A Guide to Yosemite: R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

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Aretha Franklin said it best, “R. E. S. P. E. C. T. find out what it means to me.” This is the title of our second article to a 3 part series, ‘A Guide to Yosemite’. Give it a read this holiday season when your relaxing and can’t find a good Christmas movie or ball game on. Educate yourself on the conservation of the wild places we love to play in!! And as always, thanks for your support, feedback and the motivation to keep writing!

The term ‘local’, what does that mean to you? A tourist is defined by Merriam-Webster as a person who is traveling or visiting a place for pleasure. So a local is a resident of the region being visited or person serving the tourist. Tourism is a huge industry in Yosemite and has been for a long time. It comes at no surprise, the sheer scale of Yosemite Valley is incomparable. Seas of granite towering above, wildlife around every corner and breathless interchanging seasons of vibrant colors and new life. But as populations seem to grow more and more and less ‘wild’ places are to be found, that industry grows as well. In 2013, almost 4 million people visited Yosemite, that’s the 3rd most for any National Park. Can you imagine that many people packed into an area; sharing facilities, roads, trails, views and other accommodations. Times can be tough coping with one another, different views, cultures, backgrounds and ethnicities can clash. But what if Yosemite was your home? What does it look like to be a local?

The history of Yosemite dates back to 1889 (exactly 100 years before I was born) when a scruffy ‘mountain man’ discovered that the meadows surrounding Yosemite Valley were being overrun and destroyed by domestic sheep grazing. The result: a fight for protection and conservation. John Muir, born in Scotland in 1838, immigrated to Wisconsin with his family at 11 years of age. He soon realized life on the plains did not fit so well and enrolled himself in what he later referred to as, “the University of Wilderness”. Muir’s first visit to Yosemite was in 1868 and astonished by the landscape of the Sierras, he returned a year later to make permanent residence til 1874. He first found a job herding sheep then took up mill working, all the while studying nature’s interactions as well as the flora and fauna of the Sierras. In 1871, his first article was published by the New York Tribune about further studies he had conducted on glaciers. This was a ground-breaking time as he gained notoriety as a naturalist, constantly focusing his energy on the preservation of the land and natural landscape. Upon his return to Yosemite, Muir discovered the extensive damage of the delicate ecosystems due to livestock in the region. In 1889 Muir took Robert Underwood, editor of Century Magazine, to Tuolumne Meadows to witness the destruction himself. Johnson decided to publish an article to bring about public awareness based on their findings. In turn, this decision led to a conservation bill being pushed through to Congress. And in 1890, Yosemite was declared a National Park. Muir took up a duty and responsibility of what he saw as an issue. He made a decision and saved a stunning playground for generations to come.

I’ve stepped foot in many different regions of this country and gazed upon the lands in the North, South, East and West, yet few are comparable to Yosemite and it’s marvel. It may be a direct reflection of the climber within that entices me to Yosemite, but then again, I don’t believe there are that many [4 million] climbers entering the park every year. We all share our own unique relationship with nature. Our experience in the Valley was nothing short of amazing, Casey, our friend Justin and I chased as many peaks, big walls and summits as our bodies would allow. Entering into the final part of the week, Casey decided she wanted a few rest days and some time to sight see from the ground. One thing I love about being ‘high on the wall’, “no matter how many other’s are climbing – the viewpoints are never as crowded as below.” Nevertheless, they can be limiting at times. That intimate feeling with a new place can be lost high above without being close and personal. So we sent her with our best wishes and she went on her way. That evening, Casey came back with fantastic stories of her explorations in and around the Valley, as well as her hike in Mariposa Grove to see the giant Sequoias. But it wasn’t until the end of the week that I noticed the Valley vibe and the tension that had built up in her. The day’s that followed became ever-so eye opening until there was only one option – a blog post!

