Tag Archives: hazard trees

Big Hands


It was almost the end of my shift when the car pulled in. A Latino man was driving. A man of undetermined heritage wearing a big straw hat was in the passenger’s seat.

When I asked, Are y’all here for the trail? the man wearing the big hat said, I’m from [nearby town].

I’m not sure if he thought he’d get special treatment because he was a local, but I immediately replied, There’s a $5 parking fee.

As he began fumbling for his money, he told me his friend (the driver) was visiting from Mexico City, and he (the passenger) wanted to show him (the driver) the big trees.

There was something a little odd going on with the passenger, although I couldn’t quite put my finger on what. He was oversharing a bit (I didn’t really care where he lived or why he’d decided to visit the trail on that particular day), and while he was moving a little slowly, he also seemed somewhat frantic.

The driver never said a word, barely looked at me.

I collected the $5, handed over the day pass, and sent them on their way. I sat in my chair and continued working on the letter I was writing. I almost forgot I’d ever seen the guy wearing the big straw hat.

I became aware of someone standing in front of me, silently watching me. I looked up. There was the guy wearing the big straw hat.

He told me he was sad about all the dead trees.

I told him the drought had killed them.

He told me the trees at his place were dying too, trees he’d planted with his own two hands.

(I really don’t think I get paid near enough to be a grief counselor helping people work through their sadness at the death of trees, but I was trying to be polite.)

Then he asked why so many trees had been cut down in the parking lot.

I explained those trees had been dead or dying and had been deemed hazardous.

He pointed to a nearby tree that had been felled. He said the tree looked healthy to him. He wanted to know why a tree that seemed healthy to him had been cut.

I’m not tree expert. (That’s probably why I wasn’t hired to determine what trees in the parking lot needed to be taken down before they fell on a car or a person.) I don’t know specifically why the tree the man wearing the big straw hat thought was healthy had been cut down. I don’t even know why the man wearing the big straw hat thought the tree in question had been healthy. Presumably, the man in front of me wasn’t a tree expert either, since he hadn’t presented his credentials, verbally or otherwise. I can only guess that even if the tree on the ground looked fine, some sickness had been detected, and it was in danger of falling.

I’m fairly distrustful of the government, but I hardly think there’s a conspiracy in my parking lot to cut down healthy trees. What would be the point?

You’d have to talk to someone from the Forest Service about that, I told him in reply to his question about why the particular tree of interest had been felled.

The man wearing the big straw hat became more animated.

I work for the LA Times! he exclaimed.

(Oh yeah? In what capacity? I should have asked. But really, I didn’t want to engage him. I really just wanted to get back to writing my letter.)

He insinuated he could get to the bottom of this.

He said, I’m a writer. I have big hands! He held up his hands for me to see. They didn’t look particularly big to me. And what if they were? What’s hand size got to do with being a writer? Nothing, as far as I can tell.

And you know what else? he asked.

(If this man says something about the size of his dick, I’m going to lose my shit, I thought. That’s how weird he was getting–weird enough that I thought he might start talking about his penis.)

I love this place! He was really excited now. You let anyone around here doing anything wrong know that I will find out! he told me. Because I am a writer! And I love this place!

Ok, I said, and pointed out to him his friend from Mexico City leaving him behind, rapidly crossing the street and heading for the trail.

You better catch up, I told the man in the big straw hat.

He just stood there and looked at me, clearly wanting to rant some more.

I looked down at the letter in my lap, trying to signal the end of our interaction.

Finally (finally!) he walked away, but as he crossed the street, he continued to shout about being a writer and loving this place and having big hands.

Thankfully, my shift ended and I was gone before he returned to the parking lot.


I took this photo of felled hazard trees.

People Want to Walk That Trail



As I established earlier, when my work season started, the trail was closed. Forest Service employees were back there removing hazard trees, and they didn’t want civilians wandering near falling trees and chainsaws. That’s why the Forest Service threatened people caught on the trail with a $5,000 fine and up to six months in prison. But some tourists didn’t want to take no trail for an answer.

My boss told me my job is one of advising and not enforcement. Fair enough. I don’t want to be some kind of enforcer anyway. But I was not shy about advising people of the possible fine and prison sentence.

My first weekend at the campground near the trail was the one before Memorial Day. Many people, upon  seeing the gate to the parking lot closed, turned into the next driveway with an open gate. That driveway belongs to the campground where I was the temporary host. My weekend (mostly on Saturday, but some on Sunday too) consisted of me repeating the following information: The trail is closed…Hazard trees…Forest Service is serious…Fine…Prison. I invited people to park in the campground and have a look at the giant sequoias (probably at least a dozen) growing in it. I told people about a scenic overlook ten miles down the road and another sequoia grove twenty miles down the road. I was polite. I was helpful. In other words, I was a camp host super hero.

Most visitors were disappointed, but understanding. Several carloads of folks did spend time in the campground. Several picnic lunches were eaten.

