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Dudes and Sagebrushers

The increase in travel to the national parks since the automobile came into general use has been phenomenal. Thirty years ago a good season meant three hundred thousand visitors to the parks. Most of them came by rail. Today the figure is over six million visitors per season, nine out of ten of whom come in private automobiles. The safety record of the parks is truly remarkable. In the past fifteen years, over two million cars have been driven to Yosemite Valley with but one or two fatal accidents within the park. Where is there a city that can equal such a traffic record? In other parks, accidents have been equally negligible.

The average motorist is more careful in his driving when he reaches the narrow mountain roads. He knows the traffic regulations are enforced by the rangers and he observes them. These regulations are quite simple and are easily understood, even by motorists unfamiliar with the trick of mountaineering in an automobile. The experienced mountain driver knows how to "play safe" on mountain roads. He makes sure that his car is in good condition before starting for the parks. Driving over mountain roads, on which there may be occasional rough stretches, is a sure test for any car. At high elevations where the atmosphere is thin the motor is under additional strain. It should be in good tune for this extra work. High altitude driving requires more gas per mile, incidentally.

The veteran Sagebrusher is not ashamed to use low gear in the mountains. He uses it not only to go up hill, but to go down hill and to hold the car back on the short level stretches where curves make it unsafe to go faster than fifteen miles an hour. He knows that use of compression to hold back the car on downhill stretches not only saves his brakes but gives him an additional factor of safety in case of emergency. Yet it is surprising how many inexperienced mountain drivers think that low gear is used only to start the car. There are still some narrow, unpaved roads in the high country of the great parks of the West. There always will be some. On such roads the old-timer in the mountains will consider fifteen miles per hour a good speed on curves and twenty to twenty-five fast enough on level stretches, especially if he wants to see anything. He never ventures into the mountains anywhere without a good set of tire chains. Occasional rains will surely make slippery places in the hills, so heed the rangers' advice—always carry chains and avoid embarrassment to yourself and to everyone else.

From these remarks, the impression might be created that the roads of the national parks are hazardous. The contrary is true, as the parks' safety record proves. But in the mountains, when showers or a brief snowfall may take place any time, roads sometimes become slippery temporarily. The motorist with chains seldom has trouble. The government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars improving the roads of the parks and has embarked upon a fifty-million-dollar road-building schedule, but even paved roads, such as are now found in nearly all the national parks will not eliminate the occasional need for chains.


It goes without saying that sight-seeing and driving never go well together. The experienced mountain driver parks his car at the side of the road so that others may pass easily, and then enjoys the scenery. It would seem that this suggestion is unnecessary, but the beauties of the park are distracting and the driver sometimes forgets to keep his eye on the road. The driver who parks his car and leaves it should make doubly sure that his brakes are set and his car in low gear. Otherwise he may find himself in the position of a Sagebrusher who once visited Crater Lake.

This Sagebrusher left his car, a new limousine of expensive make, on the rim of the lake along with a dozen other cars, while he walked down the trail to the lake shore, a thousand feet below. While returning he heard a crash, and looked up to catch but a fleeting glimpse of an automobile catapulting past him and crashing through the trees. It came to rest, a total wreck, far below him. Returning to the rim, the Sagebrusher met a party of Dudes to whom he narrated excitedly the fearful and wonderful story of the car that just missed him and had crashed on the rocks below. Glancing about as he neared the end of his story, he said: "It smashed into a big tree and—and—and, my Lord, it was mine!"


The experienced Sagebrusher never loads a half-ton car like a ten-ton truck. The beginner often reaches the steep grades of the mountains with luggage tied on both sides of the car, on the front, on the back, with a bed spring on the top and goodness knows what inside the old bus. Sometimes the women and children are literally buried in camping equipment, while the driver himself can barely see the road ahead. What any of them might see of the beauty spots along the roads is often hidden by the marvelous collections of wind shield stickers that are the pride of so many amateur motorists. Some of these motorists, with their cars laden with stoves, beds, groceries, and what not, would never reach the parks were it not for the unfailing kindness of other motorists.

