When Shelton met Oprah


Yosemite National Park Ranger Shelton Johnson was as surprised as anyone. “I was more than surprised,” he said in a recent phone conversation. “I was shocked. When the EMTs resuscitated me I was pretty much flat-lined.”

Standing outside the south entrance to Yosemite National Park, Johnson thought he was awaiting the arrival of six African-American women, all about to have their first camping experience. “I was told they’ve been friends since college and they were being reunited at a spa,” he said. “But unbeknownst to them they were being taken to Yosemite Valley for a camping trip instead. At least that’s what I thought.”

Johnson thought he was in on a clever plot to welcome a group of nature neophytes into the great outdoors. But the joke was on him.

“Here I’m expecting to meet these six African-American women and who shows but Oprah Winfrey and her friend Gayle King,” Johnson said. “I knew this was a project affiliated with her show, but to have Oprah right there in front of me was something else entirely. So yeah I was surprised, surprised in the best possible way.”

Oprah and her BFF Gayle did indeed spend an evening overnight in the Valley camping. Their experience in Yosemite aired in two episodes of the Oprah Winfrey Show Oct 29th and November 3rd. Johnson was flown out to Chicago to appear in the studio audience where producers of the program had apparently made up the stage as an authentic reproduction of the Yosemite campground complete with the pop-up camper used on the trip. With two-hours of high profile television devoted to boosting the National Parks Johnson hopes that more people, particularly people of color, will be inspired to visit and thoroughly embrace these wild scenic places for the national treasures they are.

“Oprah has the ability to influence trends in travel, where people go on vacation,” Johnson said. “But she didn’t just visit a National Park. What made this special was that she was camping. She didn’t do the Ahwahnee Hotel. She’s a billionaire and she went camping.”

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