Photographer Hugh Sakols And His Wife Mara Dale Work As Summer Caretakers Of Parsons’ Lodge And The Historic McCauley Cabin In Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park…
Environmental Educators And Back Country Mountaineers Hugh Sakols and his wife Mara Dale, Each Summer Since 2008, Have Honored And Educated About Early Conservation Leaders, While Acting As Volunteer Docents, Leading Interpretive Walks, Caretaking The Sierra Club Parsons’ Memorial Lodge And Staying In The Rustic McCauley Cabin, Much As Ardis And Philip Hyde Did In The Summer Of 1949. On This Land, Next To Soda Springs In Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park, John Muir And Other Pioneer Conservationists First Conceived The Sierra Club.
(View the photograph large: “Lenticular Clouds and Lembert Dome.”)
Hugh Sakols first started exploring Yosemite National Park on a backpacking trip when he was seventeen years old. He started seriously photographing the Park after working as a Yosemite Institute instructor teaching environmental education. He later assisted photography workshops taught by Michael Frye through the Ansel Adams Gallery. Today he continues to explore the Yosemite back country, whether in summer or winter. He now lives just outside Yosemite National Park in El Portal, California, where he teaches elementary school during the school year. Hugh Sakol’s photographs have been used by the National Park Service, Yosemite Conservancy, Yosemite Institute, and have appeared at the Yosemite Renaissance. He has converted almost entirely to digital photography, now using a Nikon D300, whereas before he often used a Bronica SQA medium format film camera and a Horseman VH-R large format View Camera.
Summer In Tuolumne Meadows By Hugh Sakols
Over the last four summers, starting in 2008, my wife Mara, and I have worked as National Park Service Volunteers. We are summer caretakers for Parsons’ Memorial Lodge and the historic McCauley Cabin in Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park. We are lucky enough pull this off and continue working at our “real jobs” as Educators in Yosemite National Park.
Just like the Southern Miwok people have done for thousands of years, Mara and I migrate upslope, where at 8600 ft the meadows are green, the temperatures are generally cool, and the views are striking. Tuolumne Meadows is a glacially scoured sub alpine landscape that is the heart of Yosemite’s high country and part of what John Muir referred to as the Range of Light. To learn more about John Muir and the Sierra Nevada, see the blog post, “Philip Hyde’s Tribute To John Muir.”
It was here at Soda Springs that John Baptist Lembert, namesake of Lembert Dome, spent his summers on a 160 acre homestead where he raised Angora goats and became an expert on local butterflies. John Baptist Lembert’s only friends in the summer were sheepherders, many of whom were Basque. At this time Tuolumne Meadows was essentially a land grab. Reportedly, in the late 1860s there were thousands of grazing sheep that later John Muir described as “hooved locust.” After John Lembert’s death (he was murdered in El Portal), the McCauley brothers acquired the land where they grazed cattle and built a log cabin. The McCauley Cabin now is a park service residence, where Mara and I live come summer.
Honoring The Place Where Western Conservation Began
While at the McCauley Cabin, Mara and I have some big shoes to fill. It was here that the western conservation movement began. John Muir saw the commercialism that was taking over Yosemite Valley and dreaded what would happen to Tuolumne Meadows. In 1889 Robert Underwood Johnson convinced John Muir to write two articles for a popular East Coast magazine. In one article John Muir described the beauty of Yosemite, and in another article John Muir proposed the need for Yosemite’s preservation. Only a year later, Abraham Lincoln signed a bill to establish Yosemite as the country’s first national preserve. Soon after Yosemite became a national park.
