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Opinion

Adventurer finds beauty in national park

December 2, 2011

A chestnut beard, multi-red reflective aviators, a tan cowboy hat and a canister of bear spray hung on a strap from my neck and clung to my body as I jostled elbows among dozens of strangers along a black top path wide enough for several people. The path led to a waterfall deep inside Yosemite National Park. Month’s prior, I pointed at various shaded green sections, national park lands, off a road atlas. I set those greasy smudge marks as destinations for a grandiose 8,000-mile solo road trip. It is safe to say that the vague geographical location of middle California was my entire knowledge stock of this park. As I walked in the shade of the royal ancestors of the Sequoia, blotting out man’s imprint on this landscape, kids ran to and fro screaming he-said-she-said. On the bridge, a hefty river roared and sprayed off boulders, covered in a slimy moss, out of sight. To the north, the revolving clouds of mist it perpetually produces block the falls.

The hoards piled across the bridge to a chrome four-sided sink with a water fountain attachment, a comically sad image of people from the bay area who are so inept at carrying a water bottle that such conveniences are needed. Of course I took some water; I also ended up buying oil for my car at the big supermarket in the heart of the park. As I passed this shared spectacle, I came upon a crossroads with a trail marked “The John Muir Trail,” an arrow pointing to the east. “I wonder who he was,” I pondered to myself at the time as I kept on pace. The waterfalls enveloped the valley it had so painstakingly carved out with a veil of clear mist that reflected the rays of the noon sun in ever shifting rainbows.
The mist began to saturate my white t-shirt from half a mile away; I was able to strain a mouthful of water from the shirt by the top. The concrete walkway traded places with a path of narrow mason rocks. Little filed divots ushered little canals for the mist to meander down to the river whence it was spewed from. Strangers and I played hopscotch over these sandy pools of water, forgetting about our wet t-shirts.

The parallel path made a 90-degree angle back to the river under the shadow of a cliff covered in moss and ivy. An eroding, thin, metal, fenced-in pass provided guidance more than anything else to the long tabular rocks that molded into each other alongside the falls. The heavy roar of the falls diminished when I finally presided over its drop. The forest subjected its will directly in the middle of the river, cool- ing the already cool river its shade. Little brown squirrels with white chests played next to the raging river, unafraid as the elk in Yellowstone, as they played only a few feet from humans. There was a sign at the beginning of the trail that warned against feeding the squirrels. Untamed wilderness is like beating a child in chess.

Christopher Pagels is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.

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