As I left Colorado a mix of excitement and yet a bit of sadness swept over me. On the Colorado/Utah border was a sign that said, "Now Leaving Colorful Colorado," and I thought to myself, when will I be back to this state that I love; honestly, I do not know. I drove across the Utah desertscape admiring the barren mountains, and playing cat & mouse with 2 blue cars down I-70. Then I turned South and headed towards Bryce Canyon National Park, arriving around 2 PM. The scenery was beautiful, but it upon first look, I realized that this would be a quick stop as my main goal was to visit Zion National Park. A quick downpour freshened the area as I pulled into Zion. The set up is interesting as half of the park you can drive through, while the other half you must take shuttles to. I ended up hiking around 8 miles seeing as much as I could see before the sun set, and taking the last shuttle out of the park.
The drive from St. George to Yosemite was long, but cathartic as I drove through the lonely deserts of Nevada and California. There were times when there was not another soul on the road, which was liberating and unnerving at the same time. I thought about the thousands of people driving on the interstate, and wondered why no one took these back roads and small highways. There was so much beautiful scenery, that many will never see, perhaps it's a secret that those who live there want to keep. Do those who live there wish to escape, or to be seen, or are they there to stay hidden and live in their slow pace of life? I pondered these things as I drove the windy roads, one being like a 10 mile long rollercoaster that had steep inclines and declines, making your stomach turn if you drove it too fast. Some of it looked like a fairytale, some a nightmare, but is there really a difference between the two…
I arrived to the backside of Yosemite and took my time driving through, stopping to take in the beautiful vistas, north of the Yosemite Valley. As driving in, a quick glimpse of Half-Dome could be seen, which excited me for the day to come. Driving through Yosemite National Park a wave of loneliness swept over me. There was so much beauty around me, and I just wished there was someone to share that with on a more intimate level. Strange enough, one of my favorite artists came over the radio, Tim Barry. It was a song titled, Wait at Milano, and it opens with him singing, "Let that lonely feeling go, let that lonely feeling go, let that lonely feeling go for just today…" The song goes on and seems to be meant to help a friend who is going through a rough time in life. I started thinking about loneliness, what does it mean and why do we feel it? It seems to be one of the most powerful feelings we face in the human condition. Some would chalk it up to the biological aspect and the drive to reproduce, or some may point to the utilitarian aspect in the ways that we rely on others in order to survive and live our day to day lives.
My reservations for the first night were for Cedar Lodge, just outside the park, which I would later find out was the site of the serial killer Cary Stayner. The room was extravagant as it had a huge bed and a jacuzzi. But at dinner my mood would change. Sitting at the table next to me was a family, a woman, her three daughters, and a father wearing a "Don't Tread on me" hat. The hat immediately turned me off, but I chose to ignore it, but what couldn't be ignored was his loud ignorant statements, such as: "that's how they teach you these days… Andrew Jackson was a great president… Might equals Right… how do you think we got our country… people just need to quit being lazy and work…" on and on it went. At one point, I said out loud, so hopefully he could hear me, "that's some ignorant bullshit." I feel like he did hear me because he was a little more hushed after that. I wanted to say so much more, but chose not to. Part of me wanted to go tell his children, "you're father is a moron." Hopefully they realize that for themselves.
The next day I was in Yosemite. I couldn't check in to my tent until 4, so I decided to hike around. Interestingly enough, I found myself thinking the same things I thought of while driving through the desert as I found trails where I was all alone, but also find trails that like the interstate were jam packed. The sites and scenery of Yosemite is legendary, and I was in awe of the beauty I saw. I hiked a trail up to Mirror Lake, where nearly no one was on. But at times from the trail could see the main path that was packed with people. As walking around, I was amazed at how many people didn’t just come to Yosemite for it's sights but also purely for recreation, as families came up to swim, bike, and just relax. It felt different from most National Parks I had been to, as many it seems purely for hiking and seeing beautiful vistas.