In 1912, the Sierra Club bought the McCauley brother’s land in hopes that it would be saved from the building of hotels, stables and other improvements. The land around Soda Springs with Parsons’ Lodge and the McCauley Cabin on it, the Sierra Club eventually seeded to the National Park Service in 1973. During the Sierra Club’s ownership, this remarkably beautiful spot brought club members together for mountain adventures and a place to discuss the protection of wild lands, many of which are now national parks. The most famous early battle was probably over the damming of Hetch Hetchy Valley inside Yosemite National Park. Sierra Club leaders such as Edward Taylor Parsons, William E. Colby, and John Muir fought tooth and nail, but eventually lost the battle. Interestingly, the man Forest Service people call their first environmentalist, Gifford Pinchot, was in favor of damming Hetch Hetchy. Gifford Pinchot opposed John Muir in the ongoing public debate over building a dam in Hetch Hetchy Valley within Yosemite National Park around the turn of the century. In 1915 Parsons’ Lodge was built as a mountain headquarters and a place to reflect the work of forward thinking Sierra Club leaders.
A year after Parsons’ Lodge was built, Ansel Adams made his first trip to Yosemite National Park. After that he quickly became part of the Sierra Club where he first worked as a custodian at the LeConte Memorial and later served on the board of directors. The Sierra Club over time indoctrinated Ansel Adams to Yosemite’s High Country and the importance of preserving wilderness. This was the beginning of a close relationship between landscape photographers and conservationists.
Conservation, The Environmental Movement And Landscape Photography
Beginning in the late 1930s and 1940s, Ansel Adams and wilderness photographer Cedric Wright both contributed photographs to conservation campaigns. However, it wasn’t until 1951, when the Sierra Club sent photographer Philip Hyde on the first photography assignment ever for an environmental cause. The Sierra Club sent Philip Hyde, who had been a photography student of Ansel Adams in San Francisco, to Dinosaur National Monument to help prevent the building of two dams, again within the National Park System. The battle over Dinosaur, many consider the birth of the modern environmental movement because it combined the conservation ideals of John Muir and other turn of the century conservation leaders with the hard hitting tactics of David Brower and other environmentalists of the 1950s and 1960s. For more about David Brower see the blog post, “David Brower: Photographer And Environmentalist 1.” The Dinosaur battle redeemed the loss of Hetch Hetchy to the extent that it reversed the precedent set for such development within a national park. Read about the first photography assignment for an environmental cause in the blog post, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 1.” Activists are still working to remove Hetch Hetchy Dam and restore Yosemite Valley’s sister valley to its original pristine state.
In the decades that followed the Dinosaur battle, Philip Hyde, worked with the Sierra Club, National Audubon, Wilderness Society and other environmental groups, contributing his photographs to more environmental campaigns than any other photographer of his time. David Brower, Sierra Club Executive Director and head of the publishing program, used Philip Hyde’s widely published photographs in Sierra Club Books to help save such places as the Grand Canyon, the California Redwoods, the North Cascades and many other national treasures. The Sierra Club Books Exhibit Format Series, not only popularized coffee table photography books and the modern environmental movement, but paved the way for photographers to be able make a living from such publications. Photographs from this time period helped spark the 1960s interest in getting back to nature and helped instigate a backpacking boom in the 1970s.
Philip Hyde’s first exposure to vast wilderness also occurred in Yosemite National Park in 1938. Philip Hyde at age 16, joined a Boy Scout backpacking trip from Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley. To read this history see the blog post, “Lake Tenaya And Yosemite National Park.” For some years afterward, Philip Hyde visited and backpacked in Yosemite National Park until World War II. After the War, Philip Hyde studied photography under Ansel Adams. For more on Ansel Adams’ innovative photography department, see the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 6.” During the summer 1949 break from photography school, Ansel Adams helped Ardis and Philip Hyde land the caretakers job at Parsons’ Lodge in Tuolumne Meadows. Ardis and Philip Hyde stayed in the rustic McCauley cabin while Ardis Hyde studied for her teaching credential and Philip Hyde gleefully photographed. Future blog posts will share more about the Hyde’s Summer in Tuolumne Meadows. That summer Philip Hyde met David Brower briefly in Tuolumne Meadows, as the Sierra Club leader brought a Yosemite High Trip through the Soda Springs area. Philip Hyde and David Brower were more formally introduced later by Ansel Adams, which led to David Brower inviting Philip Hyde to act as official Sierra Club photographer for the 1950 Summer High Trip, one year before the battle over Dinosaur National Monument began to take the national stage. Read about the Sierra High Trip in the blog post, “Cedric Wright And Philip Hyde On The 1950 Sierra High Trip.”
