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Discover Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View

By Ariel Blandford

In May of 2012 I spent the summer living and working in Yosemite National Park as a horseback tour guide.  I led tours on horses and mules up the back side of Half Dome on the John Muir Trail (JMT) to Clark’s Point and on the Mirror Lake Loop Trail.  I lived in a canvas tent next to the Curry Village Stables (Now Closed) and on my free days I explored the park. 

Guiding a tour on the Wawona

As a photographer, I tried to capture as much of what I experienced as I could to share with my family and friends back home.  What I learned was that Yosemite is more than forests and mountains.  It is the embodiment of a soul alive.  Its heart beats with every river, plant and animal and the deeper we explore, the more we realize that it is as much a part of us, as we are a part of it.

The following is a compilation of notes drawn from my experiences in the park throughout my life.  I have organized it by Hikes, Concessionaires, Night Time in Yosemite, Seasons and What to Expect, Sample Itinerary: Exploring the Valley, High Sierra Camps, and Explore Outside the Valley.  I have also labeled hikes with their round trip mileage, if it is good for kids and if the concessionaire has wifi or is a good place to find cell phone service.  Remember that the Valley does not have gas available for visitors, so be sure to fill up before driving in.  I hope that this provides guidance to your Yosemite adventure and helps create an experience you will never forget.

Last Note: Please enjoy the park responsibly.  It is dangerous just as much as it is beautiful.  Respect the wildlife, plants and cliffs, by keeping your distance, putting your food in bear boxes (that includes not leaving food in your car), staying away from steep edges and keeping on trail. 

*Items bolded are my top recommendations

Yosemite Hikes

Looking over the Merced River at Yosemite Falls

Walk Ups: (All Great for Kids)

  • Glacier Point (Found off of the 141)
  • Tunnel View (Found off of the 141) 
  • Sentinel Dome (Found off of the 141) (This is where Ansel Adams took his famous photo of the Jeffery Pine.)
  • Valley View (Found off of Northside Drive, just before you begin seeing directional signs for highways leaving the park.)
  • El Capitan (See if you can spot the climbers clinging to the edge)
  • Bridal Veil Falls (.5 mi. round trip)
  • Cook's Meadow
  • Sentinel Beach/Bridge
  • Olmsted Point (Found off of Tioga Pass)

Easy Hikes:

  • Mirror Lake/Meadow Loop Trail (The dam that created the famous reflective lake was removed in the early 70s, and the original meadow is slowly being restored.  In 2009 a large rock slide fell from Ahwiyah Point onto the trail, splitting the loop trail in half.  Although, the lake is now gone, there are still some small bodies of water to take a refreshing dip in.  (To walk to the lake is 2 miles round trip, to walk to the rockslide is 5-6 miles round trip.) (Great for Kids)
  • Lower Yosemite Falls Hike (1 mi. round trip) (Great for Kids)
  • Happy Isles (There is a Nature Center at Happy Isles that is perfect for kids! During the summertime there is a ice cream stand that opens and serves ice cream nearby.)
  • Valley Loop Trail (The loop goes around the entire valley.  I reccomend biking this, or choosing to spend a day walking half of it to really get to explore the Valley Floor!) (6.5 mi. half loop / 13 mi. entire loop) (Great for Kids)
  • Taft Point (From Glacier Point, 4 mi. round trip)
  • Inspiration Point (2.6 mi. round trip), (The trail head is at Tunnel View.  If you're feeling a bigger challenge you can pass Inspiration Point and hike on to Old Inspiration Point, which is further up the trail.)

Moderate Hikes:

The Last Stretch of the Upper Yosemite Falls

  • Vernal Falls (You can hike to the bridge, or hike to the top of the falls.  This is one of the most popular hikes in the Valley.  The trail is paved to the bridge and there is a water filling station and bathroom there as well.  You will see a lot of strollers and families hiking to the bridge.  Heads up, the first part is super steep for stroller pushing, but definitely worth it if you are looking to get some exercise.) (To the bridge round trip is 1.6 mi., to the top of the falls round trip is 2.4 mi.) (Great for Kids)
  • Columbia Rock via Upper Yosemite Falls Trail (3 mi. round trip)

Long Hikes:

