Celebrating Our National Parks; Inspirational Landscapes of the West

You could say that America’s National Parks changed the course of my life. So I want to add to the chorus, in celebration of 100 years of the U.S. National Park system.

I don’t have the most beautiful pictures of our National Parks. In fact, none of my old personal photos, with their poor composition and lack of contrast, do justice to the rugged beauty of the western parks that influenced my life. But I don’t have to apply a special filter to make my photos look vintage either.


Yosemite Joy on Half Dome 1983crop

On  Half Dome. Yosemite, summer 1983.


My mother’s family took a camping trip every year. Black and white photos of Sequoia, King’s Canyon, Yosemite and Lassen Volcanic National Parks are among her treasured mementos. Her stories of arduous hikes “with daddy” and counting mosquito bites and jokes around a campfire abound. Her love of camping led to my own childhood of hikes, tents, bites and memories and an important early exposure to “nature”.



My mom on a hike with her “daddy”, who often had to resort to bribery to get her to the top.


For me, it wasn’t only the grandeur of the beautiful settings but the educational efforts of the park system that intrigued me. I distinctly remember a sign at Yosemite, when I was probably 12 years old, that explained how Mirror Lake was slowly becoming Mirror Meadow as nature took its course. This was my first ah-ha moment that nature was a process and not just an unchanging point in time.


Vintage Yosemite Bridal Veil Falls

A rare “good” photo from the family album of an iconic view of Yosemite. My mothers spelling still needs some work.


From Park Rangers I learned why you shouldn’t take a short-cut through a wet meadow and how to tell pine trees apart by the smell of their bark. This led to a life-long interest in plants and nature. I made early efforts in helping others appreciate the natural world by assisting groups of teens backpacking to Yosemite’s Half Dome during a summer of college. .and later..leading the educational efforts for Big Basin State Park for a time.


Yosemite Overlook group with Joy 1983

The famous viewpoint for Yosemite Valley, with the group of kids about to climb the backside of Half Dome. 1983


The most important time I spent in Yosemite was the summer I was 16 and worked in the back-country on a trail crew for the Student Conservation Association. We were sent to fix some erosion problems in “The Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River”, that had previously been worked on in the 30’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. I learned many fundamentals about  drainage, water flow management, and the satisfaction of hard work and a well-swung sledge hammer. (I had not known that breaking rocks was actually…a thing.)


SCAYosemite 1979 breaking rocks for ford

Breaking rocks for back-fill for the ford we built where a steep creek crosses the trail between White Wolf and Pate Valley, along the Tuolomne River. Yosemite 1979


SCA Yosemite 1979 dirty crew

SCA crew 1979, at the end of a work day. The first time I wore a hard hat, but not the last. (far left)


We got weekly shipments of food and mail by mule train and slept with pots and pans to scare off bears in the middle of the night. It was an influential summer for me in many ways. I learned real-life lessons in practical physics and the magic of a fulcrum and lever, to move rocks many times my weight. I learned how to make thimbleberry cake in a sheepherders oven and the joys of a  job well done, in the company of others. All of this, while surrounded by the amazing wilderness of one of our national treasures.


SCA 1979 Tilden Meadow

One of the moments that changed my life; SCA crew at Tilden Lake, backcountry Yosemite 1979.


I’ve had the great privilege of enjoying many of America’s National Parks but there are two others, in California,  with special significance for me. Mt Lassen Volcanic Park was the location for a memorable trip with my god sons, when they were tweens. In addition to learning everything I never wanted to know about World of Warcraft, I got to make lovely memories with another generation  …..many years after my mother visited the same park, and created her fond memories, when she was a kid.


Lassen meadow Joy with Blake

Sketching and talking in Lassen Volcanic Park with young Blake.



From the sketchbook; observations of color and form – and helpful hints on how to not spill all the oatmeal when opening the package.


More recently, I’ve been enjoying a park that is closer to home; the fascinating Pinnacles National Park. The rugged beauty of this Volcanic remnant, that is home to the endangered California Condor, is spectacular and varied, from bare craggy peaks to lush riparian color. This year was noted as an especially good wild-flower year with many species blooming that hadn’t been seen in such numbers for a long time.


Pinnacles Mimulus trail

Monkey Flower (Mimulus aurantiacus) blooms trail-side at Pinnacles National Park.



God-son Logan climbs one of the rock formations that gives the park its name. -Pinnacles National Park (photo credit Brett Mosher)


In addition to making memories, observing nature holds important lessons, not only for life, but as  inspiration for anyone who wants to make or care for a garden. Below are just a few things I’ve learned from spending time in my favorite National Parks, that I think make me a better designer.     —————–


-What grows where; the importance of conserving and observing native flora and habitat.


Pinnacles mariposa lily

Mariposa Lilies (Calochortus) bring a splash of drama to dry rocky ground. – Pinnacles National Park


-Nature usually plants with a broad brush; creating  sweeps,  layers and groups. Imitating this makes for more natural-looking landscapes.


Lassen meadow

Sweeps and groups of plants, that’s how nature generally does it. – Lassen National Park


 Nature is a process, not a static system; Accept it and plan accordingly.


Lassen Joy at Lake

Observation, appreciation and shinrin-yoku; the importance of quiet moments in nature.- Lassen Nat Park


– The power of water and fire; Respect it and plan accordingly.


yosemite falls vert

Lower Yosemite Falls from the Mist Trail. Feel the power. -Yosemite National Park


Paths only curve for a reason; to adapt to a change in topography or go around an obstacle. Design accordingly.


pinnacles path

Native yarrow in bloom along the grassy edge of a trail. – Pinnacles National Park


How nature uses its rocks; rarely mixing types, generally settled into the earth. Crevices and shadows are important.


boulder and delphinium

Native Delphinium snuggles up to the base of a boulder. – Pinnacles National Park


-The focused beauty of a framed view; consider the possibilities


Lassen framed view dark

Mt. Lassen framed by pines at Juniper Lake. – Lassen Volcanic Park


Now go out and visit a National Park, or simply find time to spend in nature …..and notice the details….. and make memories of your own.      

find a park here;  www.nps.gov


Joy YCC crew Montana de Oro Morro Bay

Joy; YCC State Park Trail Crew 1980 – the beginning of a life of work in nature (and the end of the headband).


“If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance….” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Categories: Garden Inspiration, Places to See


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6 Comments on “Celebrating Our National Parks; Inspirational Landscapes of the West”

  1. Susan Duncan
    June 29, 2016 at 11:28 pm #

    Love this celebration of our parks…will read again and go further down memory lane about my own time spent outdoors, and the connections to design. Headed to Mono Hot Springs Resort next week for a few days….adding to my own history, hanging out in the high country.

  2. June 29, 2016 at 11:50 pm #

    How wonderful Susan! May it be a restorative time for you.

  3. Claudia Boulton
    June 30, 2016 at 11:33 am #

    What a wonderful piece, Joy. Of course, it made me also nostalgic for my mountain adventures, mostly in Tuolumne, Calaveras, and Eldorado counties and, of course, Yosemite

  4. July 1, 2016 at 5:27 pm #

    I’m so glad this sparked nice memories for you Claudia. How lucky we are.

  5. July 3, 2016 at 10:54 am #

    Loved this post- the stories, the photos, the sketches and the design tips. Well done. Jan

  6. Susan Souza
    December 10, 2016 at 3:00 am #

    Thanks for sharing. Sometimes I forget what beautiful natural treasures are at our doorstep.

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