I am in one of those classic National Park auto serpentine convoys. The Toyota Prius in the lead is going under the 35 MPH speed limit and the serpentine is getting longer. The speed limit is a little slow, but with 30 bears dead from auto strikes this year, it’s not unreasonable.
All of a sudden the whole convoy goes into one of those herky-jerky compression modes as the Prius slows and some device akin to a frog’s extensible tongue comes out the passenger side window. In an incredible act of tourist-narcissism a woman is taking a selfie at 25 miles per hour.
I’m practicing self-control by shouting obscenities inside my rental car. It doesn’t do any good, but finally the whole caterpillar like convoy starts going again and I pull off and write for a while.
After the Wawona Tunnel I see a big column of smoke coming up from the south side of the valley. Along the road are a dozen or so fire vehicles and crews setting fires. A large preventive burn has been ignited for three miles or so along the south side. I stop and talk to a firefighter controlling traffic. He turns out to be Jim Tucker. His dad Tom, was a former colleague of mine from the 1970s. Mr. Tucker tells me they’ve been planning to do this for forty years and the weather and park management are finally in concert so the burning is happening.
One thing this tells me is that the Superintendent, Don Neubacher doesn’t mind pulling the trigger on planned actions. That hasn’t always been the case. The huge Rim Fire of 2013, the biggest fire ever recorded in the Sierra Nevada Range, burned a quarter of a million acres of National Forest and Park land. One of its causative factors was the amount of woody material left from suppressing fire over the years. This preventive burn will take away much of the burnable litter, keep the big trees alive and allow their seeds to reach the soil and reproduce. For a while, you may see some charred stuff when you visit the valley, but you’ll be looking at a healthy ecosystem.