View of Nevada Falls and Liberty Cap from the JMT

  • Nevada Falls Loop (I suggest starting with the Mist Trail and going down the JMT) (8 mi. round trip)
  • Upper Yosemite Falls (This is one of my favorite hikes and I have done it over four times.  Be sure to hike all the way to Yosemite Point) (To the top of the fall round trip is 7.2 miles, to Yosemite Point round trip is 8.8 miles)
  • Four Mile (I recommend taking the bus from the Valley floor to Glacier Point and then hiking down this trail.  It is extremely steep and I advise against walking up it during the hotter months.) (4.7 mi. one way)
  • Panorama Trail (8.5 mi. one way)
  • Illilouette Falls Trail (To the Panorama Point Vista, 5 miles round trip)

Advanced Hikes:

A Sunset View from Cloud's Rest

  • Half Dome (Requires Permits) (14.2 miles round trip via Mist Trail and 16.5 miles round trip via John Muir Trail)
  • Snow Creek Trail (9.4 mi round trip)
  • Cloud’s Rest Hike (This is my all time favorite hike to do in Yosemite.  The hike takes you past Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls, through Little Yosemite Valley and up a rarely trafficked back side of Half Dome.  When you get to the top the views are endless with a 365 degree vantage of the Yosemite Backcountry, Tuolumne Meadows, Half Dome and Yosemite Valley.  I suggest making this a three trip, with two nights in Little Yosemite Valley.) (14.5 mi. roundtrip)
  • Grand Canyon of Tuolumne River (46.7 mi. one way) (I am doing this hike for the first time in the Summer of 2017!)

Yosemite Concessionaires

Yosemite Village:

Valley Wilderness Center in the Fall

  • Valley Visitor Center (There is a Ranger-staffed information desk, bookstore, theater, and exhibit hall detailing Yosemite's geology, plant, animal life, and history.  Be sure to stop by for a showing of the Spirit of Yosemite film.)
  • Valley Wilderness Center (This is where you can get your Half Dome and backcountry permits.)
  • Yosemite Museum (Learn about the history of Yosemite's native Miwok and Paiute people.)
  • Ansel Adams Gallery (If you are a photographer looking to get some sweet shots this is the place for you.  In the back of the shop you can sign up for photography classes led by an experienced photographer who is familiar with all the best places to take pictures.  Lessons range from free to $100.)
  • Yosemite Cemetery 
  • Post Office 
  • Degnan’s Deli
  • The Loft (A Seasonal Pizza Restaurant only open in the summer.  During the winter they close it and make it a hangout place for locals.)

The Village Store:

  • Grocery Store (Good place to find cell phone service)
  • Ticket Purchasing Station (You can buy tickets to Star Tours, Valley Tours and more here. Tours are super kid friendly.)
  • Burger Stand
  • Art Center (Painting Classes and Arts and Crafts Classes. Great for Kids!)

Half Dome Village (Formerly Curry Village):

A Ranger giving a Valley Floor tour

  • Hotel (They have Canvas Tents and Wooden Cabins available for Lodging)
  • Mountaineering Store
  • Grocery Store/Gift Shop
  • Burger Stand
  • Pizza Stand
  • Ice Cream Stand
  • Half Dome Village (Ask for the local's Yosemi-tea)
  • Half Dome Village Buffet
  • Community Center (Great place to sit on the porch and relax and meet people.  Wifi Available.)
  • Outdoor Wilderness Theater (Great for Kids)
  • Ice Skating Rink (Wintertime)
  • Raft/Bike Rentals (Summertime)
  • Pool (Summertime)

Yosemite Valley Lodge (Formerly Yosemite Lodge at the Falls):

  • Hotel (Actual Hotel Style Rooms)
  • Gift Shop
  • Pool
  • Outdoor Theater (Summertime, Great for Kids!)
  • Bike Rentals
  • Mountain Room Restaurant
  • Mountain Room Bar
  • Cafeteria (Good place to find cell phone service and wifi available) 

The Majestic Yosemite Hotel (Formerly The Ahwahnee Hotel):

The Majestic Yosemite Dining Room

  • Hotel (They have rooms and cottages for rent.  Notable guest of The Majestic Yosemite Hotel have been President Obama and Family, Steve Jobs, and President JFK)
  • Pool (for Guests Only)
  • The Majestic Yosemite Hotel Bar
  • Gift Shop
  • The Majestic Yosemite Restaurant (The Brunch Buffet is my favorite, but it is $$$.)
  • The Majestic Yosemite Hotel Living Room and Patio (Great public place to sit and relax or explore the old building. Good place to find cell phone service and wifi available.)
  • The Majestic Yosemite Historic Tour
  • Story Talks (Great for Kids, check the Yosemite Newspaper for times.)
  • The Bracebridge Dinner (This world famous event only happens in the wintertime at the hotel and is performed in the dinning hall of The Majestic Yosemite Hotel.)

