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Year in Yosemite Redux - Explore

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Sierra Daily

09/29/2011

Year in Yosemite Redux

Grand Tetons
Grand Teton National Park.

This is the start of our third year of living inside Yosemite National Park. I'm happy here but, truth be told, it's not my favorite national park. I haven't had the good fortune to visit them all, but of the many I've seen, the one that calls me back again and again is Zion. Like a pilgrim to Mecca, I make it a point to visit there yearly. I never tire of its grandeur. But I make no apologies for my wayward affections. The National Park Service rangers we live among taught me that.

These are people who have decided to devote their lives to the national parks. It sounds romantic, but it comes at no small cost. Not only is the pay ridiculously low, but getting a permanent job in a national park takes all but an act of Congress. And so rangers move around ... a lot. At first (hopefully when they are young and without families), they take any seasonal work that comes their way, no matter where it is. After living out of a suitcase and changing jobs and locations every six months (sometimes for years), with luck they'll be offered a full-time position. It may not be at the park of their choice, but so few are the opportunities for permanent status (as it's called), that people grab it anyway. So you might work in Yosemite or the Everglades or Big Bend or the Black Hills, but it may not be where you really want to be. Perhaps it's the parks of the Olympic peninsula that touch your soul or the volcanoes of Hawaii's Big Island or even an historic park in a city center. But rangers go where the jobs are and they’ll stay until an opportunity for moving up sends them on to their next posting. That’s kind of how I am with Yosemite. I recognize that I'm unbelievably lucky to be able to call it home and yet (don’t hate me Yosemite lovers) I've always felt it wouldn’t make my personal list of top five parks ... until this summer.

In July we took a road trip, visiting four other national parks along the way. Suddenly I found myself behaving like a mother on her child’s first day of kindergarten. Standing in awe before the magnificent beauty of Yellowstone, with its shooting geysers, buffalo herds, wildflower-covered wilderness, and massive waterfalls, I was like the parent who looks around the classroom wondering, “Will my child be able to make the grade? Does she have what it takes?” At one point I actually asked my husband, “Can Yosemite hold a candle to this?”

Hills of Yellowstone
Yellowstone.

My anxiety deepened as we traveled down to Grand Teton National Park. Magnificent seems a paltry word to describe the Tetons’ meeting of land and water. Newly carved (in geological time), like a precocious child, the youngest mountains in the Rockies demand that you give them your full attention. Add to their beauty the sun shimmering on Lake Jackson, the elk-filled willow flats, the moose grazing on the shore as bald eagles fly overhead and the only thing left to say is “OMG!” 

A Moose at Grand Teton
A moose in Grand Teton.

Now I know that countless millions of people have stood at the lookout at Yosemite’s Tunnel View and cried “OMG!” In truth, what other reaction could you have? But as we traveled on to my beloved Zion and then cut across Death Valley to get home, I still wondered, and even worried, if Yosemite would be able to make the grade.

I had my answer when we drove over Tioga Pass, passed by Tuolumne Meadows, skirted the edge of Tenaya Lake, and dropped down into Yosemite Valley. I was giddy with delight. No revelation to anyone else -- but a major breakthrough for me -- with its soaring granite towers and gushing waterfalls, Yosemite seemed the very epitome of nature’s power. Not only did we hold our own, we triumphed. Of course, this could only mean one thing. Some how, some way, without my even realizing it, I had fallen deeply in love with where we live.

Zion
Zion National Park.

Yosemite had moved to the top of my list (okay, maybe still behind Zion) -- but way up there. My mother always says that the bond between a parent and child is not about genes but about time put in. If that’s the case, as we start our third year here I realize how deeply I feel connected to this place. Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Zion, and Death Valley cast a splendor all their own. But this is truly home.

Yosemite by Jon Jay
Yosemite.

(Top photo of Grand Teton by Karis Simons. All other photos by 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." Jamie and her family have since lived in the park. Check out all of her blog articles by clicking here.

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