I think talking to someone ostensibly in authority, made people feel accountable. I guess it’s difficult for someone to say s/he didn’t see the sign when a real live person said out loud the trail is closed.

Some people managed to slip in when I was at the back of the campground cleaning restrooms. As I walked to the front of the campground, I saw a whole extended family exiting the trail. There were even more people back there, but they slipped into the trees when I hollered over, Hey! Didn’t y’all see the trail is closed?

They told me they didn’t know, as they crossed the yellow caution tape stretched across the exit. They siad there wasn’t a sign at the other entrance. (I’m 98% sure they were lying.) Well, if those other people are in your group, you might want to tell them about the possible $5,000 fine and six months prison sentence, I said as they hustled to wherever they’d left their vehicle. I’m going to tell them right now, one woman said. I didn’t ask how she planned to do that while the others were hiding in the woods.


Trees felled by the forest service.

Late in the afternoon, I saw some young folks hesitating on the legal side of the barricade. I saw them read the flyer that spelled out $5,000 and prison. I think they were just about to cross over when I called out, Excuse me. The trail is closed. One guy said he identified hazard trees for a living, implying it would be ok for him (and his friends) to go on the trail because he knew what dangers to look for. I told them I was simply advising them of the situation. They told me they were from the area, so I said they should come back later in the summer when the trail reopened. They were relieved to hear the trail would be reopened. They thought the trail had been closed for good. I assured them they would be able to visit the trees later in the summer, and if they weren’t happy when they left, they at least didn’t seem pissed off.

Early Wednesday morning, as I walked up to check the front restrooms, I saw a huge, older motor home pull into the campground’s driveway. The motor home was towing a big trailer, upon which was painted a lot of words. I couldn’t read the words because of the angle of the trailer, but the cross painted on the motor home and my previous experience led me to suspect those words were biblical scripture.

As I approached the motor home, the driver left his seat and exited the motor home through the side door. He was a clean-cut, with short hair, a totally normal looking middle-age guy. I asked him if he were looking for a camping spot. Although I didn’t know if any of the sites could accommodate such a big motor home and trailer, I figured if he wanted to camp, I’d let him look for a spot that might work.

He said he didn’t want to camp, he just wanted to walk on the trail.

I didn’t get much more than closed and hazard trees out of my mouth before he said, They can’t do that! He seemed to think because the trail is on public land, it can never be closed to the public. I didn’t want to argue with the guy, but I’m pretty sure public land can be closed to the public when there’s a safety issue.

I just gave him what had become my standard line of Well, the Forest Service is pretty serious about people staying off the trail because there’s a possible $5,000 fine or six months in prison for anyone caught out there.

They can’t do that either! the man exclaimed. My grandfather fought in a war!

My wackadoodle sensors went off. Trotting out a veteran in the family two generations in the past or equating the Forest Service cutting down hazard trees with Nazis (which I think is where he was heading) did not seem like valid arguments to me. Even if he had made a valid argument , I wouldn’t have told him he could go out there. So I just said, Sir, I’m only advising you of the situation. If you want to park your motor home, the best place to try will be in the overflow lot down the road.

I don’t know which part of what I said turned the tide, but he smiled and thanked me, got back in his motor home and drove away. Disaster averted.

My last encounter with someone who really wanted to walk the trail happened a few hours before the trail reopened. Of course, I didn’t know the trail would reopen that afternoon, just in time for Memorial Day weekend.

A crew of about a dozen Forest Service guys were out on the trail, their chainsaws buzzing, when the white car pulled into the campground. I walked up, said Good morning, asked if they were looking for a campsite.

The driver was a woman in her early 50s. In the passenger seat sprawled a girl about eight years old.

The driver said she wasn’t looking for a campsite, that she wanted to park so they could walk the trail.

I told her the trail was closed, had maybe said hazard trees when someone in the backseat poked her head up from behind the driver’s seat. She was wearing big sunglasses and a big, floppy, fashionable hat.

Do you work for the Forest Service? she asked me.

No, I said, but before I could explain private company and concession from the Forest Service, she  said, Yeah, well, we’re going to go on the trail anyway. She spoke in the most spoiled rich girl tone of voice I have ever encountered.

I said, Well, Forest Service guys are out there working right now, and if they see you on the trail, they might opt to give you a $5,000 fine or six months in prison.

Ms. Prissy Pants deflated. I could practically hear the waa wa wa waaaaa of a losing contestant on a 1970s game show.

I suggested another trail they could go to and see giant sequoias, but Ms. Prissy Pants said they would probably go to a different grove, which she called by name to make sure I knew she was an insider.

I said, Great! Have a nice day!

The driver asked if the campground restrooms were open, and I said they were. I walked away as she was parking, I didn’t want to have any more interaction with Ms. Prissy Pants or the people stuck with her on a road trip.

I took the photos in this post.



The Trail Is Closed


I made it to California.

I made it to the general vicinity of my summer workplace

I made it through two days of boring (and dare I say, mostly useless) training.

And then I made it up the mountain.