I walked back to the main village to grab a bite to eat, and to get away from the crowd I went to the upstairs restaurant. I sat at the bar, but where I could see the rest of the room. Within minutes I heard a loud annoying voice of a man rudely asking where his food was. I looked up to realize that it was the same guy from the night before who was wearing the "Don't Tread on me" hat. The bartender politely told him that the kitchen was behind and it would take 30 minutes to make his family's pizza, he stormed off in a huff. The waitress turned and I could see the frustration on her face, so I assured her not to worry, I ran into the guy the night before and I know that he is an asshole. She laughed, and refilled my drink. He came up again and ordered an appetizer, paid cash, and walked off without tipping. We both looked at each other, rolled our eyes, then laughed again. I wondered if he got slow service everywhere he went because he was an asshole, if he didn’t tip most people, if he always felt so entitled to say and treat people however he wanted. I could tell he had never spent a day of his life in the service industry, it is often easy to tell those who have not, because those who are shitty to service industry folks almost always have not worked as a server or bartender. I left mildly amused, but also a little irritated.
I walked into the information center and looked at the exhibits. I was glad that they do spend a significant portion looking at the indigenous people of the area, but a bit annoyed at how glorified those who removed them were. It seems to be this sort of give and take all across America. We try to honor the achievements of those who have been killed and oppressed, but then glorify those who oppressed them. It is a strange and often times horrific duality we live with. It makes me wonder what it would look like if we actually cared about justice and equity in this country, and what it would be like if we actually told the truth about the genocide of Native Americans, the terrorism of African Americans, the exclusion of Asian Americans, on and on and on. Why do we distort these histories? Does it really make it easier for people to live without knowing about these atrocities? Like I have always said, your ignorant bliss is my educated hell… But I know if we could pull people out of ignorance, perhaps we could make people more conscious of their privileges, compassionate towards the pain of others, and willing to make a difference; though perhaps I am too idealistic, but I will continue to fight.
I wondered into a video highlighting the history of the park, and one of the things that I found that connected to my work was the fact that for a time it was protected by the military, before there were park rangers. Even more interesting was that for a time it was protected by 24th Infantry and 9th Cavalry, also known as the Buffalo Soldiers. I though about the idea of these soldiers defending this land from poachers and people grazing their sheep here, in order to protect this beautiful environment. This would seem to be one of the earliest intersections of soldiering and environmentalism, as well as an intersection of race. Framing it within my work we see a shift in the social contract to include the environment as a resource for generations to come. Furthermore, there has been a long history of environmentalism as being a very white movement, which was often built to exclude people of color, with many of it's founders holding very racist ideals and beliefs. But the Buffalo Soldiers who protected this land not for the white folks who wanted to spend their leisure time here, they protected it for the future of all, so that some day their decedents could come look at this beautiful space, even if the white racist environmentalists didn’t see them as equals.
I hiked a bit more before heading over to check in to my tent in Half-dome Village. As I was sitting down resting my feet, an older gentlemen sat next to me and sparked up a conversation. He was a photographer and he clued me into a great place to take pictures at sunset. At first I went to the wrong place, but upon my drive back I saw the turnoff he told me about and I made just in time to watch a beautiful sunset.
While up there, a nice couple said hi because they had recognized me from around the park throughout the day. Their niceness, as well as the old man I was talking with earlier softened my annoyance with otherpark visitors, as not all are like the entitled dickhead I had ran into twice before. The day closed, I was tired, I had a whiskey ginger at the bar and headed off to bed.
The next day I went up to Glacier Point, which overlooks the whole valley. It was busy, but I got there just before they closed the road and made people take shuttles up. It was an amazing view, but because of the miles I had hiked the day before my mobility was severely hindered. While I was in pain, it was worth it, since I got this beautiful shot!
I then headed to Placerville, CA to spend time with my father's side of the family, who I knew the least growing up. It was great getting to know them, and I look forward to staying connected with them! I then headed to Oakland to hangout with a dear friend from grad school, but that is blog for another day, since this one is already getting long, and that one could be an opportunity that could eventually shift my professional outlook for many years to come! But more on that later…