A Gathering of “Space” Rangers

Since today is the 103rd Anniversary of the birth of the National Park Service, and we’re into the Service’s second century, it’s a good time to report on another gathering of Rangers – this time with an eye toward the future, a time when there may indeed be Rangers on other worlds.

In May, there was a gathering of Rangers in San Francisco.  In July, on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, there was another gathering of  Rangers – “Space Rangers” – at Craters of the Moon National Monument.  This time, an Astronaut, students and teachers would join the Rangers.

Earlier in the year a call came from the Chief of Interpretation and Education – the Chief Naturalist – at Craters of the Moon.  Ted Stout chatted for a while, then got to the point:  “What are you doing on July 20th?”  I’d worked with Ted in the National Park Service days, and later done NASA Education work in Idaho, so he suggested I might want to join his celebration at Craters of the Moon.

I have the greatest respect for Ted, so I said”Sure” and began planning.  Since granddaughter Megan lives near Ogden, Utah, it would be a chance for a real summer vacation, camping in Nevada, being hosted in Idaho by Ted and Rose Stout (Rose is also a National Park Service Ranger), helping with the Apollo 11 celebration, and visiting Megan.    Just as plans were firming up, Ranger Phil Butler, who worked with Ted, Rose, and I in the Park Service days and has a deep interest in space exploration, called and asked to come along.  Phil had his own schedule and wishes, so plans were redone; but soon enough, he arrived in Carson City, we packed, and headed east and north.  We followed the Pony Express Trail/Lincoln Highway and the California Trail/U.S. 40/U.S. 93 into Idaho – a George R. Stewart route.  After a night camping in a hidden gem of a BLM campground – shared with a horde of Mormon Crickets – and an expensive night in Twin Falls, we arrived at Craters of the Moon.

Craters of the Moon played, and plays, an important role in space exploration.  The Apollo Astronauts trained there, learning to be field geologists.  More recently, major NASA Mars and Astrobiology research was done there, operating out of a portable field lab set up in the park.  So Craters of the Moon is the ONLY National Park Service unit to be a member of the NASA Space Grant Consortium.   This excellent short video from Idaho Public Television tells the story.

My job was to present NASA education activities to students from the Idaho Out Of School Network.  Time was limited and there were many students; so two volunteers, Solar System Ambassador Natalie MacBeth and Astro Ranger Molly (who does the star parties at the Monument,  which is also an international dark sky park) helped out and the activities went well.

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The Guest of Honor was Astronaut John Phillips.  Astronaut Phillips went into space three times – two Shuttle missions, and a six month mission on the International Space Station.  He presented a day program in the Visitor Center, a special program for students, and the evening “campfire” program at the park’s outdoor amphitheater.

The evening program started a few minutes late, due to a tech glitch, but thanks to the delay, the program and the Apollo 11 50th Celebration at Craters of the Moon ended in an unforgettable way.

After he’d finished his talk, Astronaut Phillips said,

“Everyone stand up.

” OK.  Turn 180 degrees and look at the sky.

“That bright fast-moving star is the Space Station.”

Gasps, cheers, and applause rocked the rocks of Craters of the Moon, as the ISS went by on a very long pass.

P1080352                                                   Ted Stout and Astronaut Phillips    

P1080350  Rangers Rose, Phil and Ted

 

Event over, there was a day or two with Ted and Rose and Phil.  Ted took Phil and I on several explorations, and a couple of hikes into the Idaho Mountains.  At night, there were excellent meals and conversation with Rose and Ted and Phil.

Then Phil and I hit the road again.

It’s always good to see Megan.  This time, she’d brought a remarkable gift – salt and pepper shakers in the shape of the Apollo Command and Service Module and the Lunar Lander.  A perfect gift for Space Ranger Gramps.

Gramps and Megan polaroid

Megan Ashley (Scott), Actress and Space Ranger Gramps

Back on the road.  Phil and I camped at the BLM campground near Hickison Petroglyphs, soon to be immersed in a glorious, thunderous, lightening storm.  The next day, at nearby Spencer Hot Springs  burros and Pronghorns were neighbors.  A perfect end for a Space Ranger journey.

