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Year in Yosemite: Love Story


This past summer my family and I left our home in Yosemite National Park to take a 3000-mile round trip to Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Zion and Death Valley National Parks. Here's what I learned: Ignore the TV. Turn off the radio, the iPad and the cell phone. Don't read magazine or newspaper articles. Ignore the constant drumbeat of doom and gloom, the drone of best-guess pundits, the stifling undercurrent of fear that seems to consume America these days. Instead, get in the car, (preferably a hybrid) and start driving. In our case, we headed northeast to the huge open swathes of land that make up northern Nevada, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. I'm not convinced it matters where you go. What seems to matter is really seeing our country and our people, because when I did, I found myself falling deeply in love with America.

For starters, Americans are nice. Really nice. From the Hell's Angel biker who ran out of a restaurant in Cody, Wyoming to return my sweater to the junior high school counselor from San Diego who was waiting tables at Yellowstone's Pahaska Tepee, Americans go out of their way to be helpful. We like good stories. We like to share. When a need arises, we watch out for one another. When not whipped into a negative frenzy, we're funny and kind.


Maybe it's the West. Maybe it's the great, rolling splendor of the land, but to me, America looked vibrant and healthy -- a country rich with resources. And I'm not just talking about the national parks. Right outside of Elko, Nevada -- which will never make anyone's bucket list of places they have to see before they die -- the sky turned black with thunder clouds, lightning filled the air and a double rainbow grew before us, stretching from the earth to the sky. Maybe someone should rethink that list -- even Elko is capable of offering moments of startling beauty.


My very first trip around the West was thirty years ago with a friend from Germany. While anyone who's ever been to Europe knows it's hard to compete with the charm of its villages, towns and cities, she was wide-eyed at the beauty of America's “wilderness.” She couldn't believe there could be so much land filled, not with the 60 million buffalo America’s native peoples knew, but with enough bison and grizzlies and pronghorn to still make her slack-jawed with envy. Traveling with her, I came to understand something the rest of the world seems to get instinctively -- Yellowstone is our Eiffel Tower, Zion is our Chartres Cathedral, Yosemite is our Tower of London. But better. Being part of nature, they reach out and touch some primordial piece of us. They become emblazoned in our memories.


We took this trip because when my husband was 12, he and his mother and father got in a car (definitely not a hybrid), and drove from Philadelphia through the Black Hills to Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks. Now that our daughter is just about that age, he wanted to share these places with her. More than fifty years after he first made the journey, America did not disappoint. And while Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, Zion and the other magnificent national parks are one of America’s better ideas; to me, it’s Americans -- with our kindness, our humor and, at our best, a reverence for the land -- that makes us great.

(Photos credit: Jon Jay.)

-- Jamie Simons

In May 2009, while hiking in Yosemite National Park, long-time Los Angeles resident Jamie Simons turned to her husband and said, "I want to live here." Today she and her family have made the move to live for one year in Wawona, where her daughter attends the one-room schoolhouse, Jamie writes, and her husband longs for noise, fast food, people, and the city. (Though he's learning to appreciate mountain life.)

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