I’d been under the impression that I would find Sequoia National Park in California to be empty and quiet, void of a lot of people. For some reason, I just assumed everyone migrated north to the more famous sister, Yosemite National Park.
So I was surprised that we had to work on claiming our spot in the long line of people climbing up Moro Rock, a gigantic structure placed in the perfect position for a sweeping view of the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains. The steps leading up to Moro Rock are part of the National Historic Registry, and while it had the potential to be a treacherous and challenging climb like the one we did on Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, it was fairly tame.
Sequoia National Park battles a horrendous amount of air pollution coming out of the San Joaquin Valley, and the views from the top of Moro Rock should be spectacular, but I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed. With little room to maneuver atop the monolith among the crowds of people smiling for the camera, I took a few minutes to stare into the hazy distance then stepped back for a group of loud, camera-toting, flip-flop-wearing tourists to take my place.
We snagged a shaded space under an overhanging rock on top of Moro Rock for a lunch of PB&J and cherries before starting our climb back down the stairs. We talked about the great debate I’ve always had about the National Park Service and the problem with national parks. I think it’s infinitely important for people to experience and understand the natural wilderness in the United States, and the national parks make this possible, but as a result they are overrun by people, cars and commerce. The Giant Forest Museum, which is located in this area of the park, was once the site of a mini-Sequoia city. In the 1950s, there were gas stations, hotels, cabins and restaurants. Soon after, they began to realize that in their attempts to provide amenities to the people visiting the park, they were actually destroying the delicate ecosystem that made it the unique space it is. Since then, all of these buildings have been removed, and all that exists on the ground now is the small museum, which educates visitors about the environmental system within which the giant sequoias live.
My dad suggests that we have to make mistakes to learn what is right. I suppose there is a possibility that we do things today that make sense to us now, but some time in the future we’ll learn that it wasn’t a smart decision to let people walk on the salt beds in Death Valley or hike up the Virgin River in Zion.
We finished our sandwiches, still uncertain about what the “right” answer is to the National Park problem. When we reached the bottom, I passed a German women smoking a cigarette. She wore a pair of high heels and a short dress. She lifted her arms in decision, the cigarette smoke drawing a line in the air, then she took off up the nearly 400 stairs to the top of Moro Rock.