Out West Blog

Notes, photos and updates from the Center's student researchers and summer interns working at organizations across the region.


Some of Humankind’s Best Ideas and Creations



Image: A photo of me holding an Ansel Adams reprint of Half Dome that we have in our collection.

By Isabella Robbins
B.A. Candidate, Art History, 2017
Summer Intern at the Yosemite Museum

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

Working in the Yosemite Museum has proven to be quite the adventure this far. Every morning I wake up, throw on some clothes, brush my teeth and hair, make some coffee and head to work. The morning drive is one of my favorite parts of the day. I drive my dad’s Subaru Outback (one of many here in Yosemite) through trees, past El Capitan, Sentinel Dome, Yosemite Falls, through meadows and around the mountain curves, blasting anything from Jay-Z to Bruce Springsteen to Best Coast. When I arrive at the Museum in Yosemite Valley around 8, it almost pains me to step inside the building knowing some of the world’s most beautiful creations are right outside. However, once inside I remember some of humankind’s best ideas and creations are also inside this building.

I start the work day by checking my email and chatting with the people I work with. Then I start my tasks for the day. This ranges from doing annual inventory to recatalogging items to doing integrated pest management (aka checking the bug traps). For my particular internship, I am required to work on a personal project. For my project, I have decided to curate a case on the early-20th century Indian Field Days to be a part of the permanent Indian Cultural Exhibit. I was initially interested in this event because it seems to have had a profound impact on the Native Americans in the area, their way of life and practices and their perception by non-Natives.

By the end of the work day I’m pretty tired, but there’s always so much to see and do. Sometimes, before I go home I stop for a short hike or go swimming in the Merced River. On my lazier days I go home and watch a movie or read a book. On occasion I’ve even cooked myself a half-decent dinner!

Overall, this first part of my time here has included a lot of learning. Not just where the coolest hikes are, how to cook something besides cup noodles and where you can get wifi, but stuff like how to use the Department of Interior database and the cultural and natural history of the park. In just the few short weeks that I have been here working in the museum, I’ve come across some of the coolest things to learn from like John Muir’s cup, Ansel Adams prints, Native baskets and old strings used by tourists to measure the circumference of the giant sequoia trees. All of these items have taught me a little bit more about the park and its history.

Though I’ve only been here a short time and it’s very easy to be overwhelmed by it all, I’ve already had one of the best summers yet. Every day, I reflect on how lucky I am to be here with these great views, people and experiences. I can’t wait to see what the second half of my time here has to offer!

Haunted House vs. Federal Bureaucracy



Image: Quarters 3, aka “my house”, looking creepy under typical San Francisco fog

By Katie Petway
Class of 2018
Summer Intern at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

What I’ve learned so far this summer: the National Park Service loves a good ghost story. But art should mimic life, so before I tell the ghost story I’m going to entrance my readers with a thrilling tale of federal bureaucracy.

You see, I’m interning for the National Park Service, which is part of the Department of the Interior. One of the NPS’s jobs is to preserve historic buildings and landscapes. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco has no shortage of those, so the park administration has a branch called “Cultural Resources” which employs archeologists, historical architects, and historians to decide what features of the GGNRA are historically significant and how they should be preserved. My job this summer is to work with an historical architect named Joe to write a document called a Historic Structure Report (HSR) for a house called Quarters 3 at Upper Fort Mason.

The purpose of an HSR is to help architects and engineers design improvements to a historical building to keep it in good repair and adapt it for a modern use without destroying its historical value. To accomplish that, the HSR needs to explain why the building is significant and identify the time period when the building was important. Then, the HSR should include a chronology of the building’s architecture: which parts of the building were built when, and which features fall inside the period of significance? Finally, the HSR recommends how the building should be used in modern times and how the building should be repaired and maintained.

The problem is that writing an HSR is time-consuming and expensive, so they get written infrequently when the NPS has a pressing reason to renovate a building. There’s no standard template. In addition to writing the HSR for Quarters 3, I need to work out a template for the HSRs for all the houses in that area of the park. Fortunately, the houses all have a shared history so one template will fit them all fairly well.

Now on to the ghost story: “my house” was built by a civilian banker named Leonidas Haskell in 1855, shortly post-gold-rush. The land it was built on had been set aside to become an army base, but the army hadn’t built anything so civilians moved in. A neighborhood developed at what is now Upper Fort Mason: abolitionist merchants and bankers, with Jessie Fremont as the social circle’s centerpiece. The neighborhood became a training ground for abolitionist public figures like the Rev. Thomas Starr King, who helped save California for the Union in the Civil War. In 1859, a duel broke out between abolitionist Sen. David Broderick and southern sympathizer Judge David Terry. When Terry shot Broderick in the lung, Broderick’s friend Haskell brought him back to Quarters 3 where Broderick died. The house is rumored to be haunted by Broderick.

