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.