A Gathering of The Rangers

The Rangers gathered, three times, and each time George R. Stewart was present:  Twice in spirit, once in the flesh.

GRS listens

The 1974 dedication of the George R. Stewart Nature Trail at Thornton State Beach: George R. Stewart, seated, is listening to one of the Rangers read from Stewart’s Earth Abides.


The first gathering of the Rangers – as far as this tale of George R. Stewart is concerned – was at Thornton State Beach near San Francisco.  Ranger Don, seen in the photo reading from Stewart’s novel, began his hike up the trail there, one that would lead to the publication of the GRS Biography and this weblog.

Other Rangers who would follow that trail, or the Ranger trail, also gathered at Thornton State Beach.  Ranger Bob would become the Chief Naturalist at a National Preserve.  Ranger Steve, a Search and Rescue Ranger.  Ranger Nick would move to Regional Parks up north; then to the Interpretive Program at Fort Ross State Historic Park.

Another who started the Ranger Trail at Thornton Beach was only a boy in those days.  Johnny was a bit of a Huckleberry Finn, often bringing down the gentle wrath of Ranger Don by letting his dog run free.

But something about the State Beach and the Rangers there reached that young fellow.  He eventually joined the National Park Service at Fort Point National Historic Site.  Eventually he transferred to Alcatraz National Historic Site in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area as Ranger John.

Over the years since, he has become an extraordinary Ranger….the ideal urban National Park Ranger.  He carries a strong foundation of National Park History and values and the history of the American Penitentiary system – which goes back to the Founding Fathers – and constantly improves the interpretive program in new and exceptional ways.  He even earned an Emmy for co-producing the best documentary about The Rock.

Ranger John carries the torch. The flame of enlightenment that the first National Park Service Director,  Founder, Stephen T. Mather first lit.  You should all be proud of Ranger John, and the others like him who give the name, and the image of Ranger, such honor.

AZ firetruck with Rangers

Alcatraz:  Ranger John and Ranger Lori, and the Rangers of Alcatraz

Ranger John poses casually, his foot on the bumper, on the left 

Ranger Lori stands in the middle, on the running board between two taller Rangers

 Now the George R. Stewart story take a most remarkable twist, which involves another fine Ranger, Ranger Lori Thompson.

Long before she stood on the running board of the fire  truck, long before she became a Ranger, even before Alcatraz joined the National Park Service, she was there, on the Rock, with her father.

Her father was a cameraman for Walt Disney.  When Disney decided to film George R. Stewart’s Storm, Lori’s father-to-be (she would be born in a year or two after the film was released) was chosen as the cameraman. It was a TV film; but it carried a faithful representation of the novel:  following the ecological theme of the novel and using real people to play the roles of telephone lineman, dam operator, Division of Highways snow removal crew, and others.   Thompson’s family also had minor roles in the movie.

After Alcatraz Penitentiary closed, Lori’s father got permission to film there.  He took her  along – she was a young girl – and  filmed her exploring the then-lonely cellhouse.  Later, Lori joined the National Park Service, spending decades as a distinguished Ranger on the Rock.

So you moght say that the Rangers segued via Ranger John from Thornton State Beach to Alcatraz, and via Ranger Lori Thompson – now Ranger Lori Brosnan –  from Disney’s “A Storm Called Maria” to the Rock.  But the journey wasn’t over, nor the gatherings.



The Third Gathering: 

Ranger John and Ranger Karen’s Big Birthday Bash, filled with Rangers

(Ranger Phil and Ranger Jenny to Ranger John’s right; Ranger Karen linked to her husband, on his left.  And there are others not visible here.)


Not long ago – 45 years after the first gathering of the Rangers who would follow, one way or another, the GRS Trail – and years since the firetruck portrait – Ranger John and Ranger Karen would hold a Grand Bash in honor of their birthdays.  As usual, they would invite a plethora of people, and a rack of Rangers.

Ranger Lori was there.  Ranger John was there.  Even Ranger Don, now a geezer, was there.

So were Ranger Phil and Ranger Jenny.  And other Rangers, not connected with GRS:  Ranger/Superintendent Jim, District Ranger Armando, Ranger Bob, Ranger/Superintendent Naomi, Ranger/ Superintendent Frank.  And the volunteer Rangers, those people who cheerfully fill the gaps in the severely underfunded National Park Service.  And, in the misty winds of San Francisco, there were also the Rangers and the Volunteer Rangers since gone on – to other lives, or to the National Park in the Sky.

Three Photos, three time periods, linking George R. Stewart, and the Rangers.  And that’s righteous – because George R. Stewart deeply admired the Rangers.  He would eventually weave his ecological novel FIRE around Rangers – including one named “Ranger”!

Rangers are people of legend – think of Strider in Lord of the Rings.  That’s in part because their work is far more than interpretation or patrolling of the magnificent milestone places of human  and natural grandeur.  One of the best statements about Rangers is found in a speech from Babylon Five:

“They call themselves “Rangers”…they have pledged their lives, their fortunes and their blood to help fight the coming darkness…

“There must be one fortress of light to stand against the darkness….

“Tell the other Rangers…everyone in this army of light – that a line has been drawn against the darkness; and we will hold that line no matter the cost.”

Here’s to the Rangers.  Long may they prosper. Long may they hold the line.