Scattered throughout the Valley:

  • Yosemite Conservation Heritage Center (Formerly known as LeConte Memorial Lodge, it is operated by the Sierra Club and features a library, children's corner, and environmental education programs.  You can find this off of Southside Drive just passed Housekeeping Camp.) (Great for Kids)
  • Yosemite Valley Chapel (This little Chapel hosts services every Sunday)
  • Nature Center at Happy Isles (This is a fun place to explore with kids and learn some cool things about the park.  During the summertime there is a ice cream stand that opens and serves ice cream nearby as well.)

Camping in Yosemite Valley 

Places to camp in the Valley:

  • Lower Pines (Tent and RV Friendly)
  • Upper Pines (Tent and RV Friendly)
  • Housekeeping (Perfect for glampers this campsite offers a small shelter, water and electricity and is always full during the summer.)
  • Backpackers Camp (The lesser known campsite is situated just behind Upper Pines Campground and is a walk in campsite for any person with a permit and a tent.  It is $5 to camp and you are only allowed to camp one sequential night here.
  • Camp 4 (The famous climber campsite is walk up only and fills up quick.  If you are looking to fulfill your deepest dirtbag desires be sure to show up early to land a spot.)

Night Time in Yosemite

Nighttime in Cook's Meadow

Growing up I never liked Yosemite at night.  I felt that most of the cool things were day time activities, which left me feeling bored once the sun went down.  There are definitely a ton of great places to grab a food throughout the park and places to grab a drink.  Beyond that, you have to do a little bit of research to know what is happening at night.  When you enter the park every visitor receives a newspaper loaded with things that are going on in the park during that season. This is full of cool night time activities for you to keep yourself busy.  Activities range from Star Talks in Cook’s Meadow, Sunset Ranger Talks at Glacier Point, Moon Bow Photography Excursions, Climbing Talks, Wilderness Lessons and more.

Seasons and What to Expect

WIntertime on the Merced River

June - August:

  • Expect it to be hot during the day, and warm during the night.  Bring your swimsuit!

September - October:

  • It starts to cool down this time of year, pack warmer clothes for the day and a nice jacket for the night time.  Expect to see colors in the Valley!

November - May:

  • These are the colder months in the Valley, look ahead because there will be snow in the valley and below freezing temperatures.  Be sure to check www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm for road closures due to snow and ice.

First Visit: Sample Itinerary

Water Pouring off the Edge of Upper Yosemite Falls

Day 1:

    1      Bridal Veil Falls

    2      Stop to see El Captain from the Road

    3      Explore Sentinel Bridge

    4      Explore Yosemite Village

Day 2:

    1      Vernal Falls Hike (You Could Modify this Day to Hike to Nevada Falls)

    2      Explore Happy Isles

    3      Explore the Yosemite Nature Center

Day 3:

    1      Hike to Columbia Rock (You Could Modify this Day to Upper Yosemite Falls)

    2      Hike to Lower Yosemite Falls

    3      Visit Tunnel View

Day 4:

    1      Drive up to Glacier Point

    2      Stop by Valley View

    3      Explore Cooks Meadow

A Ranger Giving a Talk on Yosemite Geography at Glacier Point

“When it comes to a natural marvel like Yosemite, that tells everybody’s story, the story of humanity exploring and seeing and being amazed.”

— Barack Obama in Yosemite National Park, 2016 

Yosemite Permits and the Backcountry 

View of Tuolumne Meadows from Lembert Dome

There are a ton of amazing sites to see in the backcountry of Yosemite National Park.  If you are into multi-day backpacking trips be sure to contact the Valley Wilderness Center, (209-372-0826) twenty-four weeks in advance to see if you can land a permit for your chosen trail.  All backcountry camps require permits.  If you don't get one over the phone you can still show up to the Valley Wilderness Center at 6 am and wait in line to try and snag one of the permits they set aside for walk ups.  I have done this and it worked out really well.  Keep in mind that when you get your walk in permit it is for the following day that you bought it.  

