Revisiting and Revising Actors and Processes in the Waterfall Experience

Over the course of this past week, I’ve been revising my concept map of the waterfall experience, conducting further research for my broader implications, and conceptualizing the format of my alternative outcome. A concept map (or c-map) is a visual tool that can be used to illustrate the core elements of an issue or situation through branches of actors and networks. As my project has evolved, so has my c-map. My initial c-map comprised of broader terms with less structure – I utilized it as a way to lay out key components of my research and organize my ideas. Limitations on accessibility from the Eagle Creek Fire was a much more prominent theme back then as it confined visitors to limited areas and increased crowding in those places. Now that trails beyond Multnomah Falls are open, the fire remains an important actor at this location with regards to its negative effect on scenic beauty. However, it now impacts accessibility to a lesser extent. See my revised c-map below.

waterfall c-map

Upon finishing data collection for my survey – I got a much clearer sense of what actors and processes are essential to the experiences people seek at waterfalls in comparison to what they actually experience. My new c-map is organized as more of a timeline- with pre-conceived notions of experience at the top and actors that impacted a visitor’s actual experience towards the bottom. Photography bookends this c-map as many noted how their expectations were formed by pictures seen on various platforms such as instagram and google images. A number of visitors also mentioned how textual representations on tourism websites like Trip Advisor, aural descriptions from people they’ve spoken with, and prior visits shaped their expectations for their time at the waterfalls. I added the frameworks of sublimity and the picturesque to this c-map as they are key conceptual actors that overshadow most elements of the waterfall experience.

Another major actor that emerged upon completion of my survey is seasonal transience. Aesthetic changes stemming from seasonal transience impact what characteristics of the landscape visitors find most notable. The change in seasons from fall to winter influenced the subjects of people’s photos, waterfall discharge, perceptions of scenic beauty, crowding, and accessibility. In the fall, visitors photographed autumn leaves almost as often as the waterfalls themselves. Once winter arrived, waterfalls became the focus of photography. This is most likely due to increased waterfall discharge and fire damage making the surroundings less appealing to photograph. Both locations experienced more crowding in the fall due to more favorable weather conditions. However, visitors were generally less satisfied with the waterfalls in the fall as their flow was lower. The presence of autumn colors made up for disappointment regarding low flow – many visitors described them as a highlight of their experience. In both seasons, photos preserved the visitor’s “desired experience” as they captured the scenic or sentimental highlights of their waterfall experience.

With regards to broader implications, I’ve been researching tensions between romanticized expectations of a “wilderness” experience and the real impacts of accessibility on scenic quality. Such an issue is prominent in Yosemite Valley as accessibility has led to immense crowding that has degraded the scenery, particularly with regards to air pollution in the summer months. I’m also investigating how the uniquely American ideal of “wilderness” has led to the preservation and development of National Parks as tourist attractions. Wilderness used to be feared by Americans but slowly became romanticized.  As Roderick Nash mentions, “Against this background of bias against wilderness, the ideas that produced the national park concept struggled into existence. Some can be labeled “Romantic” and entailed an enthusiasm for the solitary and wild in nature. Others centered around a change in aesthetics: the emergence of a sense of the sublime and picturesque” (Nash, 1970). The appeal of wilderness remains a key motivator behind waterfall visitation and was central to developing “National Parks” as a concept. Several respondents noted their appreciation for “solitude” in nature and how both waterfalls were less “wild” than expected. Such is the the case to the extreme in Yosemite as Orsi notes how “nothing in all America is less wild than the floor of Yosemite Valley… the floor of Yosemite is an amusement park, as crowded a city as New York’s central park” (Orsi, 1993). Visitors love National Parks and the sublime beauty they contain. However, the question remains – how can visitors not love them to death?

Works Cited

Nash, Roderick. “The American Invention of National Parks.” American Quarterly 22, no. 3 (1970): 726-35.

Orsi, Richard J., Runte, Alfred, and Smith-Baranzini, Marlene. Yosemite and Sequoia: A Century of California National Parks. Berkeley : San Francisco: University of California Press; California Historical Society, 1993.


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