Since it produced an alleged ghost, the Broderick-Terry duel has overshadowed the rest of the history of Quarters 3. During the Civil War, the U.S. Army reclaimed Fort Mason as a base, and Quarters 3 served as officer’s quarters through both World War I and II. During the pre-army period, the house was one-fifth of a neighborhood that trained highly influential abolitionists in oratory. However, on official NPS documents, the significance of Quarters 3 is reduced to one sentence fragment: "Death place of Senator Broderick and Officer’s Quarters from 1865 on."

My greatest challenge this summer is to unearth the rest of the history of Quarters 3, incorporate it into a government document, and prove that Quarters 3 is far more significant than the haunted-house history allows.

Here – Have a Book



Image: The entry room to Heyday with many of its recent titles on display, and where my reading list grows longer every time I pass by.

By Monica Masiello
B.A. English/American Studies ’14, M. A. Sociology ’15
Intern at Heyday Publishing

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

When I was helping with book sales at the American Library Association conference in San Francisco near the beginning of my internship a few weeks ago, I heard endless iterations of Heyday’s mission to conference goers as they slowed by our booth to scrutinize the beautifully designed covers of Aesop in California and John Muir’s Book of Animals. My supervisors would explain that Heyday is a small, non-profit publisher, focusing largely on non-fiction works like nature guides, natural history, California and Native American history. But a synopsis of the organization’s focus, or a repertoire of titles it has published is far too limiting a way to think about what Heyday actually does or is.

I am a marketing, events, and sales intern, and split my time doing different types of work that all essentially aim towards the same end goal: to get a book out into the world. Conversations with my supervisors have helped me understand that no matter how important a book could be to people, it won’t reach them unless someone works to make them know that it exists. Within the past few weeks, I’ve sat in on meetings with authors, the staff, and the Heyday board about everything from future plans to promote a book to future plans for the organization itself. I’ve drafted letters to famous San Francisco legacy bars to pitch event ideas to launch High Spirits, written monthly newsletters and new book alerts to all of Heyday’s subscribers, and reached out to social justice-minded university professors and tech moguls to provide promotional commentary on the upcoming title De-Bug.

Undertaking an internship that promised to acquaint me with the basics of sales, marketing, and event coordinating, I have to say that the most important lessons I’ve learned so far pay little heed to my expectations. We work to market and plan author lectures and celebrations to assemble communities around new books… to sell books? Well, sure, but selling books seems almost secondary to the real goal of distributing impactful writing. Lillian, one of my supervisors, describes Heyday’s founder Malcolm Margolin’s method of “selling” books as, “Here, have a book… here, have another book…” Heyday works to strike a balance between selling books to sustain itself as a unique institution that nourishes the Bay Area--but also disseminating ideas that, quite frankly, make the world more whole and complete when they are consumed and loved by twenty people rather than sealed back up into a dark cardboard box when they haven’t been sold. Without downplaying the necessity of actually selling books in keeping a publishing house afloat, it now seems obvious that marketing, sales, and events are only superficially about selling books; at the core, this work is actually about sharing books, and as easy as it may be to confuse the noble mission of sharing art with selling it, this institution is one that understands the difference.

Wild Trout, Turbulent Waters



Image: A young cutthroat trout caught during an electrofishing survey of Packsaddle Creek in Driggs, ID

By Christina Morrisett
B.S. Earth Systems, 2015
Environmental Modeling Intern, The Henry’s Fork Foundation

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

Having grown up in rural Alaska and having just graduated, I was ready to leave the Silicon Valley suburbs behind and return to a place that felt a little more like home. Almost immediately, southeastern Idaho gave me that feeling. With a little over 1,000 residents, Ashton, Idaho is cozy. Agricultural fields stretching across rolling hills to the base of the Grand Tetons provide open space that is plentiful and welcoming. And then, of course, there is the Henry’s Fork – a river many claim as home to the best fly-fishing in the nation (if not the world).