Long experience has taught the rangers that the all-wool blanket is the only kind to have in the mountains. In the summertime, when the nights are cool but not cold, the ranger uses a sleeping bag with but one double wool blanket in it. In the autumn, when he camps out at freezing temperature, he adds one more wool blanket around the sleeping bag but inside the oil-skin cover. Since showers are frequent up in the mountains among the clouds, the rangers advise every Sagebrusher to have his bedding in oiled silk or other waterproof cover. The warmest place to sleep is on the ground. It may take the tenderfoot some time to become accustomed to sleeping on the hard earth, but he will find that it requires much less bedding than the air mattresses, army cots, or other ingenious portable beds. Of course, these comforts are highly desirable, if they do not overburden the car.

A list of necessities for the Sagebrusher who proposes to camp out in the parks would include the following: one light-weight tent; one oiled-silk sleeping bag for each member of the party, or other good beds with all-wool double blankets; one gasoline camp cook stove, one frying pan, two pots, a coffee pot, and a compact set of plates and utensils; fishing tackle, an axe, a small shovel, a hot-water bottle, several yards of mosquito netting, a flash light with extra batteries, an emergency medical kit with common remedies and bandages; a day's supply of food, to be replenished en route and increased in case of excursions into remote, unsettled areas; a complete set of car tools, two spare tires, a tow rope, and by all means a good set of tire chains.

That amount of equipment will see the average camper through in fine shape. Of course as he goes along the Sagebrusher's inventive ability will assert itself and from time to time he will devise new wrinkles in camp equipment, until after a season or two the rangers will be listening to him explaining how he enjoys "all the comforts of home."


Arriving at a national park boundary, the Sagebrusher will be received, registered, and checked in by a ranger at a station. This is for the protection of the Sagebrusher, so that in an emergency the rangers may find him and so that undesirables may be kept out of the park. This registration is resented by some visitors, who feel that the rangers are making undue inquiries when they ask the address, the occupation, the name of the car, and other details. One question always asked is, "Have you any firearms?"

The rangers examine all guns, make sure they are not loaded, and then seal them, so that no shooting can be done in the park. The guns must be checked out, still sealed. Most of the heavy artillery carried into the parks is brought by visitors from the cities of the East. Starting the long trip for the wild and woolly West, they want to make sure that they can at least die fighting if death at the hands of the Indians or bandits or bears is to be their fate. Westerners as a rule do not carry firearms. Knowing the West, they feel quite safe among the Indians, the bad men, and the bears. The New Yorker's impression of the West undoubtedly is derived from hair-raising adventure stories in the magazine thrillers and in the conventional wild-west movies. As a matter of fact, the easterner is much safer in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, or Hangtown, California, than he is on a street corner in Chicago or New York.

From the ranger who checks him in, the Sagebrusher will receive a free guidebook, map, or other literature prepared by the government for his benefit. The ranger is ready to answer questions and to help plan the trip through the park. Occasionally a Sagebrusher ignores this assistance, tosses his literature into the car and follows the next fellow, who as like as not is wandering aimlessly. The rules and regulations of the parks are extremely simple and are made solely for the purpose of protecting the park, the wild life, and the visitors. They can be read in ten or fifteen minutes, after which another five minutes spent in discussion with a ranger will enable the visitor to know where the main attractions lie, where he can camp, which are the one-way roads, and where food and other supplies are available, or where he can find meals and lodging and at what prices.

Ninety-nine out of every hundred visitors are quite in sympathy with the simple and reasonable rules of conduct in the parks. They are, in brief, as follows: Avoid speeding, never leave fires burning, clean up campgrounds before leaving, don't tease the animals, never carve names on trees or rock formations, leave the wild flowers for others to see and enjoy, and in general help the rangers protect the parks for the four millions who will be coming next year.


In the parks the motorist finds campsites cleared and prepared for him. They are equipped with running water, rough tables, and sanitary facilities, including flush toilets. Wood is available nearby. Some of these campsites have fireplaces, for the first comers at least, and nearby are stores where supplies can be purchased, and in the larger parks, cafeterias where meals are served at reasonable prices. Near many of these campsites are tents, already set up, to rent at low rates for housekeeping purposes. These tents are equipped with beds, stoves, and tables, and all the Sagebrusher needs is his own bedding. Each year the park engineers develop new campsites or increase the capacity of the old ones. Each year the Sagebrushers demand still more campsites.