Justin left, headed back home for the Southeast, so Casey and I decided to spend some time exploring more of Yosemite than the walls. Tourists flocked in and flocked out; each person or family with his/her own agenda in mind. The gift shops, viewpoints, pizza deck, trailheads and cafeteria stampeded with herds of curious senses. A young girl fed caramel popcorn to a chipmunk until she could steal a pet down his back. An elderly couple awed at the grand stature of Half Dome from Glacier Point. A man sat in silence on the bank of Tenaya lake, listening for the faintest ripples on the surface. I’ve grown fond of sitting in silence, people watching. It first started during layovers, in airports with my Mom. The diversity of personalities, clothes, physical features and colors, stuns me. Just look at how many people walk this Earth, and just how unique each one is. Exposure to humanity and people outside of your community is a priceless opportunity. You’re educated about issues you didn’t even know existed. This was part of our Yosemite experience – moreover, part of our 4 month journey. And, RESPECT, besides being a fantastic song, is a quality that stands as a central focal point in a battle being fought in this world. Respect for one another, respect for nature and our environment, respect for ourselves and the many gifts and graces we have been so freely given on this Earth. There is so much to be grateful for! Why do some of us continue to abuse this gift?

Carelessness leads to naive, selfishness. Instead of focusing on preservation, we find ourselves surrounded with thoughtless, inconsiderate acts. Similar to that of what we observed in Yosemite and other protected lands. Carving initials and names on rocks, trees and buildings. Pitching your candy bar wrapper or the tiny sticker off an apple on the ground, leaving your used toilet paper at the base of a climb, killing vegetation and causing erosion by taking that shortcut on the trail. Simple acts of kindness forgotten; following posted instructions, holding the door open for others [young or old], please – thank you – excuse me, packing trash out of the backcountry. I may be referring to the minority but eventually these actions will affect the majority. And if we don’t do our part to ‘shine a light’ on actions we know as wrong, we rob the thousands to come that will set foot in that park, museum or trail – a once virgin, protected landscape, destroyed by the ignorant few. Muir’s vision for preservation set a standard. It meant ‘everyday people’ had to be aware of the issues these stunning, special places like Yosemite. This was the only way to protect them. Awareness was and is the key! It’s hard to blame the person that doesn’t know.. But we can and should blame the one that does and isn’t passing the message along.

Recently, I watched a video the Access Fund released called “The Pact”. Watch it at: http://vimeo.com/110185527 The Access Fund goes above and beyond for climbers and lovers of the Great Outdoors. Raising money, networking and building relationships to keep wild areas of beauty open or gain climbing access to new areas. Unfortunately and fortunately, they fight this same endless battle due to the carelessness of a few users. Just yesterday we were in Albuquerque, NM scouting some of the climbing potential. Rave reviews led us to a place called ‘The Enchanted Tower’. Upon reading about it and listening to the accounts, I realized access had become extremely complicated. Abuse of the land and rules led a ranch owner to closing his gates, the easiest entrance to the crag. He had enough! Can you blame someone after you’ve misused their generosity. The alternate route now sends you miles out of the way up 4×4 and high-clearance roads. Yes, one bad apple can ruin the bunch.

John Muir only lived in Yosemite for 5 years but his impact changed the Park and world forever. His name stretches from the visitor centers of Yosemite to the museums of the Grand Canyon. A local or a tourist? He could have been either, but one thing’s for sure he educated himself about the ways of nature and the land, became wise and had a vision. He protected the land we enjoy and brought a deep, profound respect for Mother Nature to Yosemite.

We must ask ourselves, tourist or local, am I going to respect the land? Am I going to do the ‘one next right thing’ so that future generations can enjoy this planet? Am I going to say what needs to be said when the time comes? Am I going to educate myself and others on preservation? Am I going to act with selfish desires or consideration for others? Am I going to commit to ‘the Pact’?

JH 12/7/14

Brave Explorations. Soulful Discoveries.

Tuolumne Meadows


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