Field Study: The Impact of the American Dream in Yosemite

Students experience the lasting legacy of the American Dream, both positive and negative

This was the question the 11th grade crew set out to answer in their spring +Impact Experience Project, the Legacy of the American Dream. By studying the history of human populations and their impacts on the living landscape, students gained profound insight into the lasting legacy of the American Dream in all its positive and negative glory.

To dive into the legacy of the American Dream, students went on a field study to one of America’s most iconic landscapes: Yosemite National Park. There, they explored issues of power, people and nature, through a historical lens focused on the impacts of the American Dream on native populations, ecosystems and power – both in terms of energy and politics.

“Students examined the legacy of early adventurers by climbing the first pitch of the Nose of El Capitan.”
Students kicked off their Yosemite adventure in Tuolumne Meadows, where they heard from experts about the early settlers and adventures in the iconic park. They began to explore the American Dream’s lasting manifestations, both indigenous and contemporary, in the naming of natural phenomena from stars and mountains to lakes and trails.

Students then traveled to Hetch Hetchy Valley to submerse in the history of John Muir and the Hetch Hetchy Dam controversies over quenching the thirsts of San Francisco residents at the potential expense of the Hetch Hetchy wildland areas.

Next, students traveled to Yosemite Valley to examine the legacy of early adventurers by climbing the first pitch of the legendary Nose of El Capitan, exploring the Spider Caves and other iconic sites near Yosemite Falls. To round out the day, they summited Half Dome via the Vernal and Nevada waterfalls, with the expert help of Adventure Coordinator Jack Benter.

Students completed the Yosemite exploration in the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias, home of the first stage coach road through the park and over the Sierras.

Through studying the historical controversies surrounding the needs of a growing society and conservation of precious land, students left Yosemite National Park with a deep understanding of the positive and negative impacts the legacy of the American Dream has had on the nation’s land and people.