Two rangers are writing fascinating blogs about the rugged high-country winter in Yosemite National Park -- below-zero nights, blizzards, animal tracks in the snow.
The rangers are a married couple, Laura and Rob Pilewski. They are at Tuolumne Meadows for the winter, a job some would consider a plum.
The commute traffic clearly is no problem in the snow-covered landscape at 8,000 to 10,000 feet in elevation. Tioga Road is closed for the winter. They patrol on skis.
From their accounts, it seems clear that the Pilewskis love their work.
Here's what they posted about New Year's:
"Most of our week was spent on Tioga Pass. We saw a very ambitious set of coyote tracks that explored Gaylor Peak ridge all the way down to Tioga Lake through very deep snow. Weasel and pine marten tracks were seen between there and Tuolumne as well. The most notable sighting was a colorful flock of over 20 male (red) and female (yellow-green) red crossbills flying over Dana Meadow at sunset, peacefully ringing in the New Year as they passed overhead."
If you're an outdoor or mountain enthusiast, that beats a Times Square celebration by quite a bit.
But at 10,000 feet, the Sierra can be pretty unforgiving in December and January. The latest update says the temperature dropped to minus 13 one night after Christmas.
The Pilewskis are living in a cabin at Tuolumne Meadows, park officials said. Often the cabin has power. Sometimes, it doesn't.
The rangers ski back to civilization occasionally for supplies, but mostly they are working. They check the area utilities, survey wildlife, assist with measuring the snowpack and watch over the park's buildings in the high country. What a job.
Don't compare Fresno, Bakersfield
The phone conversation started with a question: Which city has worse ozone -- Fresno or Bakersfield?
It's a good question, but I told the reader that we have this conversation far too often around here. It's like debating the difference between drowning in 15 feet of water and 17 feet of water.
Fresno? Bakersfield? They're both among the worst in the country.
I think it's more interesting to compare the Valley with cities outside of California that have a reputation for dirty air -- like Houston and Phoenix. The pollution in Fresno, Bakersfield and other Valley cities is worse.
Look at 2012 violations of the federal eight-hour ozone standard. Phoenix, population 1.46 million, recorded 30 violations. Houston with a population of 2.1 million had 35.
How many Valley locations had more violations? Clovis, Fresno, Parlier, Arvin, Bakersfield, Oildale, Edison, Porterville and, oddly enough, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
In fact, Houston and Phoenix combined didn't have as many as the Ash Mountain site in Sequoia National Park, which recorded 82 violations. Parlier with a population of about 15,000 in Fresno County had 60. In Southern California, Crestline in the San Bernardino Mountains led the nation with 88.
Clearly, the pollution moves around to create these big numbers in such isolated places.
Back to Bakersfield and Fresno.
In Fresno with population of about 500,000, there were 51 violations last year at one monitoring site.
In Bakersfield, population 352,000, one monitor showed 56. Compared to the rest of the country, the Valley is really in another universe.