Finding My Footing

By: Sonya Carrizales

The past two weeks in Yellowstone have been magical and sobering all at once. As I’ve been getting used to the ebb and flow of my work schedule, I’ve established a daily routine for myself: I wake up to sounds of birds chirping or Elk munching on grass outside my window. I make my morning tea and start my workday remotely by reading a chapter or two from one of the many books on women’s history I’m borrowing from the library. Sometimes, I choose to sit outside on my porch to read in the morning sun. Later in the morning, I will drive to my office at the Heritage and Research Center with the windows rolled down to feel the cool mountain wind brush against my face. Once I’m at the Heritage and Research Center, I usually occupy a corner desk in the library to start my main tasks of research, writing/editing blog posts, or digitizing pamphlets, diaries, and other records for my research guide. After 5:00 pm, I drive back up the mountain to my house in Mammoth during golden hour, as long shadows cast over rolling hills and protruding cliffs. I spend my evenings sitting on my porch, enjoying the view of Elk on mountain sides. I will sometimes bring out my ukulele or guitar to play songs while basking in the dwindling sunlight. 

Windows right outside the Heritage and Research Center Library entrance

A picture of my workstation. A sample of books I have read or am currently reading are displayed on the right. An online finding aid for the Archives is open on my government laptop

In the third week of my internship, I started learning more about Women’s history in the park. I read Women in Wonderland: Lives, Legends and Legacies of Yellowstone National Park by Elizabeth A. Watry to get a better understanding of the different ways women have contributed to Yellowstone’s legacy. I relived the harrowing stories of women like Marguerite Lindsley Arnold, one of the first female Park Rangers officially employed by the National Park Service, and Beulah Brown Sanborn, a teacher who worked her way up from a “potato peeler” to becoming an executive manager of multiple hotel complexes. While reading these stories of women who came to Yellowstone from all different walks of life to explore, share, and shape the vast landscapes of the park, I felt inspired by each woman’s dedication to serve Yellowstone and all its visitors. 

During my fourth week on-site, I felt the harsh realities of the outside world start to dampen my spirits. Last Tuesday, a major fire broke out in the heart of Gardiner around 5:00 pm. As I was getting off work, I could see thick, black smoke rising into the air as chaos ensued. My heart sank when I heard news of the Two Bit Saloon, Rosie’s Bistro, and other local businesses being burnt to the ground. Given the fact that I originally lived across the street from where the fire started in Gardiner, I felt incredibly lucky that I had moved to Mammoth merely a couple weeks before the fire broke out. I was worried for my old roommates and other National Park Service workers who had to  evacuate their buildings immediately. Luckily, the original house I lived in, along with another NPS housing unit on the opposite side of Main street came out of the fire unscathed. Other local store employees were not so lucky. The fire regrettably engulfed apartments and all their belongings in flames. While the fire miraculously didn’t injure anyone, the buildings lost and livelihoods ruined were devastating to say the least. 

Image of Yellowstone Perk, a cafe/pharmacy/ice cream parlor I used to frequent, after Tuesday’s fire

On my way home that night, I noticed and appreciated the vibrant colors of golden-brown cliffs, sapphire rivers, and deep green vegetation surrounding me. A herd of over thirty Elk congregated on Upper Mammoth lawns, which led to wide-eyed tourists pointing in awe at Elk from their car windows and taking pictures of the herd. It felt so strange to see people smiling from ear to ear, having the time of their lives in Wonderland while knowing a disaster was causing pain and suffering five miles away in Gardiner, right beyond the gates of Yellowstone. The troubling scenario felt like a metaphor for how I’ve compared my own experiences to the global events of 2020. While the world has been figuratively “burning down” around me due to COVID-19, economic depression, soaring unemployment rates, and peaceful protests for racial justice turning violent, I am here in my own utopia, living in Wonderland, getting paid to do work I’m passionate about, and enjoying the view of sunsets from my porch. Words cannot describe how grateful I feel to be here in-person for this internship given how much pain and suffering the majority of people in the world are going through right now. Because of this dichotomy between my personal gains in 2020 and the widespread pain 2020 has caused others, the feeling of guilt fills my stomach when I spot particles of smoke rising from beyond the gates, creeping into my Wonderland.

Image of Tuesday’s fire from afar. Note the juxtaposition of a rainbow shining through dark smoke.

Skip to content