Tuolumne Meadows And Landscape Photography Today
(See the photograph large click: “Golden Reflection, Gaylor Lake.”)
Understanding the history and traditions of Tuolumne Meadows has helped me to realize why I am so intrigued by landscape photography. First I have always felt the need to venture into wilderness. Second, I hope my photography advocates the importance of wilderness preservation and the complexity of nature. And third, I want to uncover Yosemite National Park as a place I have spent years exploring and observing.
While at the McCauley Cabin, some of our tasks include taking care of Parsons Memorial Lodge and assisting presenters who come each summer. Also, I lead weekly photography walks while my wife teaches Junior Rangers. Together each Sunday we serve coffee in the campground where we are able to talk with a very diverse group of visitors. It is not uncommon to have gritty looking backpackers who are passing through on their way along the Pacific Crest Trail, a computer geek from the Silicon Valley, and a family looking for the falsely posted church service, all together around a single camp fire.The one thing we all have in common is our love for Tuolumne and of course, caffeine. It is during these informal programs that Mara and I try to instill the values of our predecessors. We remind the visitors of the challenges Yosemite National Park faces in finding a balance between preservation and access. Furthermore, we celebrate Yosemite’s timelessness by enjoying the rustic nature of places such as Tuolumne Meadows.
When I am scheduled in the Yosemite Guide, I lead a Monday morning photography walk for the general public. During the walk I quickly go over the basics of composition, exposure, and quality of light. Along the way I will pull out prints I have made that illustrate these concepts and show views from the trail that I have collected over the past summers. It is fun to pass them around and not worry about people handling them. I’ve even dropped a few on the trail. I explain that for me the end product of an image is the print, and it is always fun to carry a few in a box to share with others.
Imparting Landscape Photography’s History And Significance To Yosemite National Park’s Visitors
Beyond the basics of photography, it is more important to help visitors understand what landscape photography represents today and how it co-evolved with the creation of national parks and organizations like the Sierra Club. Early photographs have documented changes in the landscape over time whether it be a sandstone tower that is now covered in water in Glen Canyon, a 1860s view of Yosemite Valley that shows a greater abundance of black oaks, or an 1870s view of thousands of sheep grazing in Tuolumne Meadows. Hopefully modern landscape photographs will someday represent our successes, failures and our human need to connect with nature. I think understanding this tradition will help fellow photographers be more cognizant of their own impact in the park.
I also take the opportunity to discuss our increasing detachment from the natural world which could have alarming effects on the future of our natural heritage. Today our new generation of young people spend more and more of their free time glued to a monitor and show little interest in the out of doors. In fact many children do not know how to play outside unless they are playing organized sports. Today most Yosemite visitors walk a quarter mile or less from the road. Increasingly I find visitors who don’t quite know what to do in a place like Tuolumne Meadows. For these visitors photography is a perfect way to have fun, become observant, and connect.
I am not sure how long we will continue to live in Tuolumne Meadows during our summers. At some point Mara and I want to have more time to explore areas of the park that take more than a long weekend to find. However, having had this experience makes my photography all the more meaningful.
June 2, 2012 Exhibition At The Ansel Adams Gallery
Local artists including Hugh Sakols will show their work at the Ansel Adams Gallery on June 2nd. All proceeds will go to Yosemite Park El Portal School.
What makes your photography more meaningful? Have you been to Yosemite or explored its back country? In what place or places do you enjoy getting off the beaten path?