I’m not yet stationed at my campground. I’m currently the temporary camp host at the campground next door to the parking lot for the trail. I’ll be there until the first of June, when the real camp hosts for that campground arrive (in a bus painted Ohio State colors, apparently).

When I arrived at the campground, the gate was still closed. No signs were hung on the signboards. The women’s restroom up front was locked, and none of my keys opened it. The men’s restroom was unlocked, but filthy. I had no cleaning supplies.  I had no toilet paper to stock the restrooms. I had no trash bags, and if I’d had any, I had no trashcans to put them in. On top of all of that, the crew who’d been in the campground cutting hazard trees had left tree debris everywhere. The campground looked like a war zone (or at least what I imagine a war zone in a forest would look like). I was not a happy campground host.

To make matters worse, the trail across the street was closed too. Forest Service employees were out there, cutting hazard trees. According to the Forest Service ,

Tree hazards include dead or dying trees, dead parts of live trees, or unstable live trees (due to structural defects or other factors) that are within striking distance of people or property (a target). Hazard trees have the potential to cause property damage, personal injury or fatality in the event of a failure.

I can’t vouch for what happens when a tree hits the ground and no one is there to listen (but I do have two words for you, baby: sound waves). When I was there to hear, falling trees were preceded by a huge cracking sound, followed by a reverberating thud. Such noise inspires awe, at least in me, but also in every other lay person who’s been standing near me when it’s happened.

So because the trail was full of hazard trees and because Forest Service folks were in there cutting the hazard trees, the trail was closed.

I didn’t talk to too many people about the trail on Thursday. The campground’s closed gate and the sign proclaiming Sorry, We’re Closed discouraged most people from even pulling their cars into the driveway. Some folks talked to the Forest Service employee stationed at the trail’s entrance. After the Forest Service guys went home (wherever home is to those guys), some folks parked on the road side of the campground’s gate to walk across the highway and read the sign warning of a possible $5,000 fine and six months in prison for anyone caught on the trail.

I had resigned myself to fact that the campground would not be opened that day, when fairly late in the afternoon I saw two men and their motorcycles outside the gate. I walked over to talk to them, and one of the men said plaintively, Are you really closed? He seemed tired and frustrated.

I told him we were closed. I suggested some other campgrounds down the road, but he said they’d already checked and found those campgrounds closed too. I explained the campground offered no toilet paper and no trash cans. I said I hadn’t been able to clean the restrooms. The man said he had his own toilet paper, could pack out his trash, and wouldn’t be offended by the state of the restrooms, as he had worked construction and was accustomed to portable toilets. After we talked awhile and I realized they were good guys, I decided What the hell, opened the gate and told them they could stay. They ended up staying three nights. Both of them were super nice guys, and I had several pleasant conversations with both of them. It was awesome to start the season (before the season had officially started) with nice campers.

I was able to officially open the campground on Saturday morning. People started coming through the gate before 11am. I did get one set of campers (a couple and their two dogs, none of whom gave me any trouble), but most of the people coming through the gate had come for the trail. After scrubbing the two front restrooms, I posted myself near the gate with a book. As car after car pulled in, I answered the questions of the visitors.

Yes, the trail is closed.

It’s closed because their are many hazard trees on the trail. The Forest Service is in the process of cutting down the hazard trees. It’s dangerous on the trail.

The drought killed the trees. Well, the drought and the bark beetle and some kind of mold. But mostly the drought. Because of the drought, the trees’ defenses were down and they couldn’t fight off the bark beetle and the mold.

Yes, the campground is open.

Yes, the restrooms are open. These up front are wet because I just cleaned them, but you are welcome to use the ones at the back of the campground.

There are giant sequoias in the campground. (pointing) There’s one. (pointing) There are three over there. (pointing) There are four over there. You are welcome to park your car and take a look around.

I also gave a lot of people directions to the next grove of giant sequoias, about twenty miles away.

Sunday was a little slower, but otherwise the same.

The highlight of Sunday was another set of nice campers, this time a family recently moved to Tucson with a Grateful Dead dancing bear sticker on the back window of their Volvo. They asked me questions about the trees in the campground, and I got to give my talk about the differences between giant sequoias and coastal redwoods.

So now I’m on my second of two days off and will go back up the mountain in a few hours.

I don’t know what the state of the trail will be when I get back up there. Forest Service workers were  there cutting hazard trees on Sunday. (Today’s our Monday, the young man monitoring the closed entrance to the trail told me cheerfully.) Last I heard, the Forest Service was planning to have the trail closed through the end of the month. Yep, closed for Memorial Day. If that’s how it works out, guess who’s going to get to talk to hundreds of disappointed visitors during the three-day weekend.

If you guessed it’s going to be me…you are correct. If you also guessed this is a duty I am not pleased about, you’d be correct about that too.

I took this photo of two giant sequoias which grew together and fused over hundreds (maybe thousands) of years.

I took this photo of two giant sequoias which grew together and fused over hundreds (maybe thousands) of years.