Yosemite Ranger Shelton Johnson had been trying for years to get the queen of talk to visit the park and share its beauty with the world.
Shelton Johnson reached out to Oprah countless times and he found that even meeting President Obama was easier than just getting Oprah's attention. So, you can imagine the surprise, when Oprah decided to take him up on his invitation a few weeks ago.
Shelton Johnson has been begging Oprah to consider a visit to Yosemite for six years. "Oprah, she's in her own class, her own genre. The Oprah genre"
He started in 2004 with this letter asking her to film a show live from Yosemite. Less than 2% of national park visitors are African American. He figured if anyone could change the face of visitors, it would have to be Oprah Winfrey. She surprised him in a big way early this month when she pulled up hauling a pop up trailer alongside her best friend Gayle King.
"To get her attention to not only respond to me, she's responding to what I'm saying. She's seeing that here we are in one of the most beautiful places in the world and a chunk of our population does not visit places like this," said Johnson. "And it's a problem, it's a problem in the sense that all Americans own the national park, but not all Americans are here. And she heard that and wanted to do something about it and that's what really impressed me."
Park Ranger Scott Gediman helped plan the trip. He chose a campsite for Oprah nestled next to the Merced River with breathtaking views.
"I gotta be honest I said you know I want them to be in this campsite and look up and see Half Dome and North Dome and it was a night like this where we could see Glacier Point, these beautiful ponderosa pines," said Gediman. "It was just that feeling because we knew they were only going to be here for one night, so it was packing everything in … in one night."
Park rangers wanted Oprah to have an authentic camping experience. So she cooked for herself, built a campfire on her own, mingled with other campers nearby and even paid for her campsite and park entrance fee.
Even when the cameras weren't rolling, rangers were impressed with how Oprah immersed herself in the experience.
Gediman adds, "During some of the off time they had a trivia book about national parks and so they were quizzing each other on parks and they were playing music and just having a good time. It wasn't so much being silly, it was just getting into it."
Oprah and Gayle even took in the scenery by riding these mules. "She's very nice, very ladylike. Her and Gayle both."
Four weeks later, the famous visitor to the lower pines campground is still the buzz. Ryan Nabors from Carlsbad had no idea who graced his campsite until another camper filled him in.
"A lady was walking by this morning and was like did you know it that Oprah stayed here at campsite 63 and we said I knew that she had come up here because I had seen it in the news but outside of that, staying in this location. I had no idea," said Nabors.