Personal Story

Finding My Park and Finding Happiness by Tiffany Tharpe

Yosemite 2016
Taken in March 2016, Yosemite Falls in the Background

I’m not quite sure what ultimately led to my decision to visit Yosemite National Park in the summer of 2015. I had spent most of the year hiking in and around Los Angeles, working towards a personal goal of accomplishing 50 hikes that year, and decided to go a further distance than what I was used to. Why Yosemite? I wasn’t sure. I’d never been to a National Park before, and Joshua Tree, Channel Islands, Sequoia and Kings Canyon NP were all technically “closer” so I don’t recall why my sights were set on that enchanting valley. My friends and I stayed right outside the park and, me being me, I already had most of our hikes planned. We hiked all four days, but it was the second and third days that would ultimately change my life forever, and for the better.

The second day in Yosemite was mostly us exploring the valley and taking those Instragram-worthy photos; sticking our feet into the freezing cold water pouring from Yosemite Falls, scrambling up rocks from the almost dry Bridalveil Falls, and checking out the Yosemite Visitor Center. It was in that area that we ran into Shelton Johnson, a park ranger.

I read about him before, but didn’t expect us to actually meet him face-to-face. I was beyond excited. He expressed his excitement to see us too, and we got into a discussion about the lack of diversity in National Parks and how he was working to change that. During my visit and while hiking in and around LA (with the exception of Runyon Canyon and Griffith Park), I too noticed a lack of people who looked like me, but never really did anything about it. I continued to hike, but felt weird at times because I felt like I “stood out” or was “out of place.” This conversation I had with Shelton Johnson would stick with me and ultimately spark the creation of Black Girls Trekkin.

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Taken in June 2015, near Yosemite Visitor Center with Park Ranger Shelton Johnson

The third day in Yosemite was the day we were set to hike the Mist Trail. Now, initially we were going to just go to the top of Vernal Falls and turn back, because I was still new at hiking and the Mist Trail was marked as “strenuous” everywhere I looked. They weren’t joking. The incline up to the footbridge of Vernal Falls and then those stairs leading up to the top of Vernal Falls were brutal on my newbie hiking legs, but something wanted me to keep going. I felt that I could make it up to the top of Nevada Falls. It was tough, and my friends and I stopped multiple times, even wanted to turn tail and head back, but we kept forward. I continued to cheer everyone on until we rounded that last brutal switchback and saw the top of Nevada Falls right in front of us. I actually broke out into a run and we all cheered and hung out up there for a pretty long time just taking in the gorgeous views of the valley, Half Dome in the near distance, the Merced River, and the overall beauty of it all. I was awestruck.

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Taken in June 2015, victory poses at the Top of Nevada Falls

That initial visit to Yosemite would prompt me not only to continue hiking, but to pay homage to the park I had fallen in love with when I could. I went back for a visit in 2016, 2017, and now have a trip planned for summer of this year as well. Each visit has brought new experiences and new challenges. There’s just something about that place that made me feel at peace, and something about being outdoors that just brings me joy. The love I’ve developed for the outdoors just makes me want to preserve and protect it, and that’s one of the other reasons I started Black Girls Trekkin. I wanted to create a platform for people like me to show solidarity and show that we ARE outdoors, to show that they’re not alone and that we’re out here enjoying and protecting this wonderful planet we call Earth.

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Taken in June 2017, around lower Yosemite Falls trail

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