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 All during the trip and at the gatherings, George R. Stewart was in mind.  He was the mentor who taught the value of sharing the viewpoints of the Ranger and the Astronaut, and he inspired me to become a Ranger.  So, on this,  the 103rd anniversary of the National Park Service’s founding, I tip my Ranger hat to Stewart. And to the others who helped inspire the NASA-NPS program at Craters of the Moon NM, including Chris McKay, Al Harrison, Doug Owen, Ted Stout, Mary Valleau, Garth Hull, Irene Sterling,  and the sturdy crew of Wider Focus.

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In honor of tomorrow’s Rangers – possibly real Space Rangers – here is one of the NASA-NPS Space Explorer Ranger books that Ted Stout and his colleagues distribute:

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And here is a possible park service site of the future, as imagined by visionary artist Douglas Shrock – Shrox – who works with NASA’s legendary Astrobiologist Dr. Chris McKay to visualize Dr. McKay’s and other NASA space concepts:

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Used with the artist’s permission.  (You may want to visit his website to see his other work.) 

 

 

A Day of Celebration – The National Park Service Turns 100

George R. Stewart was not really a national parks person; he was more active in national forests, where he did much of his research.  But we met at a small state park, Thornton State Beach, where I was a Ranger.  And there, thanks to fellow Ranger Steve Gazzano, we named our nature trail for Stewart, not realizing then how much it would mean to him.  Stewart was enthralled with place-naming.  To have someplace beautiful named for him was, in his eyes, an exceptional honor.

GRS Trail Guide

State park systems grew from the National Park system.  So this tale of the founding of the National Park Service is part of the George R. Stewart story:

100 years ago today, the bill establishing the National Park Service was signed.

The National Parks were established before the Service, but there was no coordinated management and things were poorly run.  Wealthy businessman (he gave us Twenty Mule Team Borax) and conservationist Stephen T. Mather wanted a Service that would make sure all parks had good management and staffing.

Mather had been escorting a group of influential writers and businessmen, which included the famous photographer of Native Americans Edward S. Curtis, on a strenuous trip along the just-finished John Muir Trail.  His assistant, Horace Albright, had stayed in Washington to make sure the bill was passed and signed.  As soon as it was passed, Albright took the bill to the White House, in the evening, to get it signed.  President Wilson was not well, but he was able to sign the bill and did so at 9 pm.   Albright immediately sent a telegram to Mather, who had finished his Mountain Party and was staying with the group at the Palace Hotel in Visalia:  “Park Service bill signed nine o’clock last night. Have pen President used in signing for you….”

Here’s the whole story, from Albright:

The opening lines of the Organic Act of the National Park Service still ring as some of the most beautiful legislative language ever written:

“The fundamental purpose of the said parks, monuments, and reservations… is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

The world changed that day, and we’ve all benefited.  There are now national parks and national park services in many countries, inspired by this action.

Like many lucky folks, I did a stint as a National Park Service Ranger.  I worked on Alcatraz, at Grant-Kohrs National Historic Site in Montana, and – on a detail – in the Superintendent’s office at Yellowstone National Park during the Fires of 1988.  Since the Superintendent’s office at Yellowstone is a summit of Rangering, it was all downhill from there, and I left the Service in 1992.   Yet I’d accomplished a few things in those 6 years:

  • Helped upgrade the interpretive program from a movie version of Alcatraz history into one which emphasized the roots of the penitentiary idea in the work of Founding Father Benjamin Rush. (And had the rare pleasure of meeting his great-great-great-etc grandson, Benjamin Rush, on one Cellhouse tour.)
  • Thanks to Ranger Ted Stout and District Ranger Armando Quintero, developed and presented a series of workshops about the history of the National Park Service and UC Berkeley. The Service was born and initially housed at UCB, where Mather and Albright had been students. (Many people don’t realize that the Ranger Stetson is actually the “Senior Sombrero” for Albright’s class of 1912.) (There’s some debate about the year of the Stetson; but the one on display at Berkeley a few years ago had “1912” embossed on the hatband.)  Quite by coincidence – or was it a coincidence? – the Mather family showed up on Alcatraz just in time for Stephen T. Mather’s great-grandson, Stephen Mather McPherson II, to be involved in the workshops.)
  • In a story whose details must remain secret, I unknowingly helped derail the plans of the Superintendent of the GGNRA to “destroy” – his term – the National Park Service.
  • And in Yellowstone, I was able to build on pre-existing work and bring NASA into the fire effort, thus establishing the concept of NASA-NPS partnerships which continue to this day – most recently, in Craters of the Moon, with the leadership of NASA’s Dr. Chris McKay and Craters of the Moon’s visionary and excellent Chief of Interpretation, Ted Stout.

