National Geographic : 1985 Jan
given a $500 fine, a record finally cleared. For the Navy the cost included thousands of dollars in hospital care, plus the loss of a pi lot. For the Park Service there were the costs of rangers, patrol cars, emergency aid, de livering him to the hospital, arresting him, and processing charges against him. How much tax money goes directly for people who jump with parachutes, fall while climbing, break their ankles, get lost, or fall into rivers or over waterfalls? "Well, about $150,000 a year," Bill Wendt says. "That's not counting salaries for search-and-rescue teams. Just medical expense, helicopter time, and replacing equipment. "Parachutists used to be legal," he told me. "But they blew it. They jumped togeth er, trying to join hands in flight. Or took off from skateboards or pogo sticks. Or walked over the edge on their hands. Free spirits are fine, till they get dangerous or ridiculous." Eves Tall Chief, an Osage Indian from Oklahoma, is a free spirit. He lives to launch his hang glider, still a legal activity, from Glacier Point, perhaps the most spectacular takeoff site in the country, then drift down 3,200 feet out of the heavens into the valley. Several times I watched Tall Chief shout out his war whoop as he charged off the cliff, then floated back and forth past Yosemite's ramparts and waterfalls. "It's the ultimate thrill," he told me. "Fifteen minutes of eter nity. Like being an eagle." A professional in laser optics, Tall Chief used to drive race cars. "But these wings give you far better butterflies. The last few seconds before you jump, your heart almost stops. They're an eternity too." There are those who believe that hang Watch for falling rock! Such warnings mean it at Yosemite, where granite domes exfoliate outer layers like an onion shedding skin. With a sound like a rifle shot, this slab 18 feet across broke loose high on Turtleback Dome and crashed onto the highway (above) seconds before the photographerdrove up. Every spring crews blast visible hazardsalong 250 miles ofpark highway. In anotherassist to nature, the Park Service tries to undo one ironic resultof a century of suppressingforestfires. Duringthat time white fir and incense cedar have increased in groves of pine and giant sequoias, interferingwith their regeneration.Here in a program of prescribedburning (left), a techniciancontrols a ground fire set to clearout this understory and give sequoia seedlings a chance.