Since 1900, when the first summer rangers were hired at Sequoia National Park, thousands of young men and women have spent summers “rangering” in both Sequoia and its younger twin, Kings Canyon National Park. For more than a century, these mostly young folks have made life-long friends, fallen in love, enjoyed great adventures, and done all those things that humans do when they are having fun. Surprisingly, however, young rangers have left us almost nothing in written form about their many experiences. This is why Gordon Wallace deserves a moment of appreciation.
Gordon Wallace first came to Sequoia as a twenty-five-year-old in June 1934, when, in desperation, he signed on with the Civilian Conservation Corps in Los Angeles. This Great Depression program put jobless young men to work for a dollar a day, and Wallace was glad to get the work in that grim economic time. After a few weeks at Fort McArthur in Los Angeles, Wallace was sent to the Salt Creek CCC camp two miles outside the Ash Mountain entrance to Sequoia National Park.
Wallace, working as a crew leader, spent the summer helping construct a fire road up to Salt Creek Ridge. He also had periodic opportunities to visit the nearby national park and get to know some of the personnel there. Wallace liked what he saw in the park, and the following April he walked up to Ash Mountain and knocked on the door of the superintendent’s residence there. (This building is now known as the “Research Center”)
When Superintendent John White answered, Wallace explained that he would like to become a park ranger. White, working in a system much more flexible than the modern one, invited Wallace in and talked to him for a while. Liking what he found in the young man, White told him to come back in a day or two and talk to chief ranger Ford Spigelmyre.
Wallace did as he was told, and the park’s chief ranger offered him a summer position. After a quick visit to the B. B. McGinnis uniform store in Merced, where Wallace bought his knee-high boots, riding breeches, and Stetson on credit, he entered on duty as a park ranger on May 1, 1935.
Temporary park ranger Gordon Wallace spent his first summer working in the Giant Forest, where in the tradition of NPS rangers, he did a little bit of everything. Living at the dormitory at Last Hill, just below Giant Forest Village, he shoveled snow, worked in the information booth, policed the campgrounds, cleaned restrooms, patrolled the highway, and generally had a great time. He even had time to fall in love with Hilda, the assistant postmistress. (The Last Hill dormitory still exists and is now the [relocated] small house at the western end of the Wolverton parking loop.)
Wallace spent the following winter working in the then-new Death Valley National Monument (also managed by Superintendent John White) and returned to Sequoia for a second season in 1936. To his surprise, he found himself assigned not to Giant Forest but rather to the Redwood Meadow Ranger Station, the primary backcountry station in the park’s Great Western Divide area.
Hilda had by this time moved on in her affections, and Wallace found at first solace and then real challenge in his backcountry assignment. Patrolling back and forth on horseback from Black Rock Pass in the south to Kaweah Gap and Elizabeth Pass in the north, Wallace reveled in the work and the freedom it offered. The following summer, 1937, he came back to Redwood Meadow for another wonderful season along the Great Western Divide.
Pursuing a pattern that still sounds familiar, Wallace left the Park Service at the end of the 1937 season to take a permanent position with the Border Patrol. Two-and-a-half years later he was able to arrange a transfer between his new agency and the Park Service, and he returned to Sequoia, this time as a permanent ranger.
Wallace spent the spring of 1941 working as a ranger at Ash Mountain, dividing his time between the entrance station (then at Ash Mountain), road patrol, and projects in the chief ranger’s office. In June, responding to orders from the chief ranger, Wallace moved to the Kern Canyon Ranger Station, where he assumed responsibility for the eastern half of the park as sub-district ranger and spent the next two summers. After that, joining many of his fellow rangers, Wallace volunteered for military service in the Second World War.
Wallace came back to Sequoia in 1946 and spent two additional summers in the Kern River backcountry. We know all this, and much more, about Wallace’s adventures because unlike nearly everyone else who has served as a temporary park ranger in the southern Sierra, Wallace eventually wrote down his story so that others could share it.
Wallace’s book, My Ranger Years, didn’t come out until 1993, by which time Wallace was in his mid-eighties and writing about events a full half-century earlier. The book nevertheless evocatively captures the detail and feel of a long-ago era.
If you’re enjoying your ranger summer, find a copy of Wallace’s book and follow him through his adventures. You’ll find him an engaging companion.
(My Ranger Years was published by the Sequoia Natural History Association in 1993. The book is out of print but available in most park libraries and through used book services on the web.)
© Wm. Tweed