning hikers of the hazards. How hard could that be?
As a backcountry ranger, Noel met fewer people and responded to fewer calls than the beleaguered frontcountry rangers patrolling the park’s busy roads and crowded hotels. Away from their cars, outside the roaming ranges of their cell phones, and at least four trail miles from the nearest beer tap, the hikers in Little Yosemite were friendlier and more relaxed than the average frontcountry visitor. In turn, Noel was friendlier and more relaxed than the average frontcountry park ranger.
But every man has his limits.....