High Sierra Camps:

  • Glen Aulin
  • May Lake
  • Sunrise
  • Merced Lake
  • Vogelsang

Other places that require permits:

Ribbon Falls, A Seasonal Waterfall That Only Flows in the Spring

  • Half Dome (To hike this highly coveted rock you will need to enter into the Half Dome Permit Lottery, or show up early at the Valley Wilderness Center to see if you can snag a walk up permit.)
  • Camping in Little Yosemite Valley (Camping here is included in your wilderness permit.  There are compostable bathrooms here.)

Yosemite National Park has so much more to offer than what I have listed here, but I hope that you found this a helpful introduction for your future visit to the park. 

Written by Ariel Blandford
Photographs by Ariel Blandford

More of Ariel's work at http://arielblandford.com/

March 22, 2017 by Jared Prince

Appalachian Trail: Path to Preservation

Extending all the way from Maine to Georgia, the Appalachian Trail is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world. The trail, with more than 2,000 miles spanning 14 states, sees approximately 3,000,000 visitors each year.

Today, the trail is managed by the National Park Service, US Forest Service, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, state agencies and countless volunteers, but that hasn’t always been the case.


In 1921, the idea for the trail was conceived by a single person: regional planner Benton MacKaye. As a forester, MacKaye lived by the philosophy that land should be preserved for both recreational and conservation purposes, a concept he called “Geotechnics.” With this idea in mind, Benton, along with a group of private citizens and supporters, organized the Appalachian Trail Conference (ATC). Together, they hoped to realize MacKaye’s vision of creating a footpath that ran from New England to the southern Appalachian Mountains.

Although enthusiastic from the outset, the group failed to make much progress over the course of five years. In that time, they managed to connect some existing paths and create a few new ones in New York but were far from finishing the hiking trail MacKaye originally envisioned.

Moving Towards Completion

The 1920s saw a change of leadership in the ATC when retired Connecticut judge, Arthur Perkins, took the reins from MacKaye. Perkins’ work on the trail led him to the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC), a group that was already making great progress on the Trail in West Virginia.

The PATC is where Perkins would meet retired federal admiralty lawyer, Myron H. Avery who would eventually succeed Perkins as head of the ATC and, with plenty of support and momentum behind him, led the way to the Trail’s completion in 1937.

The Push for Federal Protection

Even though the footpath was complete, the A.T. project wouldn’t truly be finished until the Trail received federal protection – an integral part of MacKaye’s original vision. Recognizing the importance of preservation, the National Park Service had taken measures to gain federal protection long before the footpath was complete.


But those plans were temporarily placed on hold due to a series of events that were unfolding at the time. First, in 1938, a hurricane ripped through New England leaving portions of the Trail in disrepair. Soon after, volunteers and ATC members were preparing for what would become World War II with many being called to active duty.   

The damage from the hurricane and lack of maintenance over the years led many to believe the A.T. was no longer passable from Maine to Georgia. But, three years after the end of WWII, Earl V. Shaffer was in fact able to make his way through the 2,000-mile journey, a feat that breathed new life into the preservation, protection and conservation plans the Trail needed to survive.

The Path to Protection & Conservation

Following the death of Avery in 1951, two leaders, Murray Stevens and Stanley Murray, would continue the push for federal protection. Thanks to their efforts, the ATC saw membership numbers jump from a few hundred to more than 10,000 during the 1950s and 60s. This period of great growth helped fuel several legislation initiatives that would eventually grant federal ownership of the land the A.T. occupied – a move that would ensure its protection for generations of hikers and backpackers.

Their efforts paid off in 1968 when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Trails System Act into law, making the A.T. the first national scenic trail. This designation finally gave the Trail federal protection under the National Park System – 47 years after MacKaye first made his idea public.

Appalachian Trail Land Acquisition

The National Trails System Act called for state and federal purchase of land that contained portions of the footpath. To help with the new phase of protection plans, the ATC hired its first employee and moved their headquarters to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. This move allowed them to be nearer to the Trail and work more closely with agencies that would help with land purchase.