The Yellowstone effort, informal as it was, is especially rewarding.  It was a fulfillment of an idea that came from George R. Stewart’s work, which gave the literate public the first example of the Whole Earth vision, first presented in Ordeal By Hunger:  That humans can now understand Earth from the two perspectives of space and ground.  Chief of Interpretation at Craters of the Moon National Monument, Ranger Ted Stout, and NASA’s Dr. Chris McKay,  have done much to bring that idea into fulfillment.

Now, NASA, under the direction of ISS Expedition 48 Jeff Williams,  has illustrated Stewart’s pioneering vision, in honor of the Centennial of the National Park Service. Click on the mission patch to see his video.

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Credit for such accomplishments is not always given.  But the important thing is that  work was done,  for the good of the Agency and the public.  It’s what public service is all about.

There were rewards, though, in addition to the doing of it.

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Book dedication Mathers

  • Connections with Dr. Chris McKay and NASA-Ames Chief Education Officer Garth Hull led to a wonderful career with NASA Education.
  • An invitation to the Dedication of the Ranger Museum in Yellowstone.
  • The  gift of a biography of Stephen T. Mather, autographed by the Mather generations.
  • And an unexpected experience in England that reinforced how important the National Park Service is to the world:

Attending a conference on heritage preservation at the University of Warwick, I went down late one morning to get breakfast in the university dining hall.  The couple seated across the table were distinguished in appearance and demeanor.  He was all in black except for a gold chain of office around his neck.

He said nothing.  She nodded.  Then asked, “Where are you from?”

“I’m an American, here to attend the conference.”

“What kind of work do you do?”

“I’m a National Park Service Ranger.”

At that, he put his fork down, looked at me and said, “I say.  This is an honor, to meet you.

“Do you get to wear one of those hats?”

“Yes, I do.”

“I would give anything for one of those hats,” he said.

He paused, then said, “You know, I think that if America has an aristocracy, it is the National Park Service Ranger.  You represent the best your nation has to offer.”

And he went back to his breakfast.

All the time, his wife was listening with a smile on her face.  Now, she asked, “Do you know who he is?”

“No, ma’m.”

“He’s the Archbishop of Canterbury.”

I have one regret about our meeting – I never sent him a hat.  But his words showed just how important the National Park Service and its Rangers are, and how important it is to keep that integrity alive – not easy to do in a day of skimpy budgets (except for war) and politically-inspired personnel practices.

The battle continues – the NPS has been weakened by poor funding and poor, political hiring and promotion practices in too many cases.  We need another Mather, and a re-creation of the National Park Service.

Yet, this is a day for celebration; and whatever the issues or the challenges, we have this wonderful Agency with us, pointing us down a good path, into a better future.

So let’s give three Huzzahs for the National Park Service, and its dedicated Rangers.  People like Ted, John, Phil B., Bob V., and all the others who work for sunsets so we can hike the trails in Mather’s and Muir’s footsteps.

Let us all thank the Mather family – Steve MM and Steve MM II – who carry on the work of their ancestor.  Huzzah to the Mathers!

And let’s add one more Huzzah – for the Rangering in the parks that brought me to  George R. Stewart.

 

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In Honor of the 110th Anniversary of the 1906 Quake

This is not about George R. Stewart, although he makes an appearance, except for the fact that he lived in the San Francisco area long enough to experience his share of earthquakes; and the 1989 Loma Prieta Quake, which happened after his passage, seems to have been a factor in the passing of his widow, Ted (Theodosia) Burton Stewart.

Instead, this is to honor all those who did live through the Earthquake, and those who still live in San Francisco because they carry that story in their blood and because they love the City – with all its problems, still one of the world’s great cities.

The Founder of the family arrived in San Francisco, so the legend goes, just after the Civil War.  Since he was a life-long railroad man, he may have worked on the Union Pacific RR construction.  He was verifiably a horse-drawn street car driver; then, a Gripman on one of the early Cable Car lines.  There is a story that on the day the first line opened, the Gripman got frightened and turned over the grip to the designer Andrew Hallidie.  I wonder if that was Great Grandfather Bernard Hendry Scott.  Probably not, since he worked on the cable cars for several years, clearly not afraid of them.

