Rush Hour in Yosemite: the American Wilderness Experience

Yosemite National Park is an enduring symbol of the American “wilderness“, a textbook example of how National Parks protect Nature by holding at bay the rising tide of humanity’s demands on natural resources. National Parks are instead meant to be a different medium for us to experience and enjoy those natural resources – as aesthetic ones to be protected for posterity. If you’ve ever been to such a place as Yosemite armed with a camera, go back and look at your images (as I just did) and ponder how much you edit your own experience of this wilderness! How do you frame your pictures, when you attempt to capture the beauty of nature and wildlife? Do you include our fellow tourists, our conspecifics (not counting the obligatory family vacation shots), as part of that nature? If not (and I don’t often enough), why not? Do you find yourself wishing there just weren’t so darn many people out there, tramping through this wilderness, and spoiling your own serene immersion into it? Ignoring the rather inconvenient factoid that you are also but one among that teeming mass of humanity that wants this experience for its collective soul! But isn’t that what a National Park in a democracy is meant to be: a way to share the experience with everybody, rather than an elite few? How then do we accomplish that sharing without destroying that which is being shared, the very wilderness we all want to experience?

What would you get if you pointed your camera the other way – at the c.3.5 million people who visit Yosemite every year? Steven Bumgardner, a videographer for the National Park Service has done just that to produce this remarkable time-lapse video of people in Yosemite one July (which is effectively the rush month for that park):

People in Yosemite: A TimeLapse Study from Steven M. Bumgardner on Vimeo.

Yosemite is bigger than Rhode Island at almost 800,000 acres, but it receives about 3.5 million visitors each year, and most of them spend time in Yosemite Valley. This project was shot back in 2005 after purchasing a Sony Z1U. This was my first HD project (ok, fine, HDV) and I spent about a week in Yosemite during the busy month of July. The footage was all shot in real time, and then sped up in post.

I chose busy places during busy days to show the effects of this mass of humanity. I could have just as easily pointed my camera in another direction and shown nothing but plants, animals and wilderness. Yosemite is popular, but it’s also still a relatively wild place.

I’ve lived and worked in National Parks for almost 20 years, and as much as I love landscape photography, I also like looking at the human footprint and the human experience in our national parks. Some of this footage helped me get my current job in 2006, as a videoographer for the National Park Service and the photographer/editor/producer of the web video series “Yosemite Nature Notes”

The music is from Peter Gabriel’s “Passion” (a.k.a. the soundtrack from Martin Scorcese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ”)

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