While the USDA Forest Service was quick to enter the land purchasing phase, the National Park Service (NPS) continually stalled acquisition efforts on the 40% of the Trail they were responsible for. The ATC fought back to secure the much needed protection the Trail deserved. Congress agreed and directed the NPS to set aside a budget specifically for A.T. land acquisition. It was also under this new plan that the National Park Service gave ATC the right and responsibility to manage the Trail.

Remaining Miles

By 1986, only 100 miles or so were left of the original 2,190-mile footpath. With completion in sight, it became top priority to acquire the last remaining miles. However, many years of land negotiations remained, the largest being a protected route over Maine’s Saddleback Mountain. Finally, the last stretch of land would be formally acquired in 2014. Today, less than 1% of land that the A.T. traverses is privately owned.  

Giving Back and Getting Involved

Because the ATC has played such a major role in land-acquisition projects as well as protecting, promoting and managing the Trail, the group reorganized and officially changed the name to Appalachian Trail Conservancy in 2005 – a name that better represented its leadership in making the trail what it is today. In 2015, they celebrated their 90th year of protecting and preserving the Trail.

 

Although the ATC helps spearhead Trail management efforts, they rely heavily on communities and volunteers to help. With more than 2,000 miles to maintain, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved and give back. Volunteers can join one of 31 Trail Clubs that assist with on-the-ground stewardship with the ATC coordinating efforts to:


  •         Keep footpaths passable
  •         Make sure surrounding land is protected
  •         Watch out for invasive species
  •         Get involved in the A.T. Community Program
  •         Participate in trail management efforts

Although government agencies helped make the land public, volunteers are the driving force that help keep the A.T. open for all to enjoy. Trail Crews typically work from May through October with projects available for all skill-levels.  


While the path to preservation hasn’t always been a straightforward one, conservation of the A.T. has mostly been a cooperative effort over the years. From government agencies to private citizens, it takes a lot of work to maintain, promote, and protect the Appalachian Trail.

October 12, 2016 by Jared Prince

Yellowstone National Park, A place of wonders

We're now familiar with the marvels of Yellowstone National Park – including geysers, an abundance of wildlife, and bubbling pools of water. Acting Territorial Governor Francis Meagher was accurate when he called Yellowstone “such a place of wonders” in 1865. But in the 1800s, people completely dismissed the ridiculous stories coming from visitors to what later became Yellowstone. Magazines refused to publish their accounts which were considered rumor and hearsay.

Before modern day explorers discovered the area, historians consider that the human history of the Yellowstone area dates back 11,000 years through many tribes of Native Americans, particularly the Tukudika, or Sheep Eaters. European and European-Americans began exploring the area in the 1800s, although the first organized explorations didn't happen until the 1870s, right before the area was named a National Park in 1972.

As these European and European-Americans began to explore, they returned with outlandish and fantastic tales of the geography and wildlife in Yellowstone. People returned reporting that there were “waterfalls sprouting upwards”, a clear reference to geysers, which had not yet been identified in Yellowstone. People returning with these observations were accused of creating “fire and brimstone” accounts. A few years later, reputable magazines refused to publish accounts from three miners who explored the geysers and bubbling pools, calling them “unreliable”.

Eventually, of course, people recognized that those “waterfalls sprouting upwards” were actually geysers, still one of Yellowstone's largest draws. It isn't hard to imagine that people would react to reports of geysers with incredulity. Even though we know a lot more about the geysers and how they work, people still gawk in awe and disbelief when they see them.

In 1870, a large expedition of people were credited with “discovering” the park, an assumption which of course ignores the previous 11,000 years of human history. Still, we're glad they explored it, because in 1872, Yellowstone became designated as a national park. A mountain ecosystem with 2.2 million acres of preserved natural areas, Yellowstone is certainly a place of wonders.

 

August 04, 2015 by Jared Prince

John Muir and the Sierra Club

We've explored the parts of Muir's life where he discovers nature and then writes about it , and now we're at the point where Muir helped to create the Sierra Club.  With the help of other conservationists of the time, they started what is still known as the nation's most influential environmental education and conservation organization.

