Our third annual Parks in Focus immersion program to Yosemite National Park was chock full of constant laughs, hearty challenges and hands-on learning experiences. We kicked off the week in the Yellow Pines Campground with Leave No Trace skits and proceeded with our first photo hike around Bridalveil Falls. After practicing the rule of thirds and filling the frame, we returned to camp for dinner, before concluding the evening with stunning views of El Capitan under the stars.
On the second day, we explored Cook’s Meadow with professional photographer Christine Loberg of the Ansel Adams Gallery who taught us about framing, lighting and the legacy of Ansel Adams. Later that day we set off on our challenge hike: half of the steep Four Mile Trail. After we reached our vista, looking back in the valley toward the backside of El Capitan, we descended and returned to camp for some much-needed reflection time. After dinner, we traveled to Glacier Point to watch the sunset colors on Half Dome.
The third day brought a change of scenery as we packed up and moved to the Wawona Campground. On the way, we visited McGurk Meadow and practiced macro photography with the meadow’s many intriguing wildflowers and insects. Although we spent more time than expected in the meadow, we eventually got to Wawona, set up camp, made dinner and had our first campfire, complete with s’mores and group reflection.
On the fourth and final full day of the trip, we met up with our partners – rangers and interns with the Yosemite National Park education branch and the members of the Yosemite Conservancy – and a reporter from the San Jose Mercury News. We pulled hundreds of invasive plants in the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias while learning from park biologists about the area’s ecology. A competition quickly ensued and before we knew it, everyone had something to say for the cameras and notebooks that were documenting how many plants we’d pulled or what the entire week meant to us. On the way back to swim and relax at the campsite, we stopped by the library in Wawona where participants’ photos from last year’s trip were on display.
On the last morning, we took down camp and shared written notes with each other called ‘warm and fuzzies.’ Each person had a bag and in that bag everyone else put a note that said something nice about the bag’s owner. Then, we loaded the cars and drove to the Yosemite Pioneer History Center for a Junior Ranger ceremony, where each participant received their Junior Ranger badge and a certificate honoring their experiences from the week. The ceremony was the perfect finish for an excellent week.
Huge thanks to Yosemite National Park and the Yosemite Conservancy for making this summer’s program possible.