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Yosemite awakens the intellect

| Heidi Giacalone

As I reached the top of Nevada Falls, it would have been easy for exhaustion to set in. My legs were burning, my lungs gasping for air, and my rain-soaked clothes were finally starting to dry. But the bursting energy of the amazing students surrounding me overtook instead. Not only did we all accomplish something individually, but we accomplished something together. We enjoyed our victories by taking in the view of the thunder clouds passing across the valley silhouetted by the indescribable beauty of the granite cliffs and towering trees. The magic of moments like these is that they will live on in the memory of Blugolds who took this journey together.

Before embarking on this UW-Eau Claire immersion trip, students from computer science, education, geography and English anticipated what they would learn about Yosemite Valley and its surroundings based on their classroom preparation and itinerary. They would start in the Los Angeles area at the La Brea Tar Pits to better understand this sacred landscape of American history through various perspectives from local communities. Then they would head over to Yosemite National Park to live, interact and work with one another to better understand the sacred landscape of Yosemite Valley. Throughout the process they would be expected to document their experiences through a mix of mediums: field notebook, reflection journals, photos, sketches and more.

Because this was the fourth time I was going along to visually document an immersion experience like this, I had the liberty of knowing that once they were finished with this trip they would be able to see the lessons beyond the classroom and the itinerary. My past trips taught me that since every person enters an immersion trip from a different place in their personal or academic lives, the lessons learned can take different shapes and forms. And the more experiences and people you meet along the way, the more you are aware of the surrounding world and are able to critically observe it.

And although I’ve been on immersion experiences before, by the end of this trip, I found myself amazed yet again — not only by the enthusiasm of the students but by their noticeable growth and thirst for their next big lesson.

Here is a sample of the variety of lessons the Blugolds learned:

  • The earth would be better taken care of if everyone was required to visit Yosemite National Park.
  • Los Angeles and Yosemite are so different. How are they in the same state?
  • Best trip of my life ... so far.
  • Life is made simple when you’re on top of a waterfall.
  • Nature is more powerful than we like to believe.
  • It is HOT.
  • Now it is cold.
  • Okay, now it is raining.
  • Wait, now the sun is out?
  • My feet are throbbing.
  • I literally can feel my pulse going through my feet.
  • My shoes are gonna reek.
  • Nothing beats traveling with students. The city and the wilderness are the best classrooms!
  • In order to preserve nature, you need scientists. You need to able to prove with logic and reason to those you are trying to convince that the wild is worth preserving. However, it is often not enough to connect only with the minds of people. In order to truly preserve a wild space, you need to connect with hearts and that’s where the arts come in.
  • It’s hard to describe or show someone a place like this. Photos can spark interest, but it’s really not comparable to being surrounded on all sides by the granite of Yosemite’s waterfalls and wildlife.
Yosemite Valley

Blugold Isabella Meyer looks out on the Yosemite Valley.

See a collection of photos from the Yosemite Immersion experience below.

View the photos