In the late 1800s, Muir and Robert Underwood Johnson, the editor of the magazine The Century, planned a campaign to create Yosemite National Park. They realized, however, that they needed the support of an organization behind their work. With the help of group already forming at the University of California, Muir created the Sierra Club on May 28, 1892.

The three purposes of the club - recreation, conservation, and education - are still the major tenants of the Sierra Club today. Muir's philosophy was that people coming back from wilderness trips would be inspired to fight for the preservation of that place.  He used that method on President Theodore Roosevelt, who he convinced to go on a camping trip with him in Yosemite in 1903 that resulted in Roosevelt's support for the creation of Yosemite National Park.

Whether you're a member of the Sierra Club, an avid outdoor enthusiast, or a visitor to our National Parks, you have John Muir's efforts to thank. After a period of wandering, Muir found a calling in the Sierras of California, wrote passionately and expertly for the protection of our national land, and created organizations and political support from groups like the Sierra Club to create many of our national parks and a spirit of conservation.

July 23, 2015 by Jared Prince

John Muir's National Park Writings – A Convincing Argument

We've brought you up to the point (John Muir, The father of our National Parks) in John Muir's history where he found a spiritual connection with nature. This was actually a big change for Muir. Growing up with a very Calvinist father, Muir was raised to believe that God had given man dominion over all of the natural world. Slowly, he began to change this view to believe that humans are just a small part of the interconnected natural world.

To share this view, describe the beauty he found, and to advocate for the preservation of nature, Muir took to writing. Hoping that the pen was stronger than the logger's axe, Muir wrote passionate and well-reasoned essays for the largest publications of the time, including Overland Monthly, New York Tribune, and The Century.

Muir's essays were very influential in his time, and brought nature closer to those far from it. They inspired people, even those armchair naturalists, with a mixture of adventure, geology, natural history, politics, and persuasion.

His writing shows us the great love and advocacy he had for our national parks, a spirit which inspired us and our maps at Muir Way. Keep reading for a bit about our favorite John Muir quotes and writing and see the full collection of Muir's articles and books at the Sierra Club's website.

In his writing, Muir lays out the importance of natural public spaces. It is important to note that Muir still believed that natural resources should be used for good uses like building homes and growing food. Though on the other hand, he fought what he called “mere destroyers” like “tree-killers, wool and mutton men, spreading death and confusion.”

In The American Forests (1897), he wrote, “The forests of America, however slighted by man, must have been a great delight to God; for they were the best he ever planted.” If you're reading this blog, you probably already agree with this, but it doesn't hurt to be reminded.

Then he calls on Americans to step up our protection, basically calling us buffoons in comparison to the rest of the world; “Every other civilized nation in the world has been compelled to care for its forests, and so must we if waste and destruction are not to go on to the bitter end...”

Finally, he convinces us that the government has a major role in conserving our forests. “Any fool can destroy trees,” he writes. “God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and thousand straining, leveling tempests and floods; but he cannot save them from fools,-- only Uncle Sam can do that.”

Muir's writings worked. In addition to stirring a national and political sentiment in favor of conservation, Muir and his writings were instrumental in founding Yosemite, as well as Petrified Forest and Grand Canyon National Parks, General Grant and Sequoia National Parks.

With an argument and a passion as clear as that, it's easy for us to name ourselves after John Muir. Our National Park maps are a byproduct of the incredible work he did promoting conservation and natural education.

July 08, 2015 by Jared Prince

John Muir, the father of our National Parks

As a company who designs National Park maps and donates to the Sierra Club, it is no coincidence that part of our name was inspired by John Muir. He was an incredibly important conversationalist and is in fact called the father of National Parks. John Muir was instrumental in the founding of Yosemite National Park, as well as Petrified Forest and Grand Canyon National Parks, General Grant and Sequoia National Parks.
 
Ken Burns, the filmmaker who made the awesome documentaries about the National Parks, Civil War, and Jazz amongst others, wrote that we should consider John Muir to be in the “pantheon of the highest individuals in our country; I'm talking about the level of Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, and Thomas Jefferson, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Jackie Robinson – people who have had a transformational effect on who we are.”
 
