Stories from the Field

WildLink June 2024: Monache High School

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Editor’s note: WildLink is a partnership between the National Park Service and NatureBridge with the goal of expanding access and opportunity in our public lands. We invite students from communities who have had historic and systemic barriers to accessing the outdoors to explore the Yosemite Wilderness and the career opportunities offered here. Through wilderness expeditions, volunteer stewardship projects, leadership trainings, family weekends, and career development opportunities, WildLink empowers young people to strengthen themselves and their communities. Learn more about WildLink here.

On a warm afternoon in June, a group of students and chaperones from Monache High School arrived at Yosemite National Park for their first ever WildLink expedition. As they drove through the Wawona Tunnel and saw the historic Tunnel View, students remarked on the vastness of nature, as none of them had ever seen Yosemite Valley before. The group drove into the valley to meet one of their NatureBridge leaders and went for a short walk to Lower Yosemite Falls. As they enjoyed the cooling spray of the rushing falls, excitement built for their time in Yosemite. 

They made their way to the Indian Cultural Museum to meet with Park Ranger Shelton Johnson. Ranger Johnson welcomed the students to Yosemite, shared his story and passion, and described the work he did for the park. Ranger Johnson revealed to the students that they owned Yosemite National Park—along with every other national park—by looking every student in the eye and saying, “You own Yosemite.” This revelation made the student’s hearts and minds blossom as they realized these lands are their heritage and inheritance. When Ranger Johnson asked the students how they felt knowing they owned every national park, a student replied “I feel rich!” As their time with Ranger Johnson came to an end, astonishment filled the air and as the group walked away the sound of his eagle bone flute danced in the air.

Ranger Shelton Johnson playing his eagle bone flute for the Monache High School WildLink group.

After their talk with Ranger Johnson, which a student described as “the most perfect introduction to Yosemite,” the group headed towards NatureBridge’s Crane Flat Campus for the night. At Crane Flat, the students enjoyed a delicious dinner before coming together around a fire and sharing their hopes and fears for the trip. 

Monday came and the students spent the day gearing up for their four day backpacking trip with NatureBridge educators Angelina and Andrés, learning about the gear they would carry and how best to pack it. Once everyone had everything the group needed for a safe and enjoyable four days out in Wilderness, they met with Wilderness Ranger Andrew to hear all about the rules and regulations of being in Wilderness. With everything set for the backpacking trip, the students spent the rest of the evening resting and playing an awesome hide-and-seek style game called “Camouflage” before heading off to bed.


I feel very at peace but also like I'm going crazy in a way; it's just so quiet here. It's so much more peaceful out here than it is in Porterville. There's a lot more to do and see.
Genesis, WildLink participant, Porterville High School

Tuesday finally arrived and the group loaded up and set out for the trailhead of McGurk Meadow off of Glacier Point road. As soon as they got there, everyone unloaded and with high spirits was ready to get on trial. It was a two mile hike through the amazing McGurk Meadow, habitat of Great Gray Owls—the largest owls in North America. Halfway down the trail, Wilderness Ranger Amelia and Wilderness Intern Ollie, who stayed with the group that night, joined us. Before long, camp was set up, lunch and dinner had happened, and a few rounds of the game “Hot Seat” had been played.

With a good amount of energy left in their tank, the group decided to go for a sunset hike to Dewey Point. At Dewey Point, the students were blown away when they saw the Yosemite Valley painted with the sunset’s orange and red rays. On the way back the forest was dark, as there was no moon and the stars lit up the sky. At a clearing, Ranger Amelia called out “Lights off, look up!” and they were all mesmerized by the abundance of stars in the sky. Maribela, a participant, remarked, “I had never seen so many stars. It was the first time I saw the Big Dipper. In a short period of time, I have crossed so many things off my bucket list!”

Monache High School WildLink group hiking through McGurk Meadow.

The next day, the group had a slow morning as they geared up for a restoration project maintaining the fire rings around the neighboring campsites with Ranger Amelia and Intern Ollie. The day was warm and the group worked hard collecting and scattering ash as well as removing and repositioning the large rocks used to make the fire rings. After the work was done and the fire rings looked much better, the group thanked Ameila and Ollie and cooled off in beautiful Bridalveil Creek. The rest of the evening was spent playing games like “Shark Island” and sharing riddles with each other. “Sure does!!”—is the answer to one of the many riddles that was shared and quickly became an inside joke in the group. Night came and was welcomed around a campfire as the group continued their game of “Hot Seat,” in which one person sits in the center in the “hot seat” and everyone asks them a question. A couple rounds of “Hot seat” passed and then off to bed they went.

On their last full day in Wilderness, the group embarked on a long day hike to Taft Point for one of the most spectacular views in the park. Along the way, they demonstrated a knack for mycology, pointing out lots of mushrooms and taking pictures of them for later identification. Lunch at Taft Point was followed by a watercolor painting session before the hike back. The hike back was warm, and students rushed to get back to Bridalveil Creek to cool off and rehydrate. After cooling off in the creek, a hefty dinner of rice and beams around a campfire sustained the group as they enjoyed their last night of the trip. More laughs were shared as they made their way through the last remaining people on the “Hot Seat” rotation. A closing session on sharing thoughts, feelings, and appreciation saw them off to bed.

The pitter patter of wildlife, the calm flow of the creek, the adventure of a lifetime is what I truly seek.
Simeon, WildLink participant, Monache High School
Monache High School participants Logan and Genesis admiring and photographing some fungi.
Monache High School participants Logan and Genesis admiring and photographing some fungi.

The last morning arrived, and some of the students remarked on how it had only been a week but it felt like months because they had changed so much. Camp was packed up and the group hiked back to the trailhead. After a quick gear shakedown and organizing, the group made their way to Glacier Point for their goodbye to Yosemite National Park and some ice cream. After a last journal entry and round of appreciation, a group hug was in order. The group made their way back home maybe a bit dirtier than they had arrived but feeling “refreshed, reset, and rebirthed.” 

The Monache High School group is a great example of what WildLink can unlock if students embrace the experience. It was amazing to witness, and I feel honored to have been a part of it. Everyone in this group is such an amazing young light, and I hope they continue to shine, knowing that places like Yosemite National Park and people like those with whom they shared this expedition will forever be there for them.

I will NEVER forget Yosemite because I KNOW its beauty and its nature will be a part of me FOREVER.
Logan, WildLink participant, Monache High School
Sharing the wonder of wild places
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