It is a thrilling sight to visit any of the camps in the national parks on a midsummer evening and see from five hundred to a thousand city folks busy around their little fires, the evening air filled with the odors from a hundred coffee pots and a hundred frying pans. Look into almost any camp and you will find fresh-caught trout sizzling in the pans. Visit any of the scores of campfires after supper and you will find half a dozen families swapping experiences of the road.

A generation ago, camping out was a means of getting away from the conveniences and conventionalities of home. It was the complete change from civilization to primitive life, from niceties to hoboing. The rougher the camping, the better. The camper wanted hardships, sought them out. Not any more. Camping, to the average Sagebrusher, is merely an economical means of traveling about the country, of seeing the sights that formerly were available only to the well-to-do, the Dudes. The modern Sagebrusher wants a camp that is almost as convenient as home. Many of them have such camps. It is an education in organization and in housekeeping to see how some of these camping layouts are planned and used. That is one of the joys of Sagebrushing, seeing how the other fellow lives, just a few yards away from you behind that clump of trees.

Nevertheless, and in spite of the fun there is in camp fire cooking, the rangers say that the average family of Sagebrushers would enjoy themselves more if they took advantage of the luxury of the cafeterias in the national parks. That would relieve the women folks of the drudgery of cooking and dishwashing, something the male Sage brusher usually avoids by declaring in all seriousness that he guesses he must go out and provide the family with a mess of fish. The role of the provider has its advantages.

Sagebrushers bound for the national parks or traveling in the parks will do well to refuse rides to tramps, whether they be men or women. This observation applies to motoring anywhere at any time. Unless he knows the person who begs for a ride, the motorist endangers himself and his car. The newspapers are full of reports of kind-hearted motorists being killed or injured by tramps whom they kindly picked up for a ride on their way; and there are many more stories of cars being stolen by these bums. It is no longer a rare occurrence for women to steal cars from people who have befriended them.

In the national parks the tramp is regarded with suspicion. If he appears at the gates afoot, he must produce a bedroll or a roll of greenbacks with which to rent a bed at the hotels or camps, or the rangers turn him back. The same thing applies to women afoot. However, most of the tramps who do get into the parks come in the cars of bona fide Sagebrushers, and the rangers' problems arise usually when the bums seek beds or meals for which they have no money to pay.

(From the Stanford University Press edition)

Hotel, camp, and lodge owners in the parks are authorized to give their night watchmen keys to vacant tents and cabins, with instructions to examine them at different times during the night, and if anyone is found therein to take very essential parts of any clothing lying around to hold until the rangers can arrest the person who is stealing a bed.


One morning the rangers had a call from Old Faithful that two tramps had been caught in a cabin of the lodge there. Their trousers, shoes, and hats had been taken by the night watchman and they had come barefooted with blankets wrapped around them to the ranger station to tell about their predicament. They were from good families in Racine, Wisconsin, and were students of the state university. They had plenty of good references. They wanted their clothes back. They told this story; they had agreed to start from Madison with eight dollars apiece and go to San Diego on that amount, bumming rides, meals, and lodging as they came west. They had not intended to include Yellowstone Park in their itinerary, but upon arriving at Cheyenne they begged a ride with a congenial party headed for the park and hastily revised their plans. Upon arriving at the park gate, the crowded condition of the car, the evident feeling on the part of the owner that he would like to get rid of his guests, and the registration of the two from a town widely separated from the home of the car owner attracted the attention of the rangers, who made the boys get out of the car. As they had only about three dollars apiece, the rangers told them to go back to Cody or some other town and earn enough money to pay their way through the park.

Of course, the young fellows simply went down the road, then turned into the timber and walked into the park some distance from the ranger station. Several times they thought they could have begged rides, but rangers were always near by and they were afraid to stop the cars. Motorcycle rangers still further increased their fears. They had to spend their remaining dollars the first night in the park for meals and lodging. They were broke when caught; that they could do one of three things; wire home for one hundred dollars apiece, then leave the park; go to work on road maintenance in the park at regular wages and stay until they earned that much; or go before the judge with a jail sentence for vagrancy certain to be imposed on them. They finally decided to wire for money, which they received before the day was over.