Ok, so we can consider him pretty darn important. But who exactly was this man that we named our company and our national park maps after?
John Muir was born in 1838 in Dunbar, Scotland to an incredibly strict Calvinist father. He moved to Wisconsin in 1849 and studied botany and geology at the University of Wisconsin. In his early life, Muir took a series of odd jobs that would have frustrated any parent pushing their child to have direction. He worked in labor, including as a foreman for Osgood, Smith & Co. where he was temporarily blinded in a work accident. He also worked as a sheepherder and traveled to Florida, then Cuba, and finally to California.
 
Soon, though, he became entranced with California. And who could blame him? If we do say so from our highly biased selves, California is an excellent place to be. Muir took a job in Yosemite Valley and became spiritually connected to the place. “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to the body and soul alike,” he wrote in a later book called The Yosemite (1912).
 
Muir became a leader in the conservation movement through his writings, which we tell you more about in the next blog post. Don't worry, it's more exciting than your middle school books reports. After all, we've convinced you that our Father of the National Parks is a pretty cool guy, right?
July 02, 2015 by Jared Prince

THE SURPRISING ACCURACY OF VINTAGE MAPS

How accurate exactly were early maps?
A number of early printed maps are definitely inaccurate. You’ll find sea monsters jumping through the oceans and entire continents left off of the maps. But despite the obvious inaccuracies, many vintage world and national park maps are actually quite detailed and scientifically rigorous.
EARLY VINTAGE MAPS
Many early printed maps would now be considered goofily inaccurate.  Printed mapmaking in general dates at least to Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in the 15th century. Although there of course were maps before then, this was the first time maps could be mass printed for general use. Maps of this time were quick to combine everything the mapmakers knew about the world plus information from explorers like Columbus and Magellan returning from their journeys.  Many of these early maps were woefully inaccurate. One map created by John Speed in 1627, shows California as an island and leaves the northwest of the United States completely blank.  Still, local maps of the time were highly accurate.

This map created in 1746 by John Rocque is so accurate it looks like a satellite photograph.


VINTAGE NATIONAL PARK MAPS
The first vintage national park maps were made as the first national parks were being created and established in the late 1800s. Yellowstone National Park, designated in 1872, was the first national park created in the world. Government mapping often begins with the mapping during the discovery and exploration phase. These early maps often left out important physical features but got the general orientations correct.  This map of Mount Desert Island in Maine was produced in 1887, and is one of the earliest national park maps. It is considered a fairly accurate representation of the area that became the home to Acadia National Park

National park maps continued to grow and improve as they began to include unique physical features, geological attributes, and historical and cultural artifacts.  The most current national park maps now are created for park brochures which are highly accurate showing roads, trails, campsites, and other amenities, and are what we at Muir Way base our national park designs off of.

June 05, 2015 by Jared Prince

Predict the Weather like a Mountain Man

Yes, you can predict the weather without technology
On your next national park trip, use these weather prediction tricks to stay safe (and impress your friends)
 
PC:Tim Rains

We frequently spout old wives tales, such as don’t swim for thirty minutes after eating, swallowed gum will stay in your stomach for seven years, and my mother’s favorite: an afternoon nap is a feather in your cap. Ok, I think she made that one up so my brother and I would leave her with an hour of quiet.
 
Many of these sayings and passed wisdoms relate to weather, and it turns out that a number of them are true. On your next outdoor adventure or hike in our national parks, use these aphorisms to keep you safe when you don’t have a weather app to tell you what weather is coming next.
PC: Zach Dischner
Red sky at night sailor’s delight, red sky in the morning sailor’s warning
This was one of the first aphorisms I learned, so I’m relieved to know that it’s accurate – as long as the weather is coming from the west. In general, weather in the national parks does travel from the west – but you’ll have to check for your national park. The red color comes from dust particles trapped by high barometric pressure, which means a high-pressure system is moving in from the west. Since high pressure indicates dry weather, you should be set if you see red particles at night. However, if you see the red color in the morning, that means the high-pressure system has already moved on.
 
