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Another guest blog entry by my husband, Alex Johnson

22 September 2020
Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park, Montana

Thirty four years ago I worked as a seasonal employee in Glacier National Park. My first job - and my most favorite - was Information Desk Clerk. I found I loved sharing my enthusiasm for the park with all the other visitors.

However, as with any job, it wasn’t always rosy. One of my tasks was to book trips for the famous open-top Red Bus tours. Of course being in the mountains, the weather wasn’t always cooperative. (We had snow in the park on the 4th of July both seasons I worked there!) On those days I would often hear from disappointed passengers: “We couldn’t see anything”, or “It was cold and rainy the whole day”, they’d complain.

I never fully understood this. Of course I know that some of the grand vistas can be obscured and the postcard-blue skies are hidden at these times. But in my experience, some of the most magical and transcendent moments happen during mountain storms, and particularly as those storms clear. The clouds dance amongst the peaks, the waterfalls come alive, the colors become vivid, and the wind sings. And the light can be incredible. Yes, it can be cold and sometimes uncomfortable, but when the storms clear, there’s no describing it.

Today I was back in Glacier again, this time alone. I’ve been back only twice since my employee days, and that hasn’t been nearly enough. It was one of those stormy days, with a steady rain and slate grey skies. It wasn’t too cold (for September), there was very little wind, and the clouds were doing their dances through the peaks. So, on the spur of the moment, I decided to take a hike on the Highline Trail out to Haystack Pass and back, a walk of about 8 miles. The Highline is a spectacular trail, starting at Logan Pass and traversing for miles along a gigantic glacial arête know as the Garden Wall all the way to Canada.

The walk out was beautiful, if a bit wet. I took my time, looking for sheep and mountain goats, and pausing to take lots of pictures. At Haystack Pass, I stopped to have a bite to eat. There’s not really any shelter there, so by the time I was finished I was starting to get cold. My fingers were suffering most, and were pretty well numb by the time I got going again. However, with a vigorous start to the hike back and keeping my hands in my pockets for a while, I gradually warmed up.

As I went along, the rain started to intensify and a chilly wind began to blow down from the Garden Wall above me. I picked up my pace, both to stay warm and to hasten my return. Then, after some 20 minutes, the clouds started to loose their grey, the wind began to die down, and the sun started to peek through the clouds above Mt. Oberlin to the west.

As the sun started to shine through the trees in front of me, an image of my best friend from those Glacier days, Chis Wall, came into my mind.

Chris was the Front Desk manager at East Glacier Lodge where I worked, and was technically my boss. However, he an I hit it off and did lots of hiking and climbing together. After Glacier, Chris went on to work at Sequoia National Park with his girlfriend Ellen (whom he also met in Glacier). I visited them there several times. One summer they managed the Bearpaw Meadow High Sierra Camp, and I hiked in the 11 miles to spend a week with them. I kept in contact with Chris and Ellen for number of years. I even recall traveling to Tuscon for their wedding. Later, they moved back to Massachusetts where Chis was from, and we fell out of touch.

Some time ago I ran across Chris’ obituary online. He had died too young of brain cancer, I believe.

When the sun came out today, I remembered another time like this, with Chris singing the Beatles song, Here Comes the Sun.

“Here comes the sun, doot-n-do-do. Here comes the sun….”

I could picture him, with his infectious grin, his happy voice, the bandana he always wore on his head, as well as his out-of-tune singing. I could even see the four tube socks he wore with his hiking boots, two on each foot, none of which matched any other. (This was a particular point of pride with him.)

The rains stopped. The air warmed. The clouds danced and swirled. The waterfalls came alive. The colors were vivid. And the light was incredible.

It was a perfect day for a walk in the mountains.

Thanks for meeting me up there again today, old friend.


Today's report was written by a guest blogger, Alex Johnson, who also happens to be my husband.

26 August 2020

In the late afternoon last Saturday, the wind shifted and we got our first breaths of fresh air all week. We even saw actual clouds and blue sky for the first time in 5 days! Also fortunately, the thunderstorms predicted over the weekend bypassed us, and since then the weather has been much more cooperative for the firefighters: our marine layer came back (which at least helps in the lower elevations near the coast), the winds have been relatively calm, and the temperatures have been more moderate.

We no longer have ash and burnt vegetation falling continuously from the sky. Only sporadic ash fall now. However this morning the smoke came back, so our air quality is terrible again.

Finally, the fire crews were able to construct fire lines over the weekend to protect our area of town. Two lines were constructed. The primary line runs from Wilder Ranch at Highway 1 up to the far upper reaches of the UCSC campus (at Twin Gates) and then down to Highway 9 south of Felton. A secondary line runs through private land between the Moore Creek Preserve and Wilder Ranch up to Empire Grade Road just south of the west entrance to the UCSC campus.

Yesterday I took a hike to have a look at the secondary break. Here's what I saw:

In the areas I took a look at, they used bulldozers to widen existing ranch roads (dirt), to about 50 feet in width. While digitizing the lines on the map, I noticed that the firefighters appeared to do this where ever possible. In other areas it was evident they had to cut through heavy timber/brush.

Needless to say, with these fire breaks in and the improved weather, we are feeling very much relieved and more secure. We still have our bags packed and are ready to leave, however.

Also because I'm a mapping geek I created my own web maps, pulling together data from various sources so I can keep track of what's happening. It includes these photos, the fire breaks, evacuation areas, and other info I've found useful. The maps above came from those web maps, so here's a link if you'd like to explore:

The situation remains fluid, but at least the weather is cooperating for now. The breaks that have been established are protecting both the city of Santa Cruz and the UC Santa Cruz campus. Smoke in the air remains a problem, and air quality has ranged from not-too-bad to don't-breathe-if-you-have-to-go-outside. Still, at least we aren't likely to have to evacuate any time soon.

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