Yosemite is the embodiment of everything that is beautiful in this world.
Shelton Johnson is one of Yosemite’s preeminent ambassadors. He welcomes visitors to the park on a daily basis and treats each one with kindness and warmth. Best known for his role in “National Parks: America’s Best Idea”, a documentary film by Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan, Shelton invites visitors of public lands to connect fully with nature and wilderness. His mission is to encourage more people of color to claim their cultural inheritance in national parks.
Shelton is an interpreter of living history. He shares stories of the fascinating lives of Buffalo Soldiers along with their role in the early years of Yosemite National Park. Shelton retells those stories to encourage others to join him in this natural wonderland. His strategy was successful as he inspired Oprah Winfrey to join him on her very first camping trip in Yosemite. Although he reaches many, Shelton admits there is more work to be done as invisible barriers keep people from color from visiting national parks.
Join us as we discuss Shelton’s influence on visitors from all over the world to Yosemite National Park. There’s so much more he shares as we also received a visit from a black bear in Cook’s Meadow.
Shelton Johnson is a classically trained musician. He finds inspiration in the music of Jean Sibelius. He believes Sibelius Symphony Number 4 is a perfect Yosemite anthem.
Here are some bonus photos from my interview with Shelton Johnson in Cook’s Meadow at sunset as we were visited by a black bear.
Thank you for supporting the Yosemite Peaches Project. The concept for the Yosemite Can O Peaches Radio Podcast was developed over the past several years with an idea to archive contemporary voices from Yosemite personalities. Each show will be recorded live from the trails of Yosemite National Park. Host John P. DeGrazio will share stories of how Yosemite influenced the lives of local artists, musicians, photographers, explorers, and a variety of other Yosemite experts with a tale to tell. The peaches represent the sweet reward of every exploration in nature. Special thanks to Thomas Wilmer for his kind generosity and mentorship. Tom also recorded the Outro for this show.
Waking up at 5 am is never fun, but sometimes it is more tolerable than others. As my alarm sounded, I sprung out of bed, eager to meet the day’s challenge. I couldn’t shovel the oatmeal in my mouth fast enough, and I sprinted out the door with a full pack of food, water, and plenty of sunscreen.
We arrived at Pywiack Lake, some like to call it Tenaya Lake, at about 8 am and immediately began our journey. After some early morning shots of Pywiack Dome, we followed the climbers trail up the Cascades to Lower Cathedral Lake where we were greeted by stunning views of Cathedral Peak, my first multi pitch climb in Yosemite. I was with Red Bro in charge, Gabe Mange, and he was feeling strong.
We treated ourselves to some sunflower seeds and other snacks before we continued our journey. We stopped briefly to chat with 3 firemen who declined our invitation to join us on the Echo Peaks and a lone camper who all thought we were a bit out of sorts. When I tried to explain what our goal was, Gabe nudged me to end the conversation and reminded me “We’re like on a big mission, man.” From the Upper Cathedral Lake, we ascended through a decent amount of snow to the bench above beautiful Budd Lake.
From there, I declared “Dude, we’re camping here in a few weeks”. Gabe concurred.
The views were sublime. I was overwhelmed by emotion as I felt my spirit lifted from my body in way that I have experienced many times before, but only in the mountains. Cathedral Peak was simply stunning, and I had never seen Mt. Dana look so beautiful, all 13,061 feet of her.
Our approach to the Echo Peaks was pretty straightforward, and we didn’t encounter any problems besides a few postholing incidents. We chugged a couple of shots of Red Ace, and Gabe received a jolt of energy he had never felt before. Not to be confused with the other poisonous energy drinks on the market, Red Ace is an all natural beet shot. Each bottle contains three organic beets, and I have been assured by my new friend Miles, the company’s owner, that scientists have proved this supplement can provide energy as well as help mountaineers adjust to higher altitudes. Gabe and I were convinced as we saluted our new found tonic.
We climbed three of the Echoes in all, and made one last push to the Cockscomb, an 11,005 foot peak in the center of the Cathedral Range.
We grabbed the summit and decided to call it a day. Our plan was to get down for some fish tacos, but as it always seems, we were in no hurry to leave this magical place. We stopped to photograph the majesty of the peaks who welcomed us. We were not the only ones there that day, as we heard a couple of climbing teams on Cathedral. Although we were not alone, we felt so isolated from the rest of the world and were happy to share this most remarkable terrain with fellow adventurists.
We took our time on the descent and soaked in every last ray of sun as we approached the lake during sunset. We stopped to photograph at every turn where each lighting situation improved. We made it back to Pywaick, and the last bit of sunlight escaped as we ended our 12 hour excursion. We returned happy, tired, and hungry. Although we were feeling the pangs of hunger (missed our chance for tacos), our beings were completely satisfied with another bountiful mountainous feast. Next time we return, this area will be filled with many more adventurous souls on similar missions. This particular thought made our experience that much more memorable.
I was in my daughter’s classroom last night for an open house and observed a bulletin board full of paintings by the students for the first time. I was fascinated by all the wonderful drawings and asked the teacher how long they have been there. Since I volunteer in her class every Monday, I was a little embarrassed that I had never noticed this wall that displayed their artwork. I make sure to say hello to the children with every visit, but then I focus on the station where I am working and often forget about many other areas of the classroom. Then it had me thinking about how we approach our everyday lives and the tasks we set out to achieve. This is also true on long challenging hikes in Yosemite. We often are so focused on the goal, we can easily forget many of the things that attract us to these wonderful places. Sure, the waterfalls and majestic mountaintops are truly spectacular, but let’s not forget about the little things that make the trip so special. Maybe it’s a small flower, a pine cone on the trail, or a reflection in a lake. Sometimes we have to trip over them just to know they are there. Beauty is everywhere, and it’s up to us to take the time and find it.
If you are reading this, I would like to thank you for finding us on our newly designed YExplore website and blog. I woke up with the sound of “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons in my head. While I don’t quite think it’s quite the apocalypse, it is a revolution of sorts. We are calling it the Adventure Blog and were formerly the Yosemite Photo Blog. We still plan on being Yosemite-centric, but you will see some new adventures listed on this site now and some more to possibly come in the next 24 months so stay tuned. What we will continue to provide is photo driven adventures in Yosemite and beyond. Please stick around, bookmark the new blog site, and come back often. Oh yea, there’s one more thing. Please be patient as you poke around some of the new features of the website. It is a work in progress, and we could only build out the framework before migrating the entire site. You will notice some of the older pages are still alive so enjoy them while they’re around, but this is definitely the New Age! Thank you all.
Today is April 21, and we all should celebrate the life of a man who helped shape the modern conservation movement. He influenced congress, lobbied presidents, and was a major influence on the shaping of our National Parks. Happy Birthday John Muir from your former home in Yosemite Valley.