My friend John W and I had planned a weekend of day hikes near Yosemite's Tuolumne Meadows a month before the Rim Fire broke out in late August. Highway 120, our usual Big Oak Flat route into the park, was closed so we entered the park through the Merced Canyon's Arch Rock Entrance and drove up toward Crane Flat. This is where we saw our first up-close view of the "pyrocumulus" smoke and ash cloud.
At dusk we took the White Wolf exit off Tioga Road and as we drove into the camp we saw that a moderately thick pall of smoke hung over the area. White Wolf is on the southern lip of the Tuolumne Canyon, the same steep gorge that was raging with uncontrolled fire just ten miles to the west.
We checked into our tent cabin and had dinner at the lodge. As we left the lodge in the dark to walk to our tent cabin we could see that the down-canyon winds that usually start after sunset had begun to clear out the smoke.
We woke up to pristine skies and decided to climb the ridge to the south of Olmsted Point, a famous overlook on the Tioga Road with fabulous views southeast to Cloud's Rest and Half Dome and east to Tenaya Lake and its glaciated domes. I had done a pastel painting in the 1980s of this pine-studded ridge and had often wondered what it was like up there.
We parked John's truck in a pullout just up from the lake and with some trial and error we found a route up the northeast flank of the ridge. As I summited I began to think of our friend Bob G who had recently died in a car accident while taking his son and some other scouts to the camp Bob went to when he was a boy.
I decided to name a tree in his honor and immediately spotted this stately twin-trunked lightning-struck Western White Pine. It is a beautiful tree with views of Tenaya Canyon and the Cloud's Rest-Half Dome spur and of sapphire-blue Tenaya Lake. We honored our friend Bob, who we worked with at California State Parks for many years, with a brief ceremony. Over the years Yosemite has become not only a personal refuge of beauty and inspiration but also a repository of my memories of friends and family who have passed on before me. Yosemite is a landscape of the soul.
|John and the Pyrocumulus (perhaps 30-40,000 feet high)|
|The Rim Fire Pyrocumulus with the Olmsted Point Overlook below|
|View from the Tioga Road overlook of the crown of the Bob G Tree (the bush-like foliage on the right edge)|
|Olmsted Point erratic boulder dropped by the last receding glacier|
As we drove west to retrace our route out of the park via the Merced Canyon we saw the Rim Fire much closer to the park's western border, perhaps even now inside the park. The pyrocumulus cloud was darkly ominous.
As of today, August 26 it has grown to 150,000 acres (the size of Chicago) and is the nation's number one fire priority. It is now 15% under control which is 15 times better than when we arrived in Yosemite on August 23. The park's 2,000 year-old Tuolumne and Merced giant sequoia groves are now protected with emergency sprinkler systems. We can only hope that the brave men and women fighting the fire by land and air gain the upper hand soon.