A Necessary Experience

When my family was living in California we went on a lot of family trips on the weekends. Despite not really wanting to leave Colorado, I’m so happy that our family had the chance to live in California for the year that we did. I was able to see so much beauty and nature, though I will admit that I did not appreciate it at the time, being the angsty teen that I was.

Living in Monterey Bay there was much to do right at home. We went to numerous state parks, explored the city in which we lived, took full advantage of the aquarium, and spent a few weekends going up to San Francisco. There are, however, two experiences that really stand out to me as particularly memorable, the first was a visit to Año Nuevo State Park and the second to Yosemite National Park.

February 2003

Año Nuevo State Park was one visit that I remember very well. It was a foggy and gloomy sort of day, which honestly it seemed to be more often than not while living in coastal California. I, a nearly 13 year old, was dragged on a family trip to the park with family friends. Little did I know that we would be going on a guided hike to beaches covered in elephant seals. Some coastal areas of California are natural mating habitats for the giant and strange looking animals and we were privy to quite a wildlife show. It felt like we were in the middle of a National Geographic documentary with hundreds of elephant seals, some pupping and taking care of young, while others were fighting for a chance to mate. I was enthralled. I’ve always loved nature documentaries, specifically about wildlife (as evidenced by my knowledge of moose), and the experience that day is one I will never forget.

Ano Nuevo SP – Elephant Seal Tour

April 2003

During our time in California I also made my first trip to Yosemite National Park. My parents were part of a retreat in Yosemite so we made the trip as a family. I remember little from the trip except the moment when we did the short trail to Yosemite Falls in Yosemite Valley and we were able to scrabble around and find a rock to sit on as a family. The next day we went to a forested area, and I think even then I thought we were in a completely different place, it is only now as I compare photos that I realize that the giant trees we visited were in the Mariposa Grove in the southern part of Yosemite. We ran along the path and climbed onto trees that we most certainly shouldn’t have, there were even signs telling us not to climb (I’ve seen the pictures), but we were kids just having fun in a National Park.

My mother and I were walking behind a couple in Grand Teton National Park last year espousing the idea that taking children to National Parks might be wasted on them because they can’t fully appreciating the experience. I must admit, that I don’t remember many of my experiences in the National Parks as a child, but the opportunity to go to these places and play in the parks instilled in me a desire to visit those parks and others as I grew into adulthood. When I recently returned to Yosemite National Park and walked through the Mariposa Grove I was struck with a feeling of nostalgia and familiarity, I felt a great sense of peace while there. It wasn’t until I was looking at old family photos that I realized that we did visit the grove in 2003. I could see how the paths had changed into boardwalks and there were more barriers for the protection of the magnificent giants, but the grove of trees remained much the same on both of my visits. I am already excited to go back to Yosemite for a fourth time, I just have to plan the trip! – And next time I’ll be sure to explore and enjoy Yosemite for more than just a weekend.

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