Yenis Hante, the Camp of my Dreams

YH Sign

Yenis Hante, the Camp of my Dreams

 

“Wherever I go, I’ll never forget

Yenis Hante, the camp of my dreams”

 

For nearly five decades this song might have been heard on summer evenings, echoing through the pines and cedars of Greenhorn Mountain Park.  Although Camp Yenis Hante never belonged to the Kern County Camp Fire Council it did belong to the hearts of Camp Fire Girls who spent memorable summer weeks there from 1930 until the mid 1970s. Yenis Hante was a place where we dreamed and made friends, wrote poetry, read fairy tales and sang around a campfire beneath a starry sky.

Yenis Hante was named and first used by Kern County Camp Fire Girls in the summer of 1930.  Located within the county owned Greenhorn Mountain Park, the camp was named for the abundant wild roses and incense cedars, (Calocedrus decurrens). Yenis is an Indian word for wild rose and Hante means cedar.  During the 1920s Camp Fire Girls had camped at Shirley Meadows and at a camp located in Glennville called “The Kiddie Camp,” as well as at other mountain locations.  When Yenis Hante opened in June 1930, they had their own mountain camp to love and cherish, a cool retreat more than 6,000 feet above the hot southern San Joaquin valley floor.

After Camp Fire Girls was incorporated in 1912, word of the new organization for girls spread across the country through articles in publications such as Ladies Home Journal and St. Nicholas. There probably was at least one Camp Fire group in Bakersfield as early as 1916.  By 1922 meetings were being held to discuss recruiting more girls into Camp Fire and forming new Camp Fire Groups.  Mrs. R.E. Vivian, who was active in the P.T.A., hoped that Camp Fire would be as important to girls as Boy Scouts was to boys.[1]

Plans to establish a summer camp for Camp Fire Girls in Kern County Park on Greenhorn Mountain were announced in the Bakersfield Californian on May 28, 1923. In June Mrs. Lawrence E. Chenoweth, president of the local Camp Fire council, described a site selected on Greenhorn as “one of perfect beauty, set in the heart of virgin forest [with] a good supply of water and . . . unlimited possibilities for hikes.” [2]  It is not clear from newspaper accounts if this site later became Yenis Hante but the description does fit the area where Yenis Hante is located.  Several Camp Fire groups camped at the summit of Greenhorn in early June of that year, and added sledding to their camp activities after an unexpected storm brought rain and snow.

Camp Fire camps were held in several different locations from 1924 through 1929. Eldora DeMots, a teacher at Kern County Union High School directed one at Frazier Park for two weeks starting August 26 in 1925.  In June 1926 the first national Camp Fire convention west of Chicago was held in Stockton.  Delegates from Bakersfield included Mrs. L.E. Chenoweth and her daughter Dorothy, Ruth Hanning and Eldora DeMots. During that summer Camp Fire groups camped at Mt. Breckenridge, on Greenhorn Mountain and at California Hot Springs.  In 1927 approximately seventy-five Camp Fire Girls spent the ten days after school closed at the “Kiddie Camp” located in Glenville. Again, Eldora DeMots directed the camp which was attended by girls representing eleven different groups.  Later during the summer Eldora DeMots and Mrs. W.C. Harmon attended at Camp Fire training course at Camp Wasibo, the summer camp of the San Francisco Camp Fire Girls located at Zayante in Santa Cruz County. In both 1928 and again in 1929 two sessions for Camp Fire Girls were offered at the Glennville camp and Eldora DeMots was in charge.

In the weeks before Camp Yenis Hante officially opened. The Californian provided information about the site and how girls could register to attend camp.  The paper quoted Mrs. C.L. Campbell who said, “A wonderful location has been provided this year through the kindness of the county supervisors.  The camp will be situated on the summit of Greenhorn mountain among the cedars in the county park.  The camp site has been worked out by an architect and includes a mess hall and recreation hall, with sleeping quarters arranged in a semicircle, and a space inclosed [sic] where the council fires will be held and games of all kinds enjoyed.  The girls themselves will build a stone fireplace as one of their projects.  The finest of spring water is available for drinking and it is hoped that a pool for swimming may be constructed by the time camp opens.  There will be a paid director; a registered nurse will be in attendance; a caretaker will be on the grounds at all times; and a good cook has been employed who will provide the girls with varied and nourishing food.  An instructor in handwork will also be in attendance, and all handwork material is furnished free.  Books will be provided by the county librarian, and in general everything will be done to see that the girls have a chance to develop the Camp Fire program in the happiest way.”[3]  That summer Omah Burton, a teacher and Camp Fire Guardian, was the director; the girls slept in tents and camp activities included a 4:00AM hike to watch the sun rise, painting curtains for the recreation hall, and weaving pine needle baskets.[4]

The summer of 1930 was followed by forty-five more summers when Yenis Hante provided a home under the brilliant blue mountain sky to Blue Birds and Camp Fire Girls from Kern County as well as more distant towns and cities. Cabins replaced the tents in 1931.  A swimming pool filled with a creek’s melted snow water was used to teach swimming during the daily swimming periods. Camp staff was recruited from around the country as well as from Bakersfield College, and other California colleges.  Omah Burton directed the camp until 1936 or 1937.  From 1938 until after World War II there were a number of different directors including Margaret Briggs, Catherine Fowler, Margaret Momsen, Margaret McCarson, Wilma Smith and Barbara Symmes.

