Yosemite National Park had an amazing snowfall for the winter of 2016-2017. By April, there was still over 100 inches of snow in areas like Tenaya Lake and Tuolumne Meadows. This major snowfall and the resulting flooding conditions rendered the high country unaccessible for park visitors and park employees. Because of this, the Aquatics crew’s high country aquatic restoration sites were still frozen over and unsafe to hike to. Tioga Road, which connects the west of the Sierra Nevadas to the east of the range, remained closed up until late June because of damage from flooding and snowpack. I was pretty bummed at the beginning of this summer to not be able to experience some of the high country since I had never been above about 7,000 feet in elevation before. Where I’m from, Georgia’s highest point in elevation is only about 4,700 feet, and here at Yosemite, some of the high country sites reach 11,000 and 12,000 feet! I was still pumped for the other projects I would be able to join in on like turtle crew and bullfrog crew, but knowing I wouldn’t be able to experience the high country was much of a bummer.
A couple weeks ago during our 6 days off rotation, I had planned to just spend the time hanging out in the front country and doing random day hikes in the Valley that I could access and taking a breather. I got a message from someone on the crew saying, “Change of plans. Some people on the crew are heading to the East side tonight and want to go to Mammoth mountain tomorrow for skiing/snowboarding. If you want to go.” How could I pass up this opportunity to take a trip towards the high country? I said yes, instantly because I knew this might be my only shot to see it.
And boy, am I glad I did it. I felt like a kid in a candy shop! Every turn on Tioga Road yielded breathtaking views of valleys thousands of feet below or white-capped mountain peaks or acres of precious meadows. A major highlight was the newly cold temperatures I was experiencing from the elevation, as the front country site where I live for the summer has been experiencing heat wave temperatures of 110 on some days! Our first full day on the East side, we hit up food trucks, June Lake to swim and paddleboard, and even managed to squeeze in watching Moana with all of us crowded around a couple laptops. The next day we headed over to Mammoth Mountain to do a half-day of skiing/snowboarding. I’ve only ever skied before in slushy, fake snow in North Carolina, but this was the real deal! The temperatures on top of the mountain were even in the lower 70s, as people were skiing down in tank-tops and shorts. One of the employees on the Aquatics crew used to even be a ski instructor, and he gave me the courage and confidence boost to join them at the top to ski my first real Black Diamond slope down. Would I do that slope again? Probably not. Do I regret it? Absolutely not! Another bucket list item checked off. We ended our trip with some live music that was going on at THE Mobil, which is a gas station/restaurant destination spot that has become famous for its great view of Mono Lake and amazing atmosphere. I could finally see what everyone was talking about, and why this place was amazing.
I never would have thought I could see places so beautiful and jaw-dropping, as I did while experiencing the high country. Our trip to the east side was filled with June Lake swimming, Mammoth Mountain skiing, live music at the famous Mobil stop in Lee Vinings, and a great time with great people from the Aquatics crew. I’m so lucky to know these people that come from different parts of the country (and even world), but all have such a large passion for wildlife and habitat restoration at Yosemite. This internship has awarded me new skills, friends, experiences, and memories that I won’t ever forget.
“Young people and their phones, ugh!”
“Excuse me, can you take a photo of us?”
“I don’t want to hike all of that.”
“Where is the closest wifi?”
These are some of the things my family and I heard while walking around the more touristy areas of Yosemite National Park. For my internship, I don’t spend too much time in the Valley, where about 95% of visitors to the park hang out. I wanted to see more of the views that you typically see in photos of Yosemite, and it would give us some time to do some shorter day hikes, since my family isn’t a big camping or backpacking family for backcountry trails.
As we passed and interacted with other park visitors, we saw people in flip flops, jeans, single use plastic water bottles, sodas, and everything else in between that you wouldn’t expect to see while hiking. Besides the fact that some of those things are unsafe for certain trails, it reminds me that people experience national parks in different ways. Some visitors see a visit to a national park as a place to shop and walk around the main areas. Others see it as a place to do some backpacking and backcountry camping. Others even see it as a place to exist without actually interacting with it. None of these experiences are better or worse than others. All of these experiences are valid and should be protected and available in our national parks.
There are differences in ways that generations experience national parks as well. There is a stereotype that young people are disconnected from the natural world and don’t stop to appreciate it, which I beg to differ considering the widespread use of hashtags during the park centennial celebration or varying environmental movements. Selfie culture is a thing, but it can spread the word of the awesomeness of our parks! On the other side, there’s a stereotype that older generations don’t have the drive or mobility to get close with nature, and only want to experience it from their RV or bus. From my time in the park, I’ve seen tons of people that live in these stereotypes and also tons that break outside of them. Either way, people are visiting and contributing to the park! As long as the park remains accessible to all of those different experiences, the national park is doing its duty to allow people to see nature at its best. That includes people with handicaps and disabilities, people from other cultures with different languages, people with children, and so on. At Yosemite, I believe they are doing just that!