The Quake brought the first living history into my generation, thanks to Dad’s aunt “Tia Maria.” The Quake happened very early, before dawn, on April 18, 1906.   Great Aunt Mary used to regale us with the stories of the adventure, including the weeks camping in Golden Gate Park.  She lived in the City until she and her husband bought a home in San Mateo; but even when they moved, the City never left her heart, and so we younger Scotts grew up imbibing San Francisco into our bloodstreams.

Tia – for so she was nicknamed by my father and uncle, short for “Tia Maria” – married Frank MacDonald.  Between the Scotts and the MacDonalds, there have been several generations of San Franciscans who’ve lived there, and added to its culture. Frank MacDonald was a real mover and shaker, Manager of Kortich Manufacturing Company, confidant of Mayor Sunny Jim Rolph.  He and his friends ate (or drank) lunch most days at Schroeder’s Cafe on Front Street. Great Uncle Frank is still there , surrounded by his friends, presiding over nearly a century of San Francisco history. He’s the one holding the beer mug.

great uncle frankA good way to celebrate Earthquake Day is to have lunch at Schroeder’s.

Or you can go to the Buena Vista Cafe, at the bottom of the Hyde Street Hill, and have an Irish Coffee served up by iconic bartender Ken Scott.  Ken is Frank MacDonald’s Great-Grand Nephew, who keeps the City traditions alive in another of its legendary places.

the bartender

Great Uncle Frank and Great Aunt Tia’s son Jack was the Announcer for the pre-Giants San Francisco Seals Baseball team.  He went by the moniker “The Old Walnut Farmer” because he had a walnut tree on his place down the Peninsula.  Jack MacDonald still holds a fond spot in the hearts of old San Franciscans

A few decades later, Brother Ray and I moved independently into the City.  Ray became one of the legends of the great age of Rock, playing with Jerry Garcia in both bluegrass and rock days, and continuing with Keith and Donna Godchaux.  One of their Winterland performances is online; Ray’s long guitar solo about half way through the set has been called one of the great performances of the day.  Ray left the rock scene and got into jazz, played with the 49er band in Europe, performed at the Ahwahnee on New Year’s Eve, and was flown to Paris, France, to play salsa and Latin Jazz on the eve of the Third Millennium.  Ray is still playing, often with his friend Anna Estrada, in San Francisco and the Bay Area.

I married, taught school, de-married, drove cab, worked as a groundsman.  Then became a Park Ranger on the San Mateo Coast at Thornton State Beach.  The small park was a gathering place for some of the great minds of the day:  Wilder Bentley the Elder, who with his wife, published the first book of Ansel Adams photographs; Chiura Obata, legendary painter of the Sierra; and George R. Stewart.   That is where I met Stewart; and I spent many happy afternoons with the Stewarts in their Geary Street Penthouse, talking about his books and their life together.

Later, as a National Park Service Ranger working on Alcatraz, I played a role in the 1989 Earthquake, setting up a refugee center at Fort Mason and otherwise assisting on the first night of the emergency.

So this tale comes full circle – from the Great 1906 Quake, and Great Aunt Tia’s stories, to the Great 1989 Quake, and my stories.

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The GRS Saunter

One of the gifts of the trip to the Western Literature Association (and there were many gifts) was the GRS Saunter.  Cheryll Glotfelty, who encouraged my attendance at the WLA, also suggested that we do some kind of a field trip to sites both literarily and academically connected with George R. Stewart.  I sent out an email to people who might be interested in such a trip, and had a good response.  Baiba Strads, Bancroft Librarian, enthusiastically agreed to coordinate the campus sections.  John and Angela Lucia helped with the Berkeley part of the trip.

So after staying a couple of days with John and Angela at their beautiful Sacramento home, and accompanied by John,  I drove the aging Chinook to the Berkeley Hills, to Indian Rock Ave, and to what (I thought) was Indian Rock Park, to meet Cheryll, Ross and Charlene Wilson Bogert, Willie Stewart and his mother Sallie, and GRS Scholar/Interpreter Alan Kaplan.  The plan was to do some readings from Earth Abides (which is largely set in that area) and have a small ceremony honoring the gathering.  And then to head to the campus, where Baiba had arranged a special showing of archival materials from the George Rippy Stewart Papers.