The succession of summers was punctuated by milestones and memorable events.  In 1938 Margaret Slack, who had been a camper for ten years became a counselor and Barbara Igel took movies of camp activities. [5]  In 1940 there was a midnight banquet; campers went to bed at 7 PM and were wakened by the camp bell at midnight for the banquet which was “served in a gaily decorated Morrison hall with a toastmistress presiding and entertainment between the courses.”[6]  The 1943 camp season was sadly cut short when a camper came down with polio and the camp had to be closed for three weeks.[7]  In 1947 Arlene Reed and Judith Marchi won weeks at camp with their essays on “What Camp Means to Me” while several other girls won “campships” for their camp posters. A 1964 C.I.T., Cheryl Acrea, came down with appendicitis and was rushed to the hospital; she soon returned to camp to complete her C.I.T. training and was a counselor the following year. The unnamed architect who laid out Yenis Hante provided a camp that resembled a compact village, a place to grow and learn as one summer succeeded another.

Mary Broaddus became executive director of the Kern County Camp Fire Council in 1947 and served as director at Camp Yenis Hante most summers from 1948 through 1960.  The 1950s brought more girls than ever before to Camp Yenis Hante as the “baby boom” children reached school age.  During these years Orange Belt Stage Lines provided two buses to carry campers to and from camp each session.  The girls and their mothers gathered on the sidewalk in front of the Camp Fire office while the morning still had a hint of coolness and as their names were called girls eagerly boarded the buses.  After a two-hour ride the buses reached the Greenhorn Summit and the girls poured out the doors and followed the waiting counselors up the road into camp.  Passing the Woodland Pond and the swimming pool they reached the outdoor theater where the staff was introduced and cabin groups were formed.  Being transported from the hot city of Bakersfield to the shady, fragrant evergreen forests at the summit of Greenhorn Mountain, felt like magic. A delightful week of singing, hiking, outdoor cooking, camp fires, crafts and nature lore followed.

A 1933 visitor provided a dinner time description that evokes memories of Yenis Hante in the 1950s and 1960s. “It was almost the dinner hour when we drove into camp but some of the girls were still washing up under the faucets at the wooden sink outside the dinning room.” [8]  Meals were preceded by the line of girls singing “Hey, ho, nobody home, eat nor drink nor money have I none, still I will be merry” as they processed into the dining room.  Between courses there were lovely rounds of “White Coral Bells” and as they left the dining room “I’ve been camping Yenis Hante,” to the tune of “I’ve been working on the railroad,”  rang through the trees.

YH Outdoor Theater
The Outdoor Theater at Camp Yenis Hante in 1956

 

While there were a few changes at Yenis Hante over the years what mattered were the things that did not change – the sense of fellowship, the scent of evergreens and the sound of birds and wind in the trees.  In 1952 a new camp sign was erected at the entrance to camp.  Beginning in 1956 larger cabins, of cinder blocks and wood, with screened windows, replaced most of the small wood cabins.  In the late 1950s the swimming pool was filled in.  Some years the pond was stocked with trout which girls could catch using bamboo fishing poles; later there were a raft and a couple of kayaks.  There were always incense cedars, pines and firs.  At Yenis Hante an eight-year-old Blue Bird could see the bright red of a rare snowflower (Sarcodes sanguinea) for the first time and learn to recognize Ponderosa pines by their bark that resembled a jigsaw puzzle.  On a short after-dinner hike a counselor showed her girls how the new green needles of a fir tree were a different shade than the older needles on the branch. The nature trail that was developed in the 1960s provided a short hike where counselors could help campers learn to recognize trees and flowers.

Mary Broaddus resigned as Camp Fire’s executive director in the early sixties and was succeeded by Dorothy Chenoweth Klausner who had attended the Stockton Camp Fire Conference in 1926 and was a Camp Fire Girl and then a guardian in the 1920s and 1930s.  From 1961 until 1965 her daughter, Deborah Osen directed Camp Yenis Hante.  During these years the Counselor-in-Training program provided opportunities for high school girls to develop skills in camp leadership and special programs were offered to older girls featuring backpacking and creative arts opportunities.

YH Pond
The Pond at Camp Yenis Hante in 1956

 

 

The ten years from 1965 to 1975 brought a decline in Camp Fire membership and camp attendance; the baby boom hand ended and there were fewer school age children and fewer women available to serve as Camp Fire Guardians. Bette Caldwell, Lilly Long and Ruth Moore were among the directors at Yenis Hante in those years. In the mid 1970s the decision was made to send Kern County’s Camp Fire members, who began to include boys in 1975, to camps in other counties.

Yenis Hante today is empty on most weekdays during the summer. As part of Kern County’s Greenhorn Mountain Park it is available for rental but most groups only come on weekends.  The camp looks much like it did fifty years ago although the pond and the sign above the road at the entrance are gone.  There is no longer a mailbox next to the bell in the center of camp; buildings have been painted a different color and back doors have been added to the large cabins. Perhaps those who sleep in the cabins today are unaware that Yenis Hante was named wild rose and cedar by those long ago Camp Fire Girls of 1930 and that once scores of girls  enjoyed summer days under the blue sky and sang as they camped “Yenis Hante, all the live-long day.”  The spirits of those long ago Camp Fire Girls still haunt the cedars and wild rose and Yenis Hante remains part of their dreams.

[1] Bakersfield Californian January 13, 1922.

[2] June 4, 1923

[3] May 30, 1930

[4] July 10, 1030

[5] June 15, 1938 and July 20, 1938

[6] July 25, 1940

[7] July 14, 1943

[8] July 4, 1933

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4 thoughts on “Yenis Hante, the Camp of my Dreams

  1. I went to camp here in the late 60s with my Blue Bird’s Group. Such fond, fond memories and what fun we had! So glad to have found pictures and history of the camp. It truly was such a gift growing up!

    Like

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