Smell the sweet scent of an approaching storm
According to Scientific American, there is a smell for oncoming rainstorms. The smell can come from ozone that comes from fertilizers, pollutants and natural sources. An electrical charge, such as lightning or a man-made source, creates a chemical reaction resulting in ozone (O3) particles. Drafts from approaching thunderstorms bring O3 down from higher levels.
PC:Walter Frerck
When a halo rings the moon or sun, rain’s approaching on the run
This saying is also true says NOAA. The halo around the moon or sun is usually a good indicator in warm weather only. The halo is formed when ice crystals at high altitudes refract the sunlight or moonlight. This indicates that moisture is coming to lower temperatures, where it probably will fall as precipitation.
PC: Liz West
Pinecones can tell of high humidity
Ok, most of us can tell it is humid by the way the air feels. But this is still pretty interesting; Pinecones scales remain closed when humidity is high, but open in dry air. Why? Because higher humidity means that the seeds inside the cone will be heavier from the extra moisture, and there are likely to travel less far if they were to leave the cone. So, pinecones stay shut to keep those seeds inside until the dry weather returns.
 
What do you use to predict the weather when hiking our national parks? Do you have other tricks you find helpful? Let us know if the comments below.

May 18, 2015 by Jared Prince

New National Park Map Shows Noisiest Places in US

Although noise pollution levels are up around the country, many national parks still offer peace and quiet.

Everyone listen up. Lend an ear. Ok, enough terrible puns. But actually, you’ll want to hear about this.

The National Park Service’s Division of Natural Sounds and Night Skies just released a map showing the nation’s loudest places. The national park map shows the dark blue areas as the quietest in the country, and the yellow and beige areas as the loudest. As you might expect, the data shows that the loudest places are in the cities and on the coasts. The west, stretching from Eastern California through the Dakotas, is the softest part of the country.

For reference, a normal conversation registers at around 50 – 60 decibels (dB), while a jet engine from 100 feet is 140 dB. Luckily, even the loudest places represented in this map are under 70 decibels, because the US Department of Health and Human Services reports that prolonged exposure to sounds of more than 85 decibels can cause hearing loss.

Part of the National Park Service’s mission is reducing sound and noise pollution. Noise pollution in national parks can disrupt animal habits such as mating. This map shows that although noise is up around the country, National Parks still offer the opportunity for quiet places.

For example, one of the quietest places is Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Yellowstone Park shows noise levels similar to those from pre-European colonization.

To produce the map, the National Park Service compiled and analyzed 1.5 million hours of acoustic monitoring from 546 park sites around the country and used a computer algorithm that combined the average precipitation and geography of the locations.

The National Park Service’s report also shows the predicted soundscape without people. In this map, the noise levels come from natural occurrences, such as animal noises, water rushing, and wind blowing. The map still shows that the eastern half of the country is much louder than the western half, but with a maximum decibel level of under 40 (softer than a typical conversation).

The national park map shows a lot of natural noise on the Mississippi corridor (from north to south) and in Southern Florida.

What has been your noise experience in national parks? Let us know in the comments below.

May 11, 2015 by Jared Prince

Our 17 Favorite John Muir Quotes

John Muir is known as the “Father of our National Parks” for no small reason. He helped convince Roosevelt and his buddies in Congress to protect our natural lands as National Monuments and Parks. Yup, Yosemite National Park and Sequoia National Park are on his resume amongst a bunch of others. His writings were part of what made him so influential to so many. We’ve made a list of some of the best John Muir quotes, or at least our favorites.

“Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”

“None of Nature's landscapes are ugly so long as they are wild.”

“This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on seas and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.”

“Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.”

“The snow is melting into music.”

“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”

“All the wild world is beautiful, and it matters but little where we go, to highlands or lowlands, woods or plains, on the sea or land or down among the crystals of waves or high in a balloon in the sky; through all the climates, hot or cold, storms and calms, everywhere and always we are in God's eternal beauty and love. So universally true is this, the spot where we chance to be always seems the best.”

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

“Who wouldn’t be a mountaineer! Up here all the world’s prizes seem nothing.”

“Few places in this world are more dangerous than home. Fear not, therefore, to try the mountain passes. They will kill care, save you from deadly apathy, set you free, and call forth every faculty into vigorous, enthusiastic action.”

“Going to the mountains is going home.”

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”

“In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.”

“The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.”

“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.”

“Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods. Here grow the wallflower and the violet. The squirrel will come and sit upon your knee, the logcock will wake you in the morning. Sleep in forgetfulness of all ill. Of all the upness accessible to mortals, there is no upness comparable to the mountains.”

"The mountains are calling and I must go."

May 07, 2015 by Jared Prince