Well.  The Chinook had a few problems – couldn’t get up the Marin Street hill (which we, as college students, used to zip down in our mid-20th century cars).   I got lost.  And then, when we finally found the park no one showed up.  After a half hour, John and I walked around the Rock –  found the name of that park – Mortar Rock Park – and realized we  were in the wrong place.  John ran to INDIAN Rock Park, where everyone was waiting.  I was very apologetic.   But they didn’t mind.   They’d had a great time talking and enjoying each others company.

We read from Earth Abides, about the carving of “The Year I” in the rock, and the naming of that year.  Then poured some fine Laphroaig (a scotch founded appropriately by descendants of Clan Donald) on the rock in honor of The Year LXIV – which I hope could be named “The Year The Years Began Again,” since we discussed an annual gathering there in honor of Ish and Em.

The Year 64L-R:  Charlene Wilson Bogert, Angela Lucia, Ross Wilson Bogert, Alan Kaplan, Willie Stewart, Sallie Stewart, Cheryll Glotfelty.

Here’s another photo of Ish’s Country.  The fellow in the foreground is Donald M. Scott, author of blogs and biographies.  Photo by John Lucia.

Don at Ish's houseWe sauntered to the Bancroft, where Dee Lapachet Barney – Poet, an editor of the GRS biography, former student, and friend – joined us.  Baiba had arranged for the display of some remarkable manuscript items – GRS’s uncle’s Civil War Journal (written under fire), a hilarious sketch of the GRS – Theodosia wedding by one of Ross Bogert’s ancestors, a letter from Walt Disney to GRS praising his work, a 19th century family photo of the Wilsons, and a page from the manuscript of Earth Abides which showed Stewart’s corrections and re-writing.  There were a few other items.  We also showed the historic 1929 film of GRS, his parents, and the Wilsons, so kindly donated by Ross Bogert Wilson.

Dee and Cheryll had to leave after the Bancroft session.  The rest of us went to the Faculty Club – designed by Bernard Maybeck in the Arts and Crafts style and a model for National Park Service buildings –  where we had a fine dinner, some of the Club’s labelled wine, and a wonderful conversation.  It was the perfect end to a Grand Saunter.

I said farewell to the group, then headed to my motel.  The Golden Bear, on old US 40, was built in 1946.  It’s an icon of the U.S. Highway era and the golden era of motels.  Our family passed it on our adventurous 1949 trip from California to McConnellsville, Ohio.  Perhaps more important – Ish would have passed it many times after the plague; and it’s likely that the dying Ish was carried past it on his last trip, heading west, across the Bay Bridge.

Thus ended the Saunter.  Unless, of course, this becomes an annual event.

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A Milestone Spring

It’s been quite a spring.  NASA Education is back, with Angelo Casaburri of JSC successfully hunting me down to encourage more work on NASA Ed.  “I’m a writer, now, Angelo,” I said; but he talked me into helping set up a new NASA workshop with UNLV and CSN, to be held partly here at the historic Walking Box Ranch.  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98wtDTbGBvk) (Ranch shows up about 38 minutes into the film.)

The National Park Service is back, interested in some role in the future of the ranch.  One of the players is Alan O’Neill, twin brother of the late superintendent of the GGNRA and Alcatraz, where I last worked for the agency.  The National Parks and Conservation Association is playing a key role in this, and local business folks are heavily involved.  I can finally use some of my interpretive program development experience again.

The houses have increased in value so that after 6 years of wandering and 3 of life in the Chinook, we are above water.  And the Chinook is still alive, at least mostly.

And — THANKS TO YOU — this web log has finally passed 30 followers on Facebook.  That means Facebook will now provide page statistics, which will help me to know how well it’s being received.  We’re actually up to 35 likes on the facebook page, and there are 8 followers of this wordpress page.

I’m not sure exactly who number 30 was — contenders include Hartmut Bitomsky, Rich Lapachet, Andrew Chaikin, Martyn Fogg, Anna Estrada — but I’ll research that tomorrow.  I also plan to put together a list of the Pioneers, and will post it at some future date.  At any rate, deepest thanks to all of you who’ve liked the page.  May you continue to read and enjoy it, as we saunter our way through the life and work of George R. Stewart, related topics like NASA, the old Walking Box, the music of Ray Scott, Phil Aaberg, Anna Estrada, the art of Mike and Denise Okuda, Rick Sternbach, et al, and all the wonderful stuff of life on Earth.