The Henry’s Fork Foundation is the only organization whose sole purpose is to conserve, protect, and restore the unique fisheries, wildlife, and aesthetic qualities of the Henry’s Fork and its watershed. Founded in 1984, HFF serves as “The Voice of the River,” conducting research to provide a scientific basis for management and decision-making in the Henry’s Fork watershed. Projects that monitor fish populations, study habitat-use, and reduce sediment load all contribute to the Foundation’s efforts to improve wild trout habitat and maintain angler satisfaction.

Already familiar with commercial fisheries and interested in pursuing a career in fisheries management, I sought out the opportunity to work with the Henry’s Fork Foundation to gain experience with sport fisheries. I wanted to learn about the research, management, and general atmosphere associated with sports fisheries - especially given that HFF works closely with different stakeholders like water users, hydroelectric power companies, government agencies, and other nonprofit groups. I am learning about all of these things and much more through two major projects:

1. Hydrologic modeling: Like the rest of the American West, Idaho is in a drought and as water needs become strained, politics become turbulent. In events like this, the importance of HFF’s role in communicating with a variety of stakeholders is heavily underlined. My primary role this summer is to graph how current river flows compare to past flows, incorporating diversion data from Idaho Dept. of Water Resources and reservoir discharge data from USGS. It’s a bit of statistics, a bit of math, and a whole lot of programming in R. It was challenging at first, but I’m enjoying it the more I learn.

2. Cutthroat trout population survey with Friends of the Teton River: Yellowstone cutthroat trout are native to the basin, but their populations are changing due to the range expansion of nonnative species like brook and rainbow trout (species that are prized in the sports fishery). The project uses fly-fishing and electrofishing (stunning fish with a weak electric field) strategies to capture trout for tagging and enumeration. Understanding how the cutthroat trout population is changing will inform future species recovery efforts. Electrofishing requires a lot of hiking and teamwork – it’s definitely a skill I’m happy to have learned!

When I’m not working, the other HFF interns and I can be found hiking in Grand Teton National Park, swimming around Jackson Hole, or, of course, fly-fishing on the Henry’s Fork. For more stories about everyday life here in Ashton, please check out HFF’s Intern Blog!

Yes, I Do Work Here



Image: My sister and I at the Lower Yosemite Falls. I've been told we're lucky to have seen it before the water dries up.

By Savannah Pham
Prospective B.A. Psychology, Class of 2018
Intern, Archives & Records Management, Yosemite National Park

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

“Good evening, miss. Are you looking for the Falls?” a friendly voice calls out after me.

I turn to face a ranger and smile, “No, thank you. I’m actually heading back to my house.” He looks surprised but only tells me to, “Have a good night.”

I smile in return before walking away, sighing a little. In the few weeks I have been here, similar incidents have occurred. The area I reside in is close to the Lower Yosemite Falls, so tourists sometimes get lost on their way there. As one of the few Asian-Americans working at Yosemite I am, unfortunately, more often than not mistaken for a tourist. If I take the time to clarify that I do in fact work here I am met with a bit of surprise and then questions about my job.

As the Archives and Records Management Intern, I split my time between the Land Resources Office in Yosemite Valley and the Archives in El Portal. The Land Resources Office is in charge of maintaining records concerning the land in Yosemite. Doesn’t sound like much, right? Well, you’d probably be surprised (I definitely was) at just how much information goes into documenting all aspects associated with the land, such as how certain plots of land were obtained (and how much controversy is involved!). In the office I’m currently working on organizing a gargantuan amount of files associated with the Wawona community. The Archives is in charge of maintaining all of the records that are associated with the park. So it makes sense that the eventual idea is to move the files I’m working on at Land Resources to the Archives. In the Archives, I work with two other interns from Colorado. We work to process collections as well as data entry, since the eventual idea is to put the Yosemite Archives onto the Online Archive of California, which is an online database for all archives in the state. It may seem boring to some, but love organizing files and it’s such a great way to learn more about the park.

To be quite honest, before coming here, I knew very little about Yosemite. The last time I visited was when I was five years old, so the only memory I had of the park was what I had seen in pictures. I’m also not the most outdoorsy or sociable person, so some goals for this summer are to do a few hikes and really meet people. I’ve already hiked to Lower Yosemite Falls, which is absolutely breathtaking. The other people I’ve met here have also been very friendly. I met a guy at the gift shop and he became my personal tour guide once he heard that I had yet to explore the Valley. It seems to be the atmosphere of the park that makes everyone working here just so friendly and relaxed.

Overall, my experience thus far has been pretty great (aside from the getting mistaken for a tourist part). I’m learning a lot about the behind-the-scenes action that goes into running the park as well as learning to enjoy the park itself. I look forward to the weeks and experiences to come!

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