The park officials took occassion to lecture these boys, pointing out that they were pursuing a course which was morally criminal. True, they had not stolen anything which the law could punish them for except the bed in the lodge, buy they had been stealing happiness from people all the way from their college town, they had spoiled vacations by crowding kind-hearted families, they had eaten food which other people had paid for, they had slept in and perhaps impaired robes, extra bedding, and other equipment which did not belong to them; in short, they had been thieves of a sort and that after all a thief is a thief no matter what he steals and no matter whether the law can reach him or not. This talk made an impression on the boys and they promised they would never "bum" another ride as long as they lived.

One night at Yellowstone two attractive girls appealed to the rangers for help. They claimed to be hikers but were broke and wanted to know if there was any place provided by the government where they could sleep. They said they were from Cleveland and had come thinking it would be lots of fun to hike through the park. Asked how long it had taken them to "hike" from Cleveland, they said eight days. Anybody could tell by looking at them that the sun had never shone upon them nor had their feet ever touched a dirt road. But here was a problem that had to be solved, so the rangers called up the laundry and fortunately found that a few girls were needed. The two were sent to the laundry to work until they could earn enough to travel.


This type of foot traveler must not be confused, of course, with the legitimate hiker, who comes to the national parks to spend his days afoot on trails, journeying from camp to camp and paying his own way, or camping overnight with his own equipment carried on a burro. There are in the parks thousands of miles of trails, over which tens of thousands of visitors, both Dudes and Sagebrushers, tramp each year, to their great enjoyment. In fact, the trails provide the only way that many of the more beautiful spots in such parks as Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Glacier, Rocky Mountain, and Sequoia can be reached, and along the Pacific Coast hiking has become one of the most popular of sports as well as a most healthful one. This type of hiker is welcomed to the parks, for he is almost invariably a true lover of the mountains, appreciative of the opportunity to hike that the national parks offer.

Tramping over the park trails one is struck by the great number of women making the trail trips alone. Dressed in khaki outing suits, with strong boots, their knapsacks strapped to their backs, they trudge over the mountains from camp to camp, as safe as they would be in their homes. During the summer months, the school teachers and other feminine vacationists in the parks are so numerous that they far outnumber the men. In most of the parks, for the benefit of women who are traveling alone there are numerous walking parties under the charge of ranger naturalists making the trail trips from the different camps. In Yosemite, the concessioner company operates a chain of camps extending through the High Sierra at strategic points along the trails where the hiker or the trail rider may find food and lodging at a minimum of expense, thus relieving him of the burden of carrying a roll of blankets or a pack of supplies. Similar facilities are available in Rocky Mountain Park. In Glacier Park chalets located on the trails all through the mountains furnish the same type of service.


Trail riding is another recreation that adds to the fun of the Dude or the Sagebrusher. At strategic locations in all of the parks, pack animals and guides are available to take the visitor over the trails to the remote attractions not reached by automobile roads. The horses and mules used by the trail riders are trained for this type of work. Even the novice at riding can manage them by allowing the animal to use his own judgment in the matter of speed and in picking his way along a narrow trail.

Many and peculiar, at times, are the incidents in the life of the national parks. There is always something doing, for either the Dude, or the Sagebrusher. The main object of the parks, of course, is to preserve the wonders of the parks for the enjoyment of the people. They are the people's parks and the few regulations imposed by the rangers are for the enjoyment of the visitors, present and future. The rangers are deeply conscious of that fact and whether the tourist comes as a Dude or a Sagebrusher, the ranger, wherever met, is at the service of the visitor to help him find the hotel or lodge he seeks, or the campsite he wants, or to tell him where to fish or how to reach a certain mountain or view a waterfall or find the trail to the big trees. The Dudes and Sagebrushers number six million per year. The rangers number a mere four hundred. Each ranger, then, must serve fifteen thousand visitors a year. He does his best, but at times he is a bit rushed. Those are the times when he needs the co-operation of the Dudes and Sagebrushers. Those are the times when he craves their patience and charity.


Oh, Ranger!
©1928, 1929, 1934, 1972, Horace M. Albright and Frank J. Taylor
albright-taylor/chap2a.htm — 06-Sep-2004