I've camped more than 100 nights in Yosemite National Park with my wife and daughters. We've jumped off of the El Cap bridge together. Rafted and fished in the Merced River. Bouldered in Camp Curry.
When I picture Yosemite, I think of the mother brown bear and her two cubs who foraged for pinion pine nuts next to our tent in Crane Flats. I picture the cougar that walked up to our boulder at Swan Slabs and leapt 8 feet vertically -- without a running start. I think of Yosemite and Bridalveil Falls, Vernal and Nevada as well. Or the time I was 800 feet up Middle Cathedral on that bright orange granite, and a falcon dove just below the ledge I was standing on.
If I close my eyes, I can see my daughters, 7 and 4, holding hands as they tromp under the oak trees in Camp 4 on the way to the Thriller Boulder. Those are just a few of the hundreds of little things I remember about our vacation destination.
But last week, as I camped in Yosemite yet again, I started to notice the knickknacks. Not that I hadn't seen them before, but I really paid attention this time. The faux-Swiss Army knives that say "John - Yosemite NP" on the cheap-wooden handles. The T-shirts that read "Half Dome - Yosemite National Park" or "I was almost eaten by a bear in Yosemite NP." "The Yosemite Icons" metal water bottle. The "Yosemite Images" deck of cards. Yosemite mugs. Yosemite license plates. Towels. Backpacks. Scarves. Flatware. China. Hats. Cups. Flip-flops. Keychains and stuffed animals. All exorbitantly priced.
Edward Abbey called national monuments and national parks "National Moneymints," and he was correct. Entrance fees and knickknacks are big, big money.
I was on the pizza deck at Curry on Friday evening, just looking around, and I started to wonder: Did that kid next to me have a better vacation because he and his sister had matching maroon Yosemite T-shirts? Did that man behind me remember more about his visit to the park because his towel was emblazoned with an image of Half Dome? Did the girl with the Yosemite's Lucky Rabbit's Foot Necklace really have a luckier time in the valley? I guess I was asking whether or not the knick knacks did anything for the purchasers.
Maybe I'm asking the wrong questions. Maybe I should be asking why more people aren't visiting national parks or why more people aren't going outside in general.
But I wonder why so many people in Yosemite (or any other National Park or Monument) spend hours INSIDE, waiting in long lines to buy expensive knickknacks with images of the natural features that are right OUTSIDE. And what are those knickknacks really worth? Do they advance the experience in any way? Do they give the purchaser a more profound outdoor experience?
But I could be on the wrong track. In fact, I'm often wrong. I'm too opinionated. I get fixated on a single idea. So I might be wrong here, but I'm going to say it anyway: "Please don't wait in line. Please don't spend all that money. Please don't buy that souvenir."
Please go outside. Stay outside. Get off of the trail and look around.