There is a Good Samaritan in Oakhurst. It is Ron Morton who helped a young couple, Beth Seaford and Luke Phillips, from Bristol, England, retrieve their abandoned vehicle after following their GPS trying to get to Yosemite National Park, dodging potholes on washboard dirt roads.
The couple drove up Sky Ranch Road (Road 632), on Tuesday, Aug. 29. They drove until their rental low profile, Camaro convertible was dust covered and they felt they could not drive any farther due to the unsafe road conditions. They were “literally a stone’s throw from the Grizzly Giant,” Morton said.
They recorded the GPS coordinates of their location when they decided to leave the car to hike out and seek help. As they were hiking, they were spotted by what the couple labeled Search and Rescue personnel, who picked them up and dropped them off at the Comfort Inn in Oakhurst.
The next morning, the couple walked to the Visit Yosemite/Madera County visitor center explaining their predicament.
Morton, a Yosemite National Park ranger, works shifts at the visitors center assisting vacationers with Yosemite information. Lucky for the couple, Morton was working when they came in with their nightmare of a story.
Alamo, the rental car agency, said they would not be able to send anyone to retrieve the car. Morton observed that Seaford probably had been crying as her puffy eyes provided the clue as did her proclamation that, “It’s the worst vacation ever.” It was at this point that Morton went way above and beyond his role at the visitor center, exhibiting the ultimate in mountain hospitality.
The solution, he decided, was that he would drive Phillips to the vehicle after his shift ended. “I offered this as a private individual, not as a ranger,” he said. “I wanted to do something good for fellow human beings. I felt God called me to do it.”
Phillips, of course, took Morton up on his offer and off the two ventured in Morton’s four-wheel drive vehicle.
“I was concerned,” said Morton, “about heading toward the (Railroad) fire and watched to see how close we were getting as we saw the sun shining red through the smoke ... no flames, though, thank God.”
Finally, the Camaro was located. After inspecting the tires, Phillips thought he could drive the car out if Morton led the way.
“We were traveling at about one mile an hour,” Morton said. “Drive at a pace that is comfortable to you,” he told Phillips.
After three miles, Morton saw two headlights traveling toward him. He found a spot on the road where he could make space for the oncoming vehicle to pass. The driver of the small Ford SUV, with three female passengers, stopped to ask Morton - “Can I get to Yosemite this way,” in a strong Eastern European accent.
“No,” was Morton’s immediate answer. After some conversation, the driver asked if he, too, could follow the little entourage which now included three vehicles.
Once on asphalt on Sky Ranch Road, the three vehicles pulled off the road near the bridge that crosses Lewis Creek. Morton told them to go to the stop sign and turn left on Highway 41 to Oakhurst. He then realized there were three women passengers in the second rescued vehicle in addition to the male driver. The second vehicle was headed to the Wawona campground. Morton then asked Phillips if he had enough money to take Seaford to dinner because “You need to do something nice for her.”
This story ends where it began - at the visitors’ center. The couple returned on Thursday morning to thank Morton for his act of kindness. The three of them had a photo taken together and the grateful couple deposited a tip in the tip jar.
The couple from England never did make it to Yosemite and decided to alter their itinerary, skipping Death Valley, driving directly to Las Vegas.
Note: This is not the first time Morton has aided travelers. One winter, when volunteering at the visitor center, a couple in a rental car could not get to their hotel, now the Big Trees Lodge (formerly the Wawona Hotel). Chains were required and most rental car agencies do not allow chains or cables to be used on their vehicles. Again, Morton volunteered to drive them there in his four-wheel drive vehicle and they gladly accepted the offer.