I’ve always thought of California’s national parks, and mountain recreation areas as natural wonders and places of beauty to be appreciated and enjoyed. I’ve never really viewed them as particularly dangerous, but in recent weeks I’ve had to change my mind.
Visitors to these places have been dying at an alarming rate so far this year. Most die from hiking accidents, falls and drowning. And during the winter months there were a number of ski and snowboarding fatalities. So far this year alone fourteen people have died in Yosemite National Park more than twice the yearly average. Of course a heavy snow pack and runoff have added to the danger this season, making the waterways that run through the park even more treacherous. In many areas, pools that in past years visitors have used for swimming or wading are more dangerous than they appear, with deeper waters and faster moving currents.
You would think that after the first few tragic deaths visitors would exercise extreme caution when visiting Yosemite especially when hiking or when in close proximity to waterfalls and rivers. But that simply hasn’t been the case and there are sure to be more deaths before the summer ends.
Okay, what’s it going to take to make people realize how dangerous our national parks can be? What’s it going to take to educate them? Let’s face it, some visitors are expert hikers, climbers or outdoors people,who regular take part in this sort of activity, but they are in the minority. Most of the visitors are on their once a year vacation and are not experienced at all! Their idea of taking a hike is their daily trek to the mailbox and a long hike is pushing a cart around Walmart or Costco. These are the people who looking for that incredible Kodak moment stand within inches of the cliff, or waterfall. never thinking for a moment that they are risking their lives or the lives of their loved ones until that Kodak moment turns to disaster.
Many visitors are clearly underestimating the risks of their seemingly routine outdoor activities.? It’s as if they’ve simply lost respect for the power of nature. They seem to have forgotten that nature can sometimes hurt people. There are perils and dangers even in the most innocent of situations. A trail near a waterfall may look easy at first glance but you don’t see the danger that may lie just around the bend, or a mountain stream may look peaceful and inviting but you have know idea what may be going on below the surface. The current or temperature of the water may take you by surprise and you don’t know how you or one of your children may react. Something simple one moment can become extremely dangerous in a hurry depending on the weather, your physical ability or other unforeseen circumstance. In these surroundings a miss-step or a stumble can be fatal.
One of the fatalities this year, a 17-year-old boy was descending the 670 steep, narrow and often wet and sandy steps on the Mist Trail with his family and friends after visiting Vernal Fall. His group paused for photos but he continued down lost his footing, rolled downhill six or seven steps and struck his head. He later died at a nearby hospital.
Unbelievably that same day, even knowing that someone had been seriously injured earlier, visitors took unnecessary risks as they traveled the steep steps. Hiker, some barefoot, some wearing flip-flops, young mothers wearing sandals carrying young infants up the slick steps in shoulder slings or backpacks, all carelessly taking their lives in their hands, shortly after the fatal fall. Simply crazy!
We are not invincible people! We break and die pretty easily! So we don’t need to put ourselves in precarious situations. We should know that. But apparently some of us are just plain stupid! Be prepared. In most cases you didn’t go to the park on a whim. You planned your trip in advance, so be prepared! Most importantly, don’t take unnecessary risk. Take precautions, exercise safety and sound judgement. Those photos will look just as good with you standing five or six feet from the edge of the cliff with the falls in the background, as they would with you standing mere inches from the edge! Vacation smart. Enjoy yourselves and take in God’s natural beauty but do it smart. Go out and make memories, don’t become on….