“… I leave this stage tonight even more optimistic about this country than I was when we started… This generation coming up – unselfish, altruistic,

Wes Wills at work in the field.

creative, patriotic – I’ve seen you in every corner of the country… You’ll soon outnumber any of us, and I believe as a result that the future is in good hands.” – President Barack Obama in his farewell speech on Jan. 10, 2017

In this new regular feature, we highlight the accomplishments of our own young people, the kids who grew up in these mountains. We’re reconnecting to hear about the incredible things they’re doing locally and out in the world. 

This week we catch up with Wes Wills, who works at Yosemite National Park protecting our cultural resources   …

William and Mary Wills moved Wes and his sister Andrea from Fallbrook to a house on Cascade Drive (between Idyllwild and Pine Cove) in the summer of 1990. William commuted to a teaching job in Temecula while Mary worked for a time as the Idyllwild School nurse and in other jobs in medicine.

Wes attended Idyllwild School  from first through eighth grade. He enjoyed many extracurricular activities, from drama, choir, band and chess club, to baseball, track, cross country, basketball and soccer.

“I grew up with a few guys that were like brothers to me and was really fortunate to have spent nearly a decade sharing the same classes and social groups,” Wes recalls.

Wes graduated from Hemet High School in 2002 and went on to Sonoma State University. He graduated in 2005 with a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology, then went on to earn a master’s in cultural resource managment in 2013.

“I worked a variety of jobs in college, particularly food service and construction labor,” he said. “Majoring in anthropology did not lend itself to a clear career path and up until I was 22, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I started learning about archeological methods in 2004 and saw it as the best route for finding work. It also combined my interests in science, working outside in a variety of locations, and learning about the past.”

Wes (front left) singing with his family during the 1992 Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony.

How did you get into your current occupation?

In 2005, I started working as an archeologist at Sonoma State. I also briefly worked for the California Office of Historic Preservation and California State Parks before starting a job for the National Park Service at Yosemite National Park in 2008.

I also occasionally work as a wildland firefighter and have served on many incidents in the Central Sierra Nevada.

Please describe the work you do.

My job is to document and protect archeological sites in Yosemite while serving as a park ranger. This role is within the Division of Resources Management and Science. Tasks range from assisting with planning for construction projects, providing interpretive programs to visitors and employees, supervising other archeologists, consulting with American Indian tribes and groups, leading surface survey and test excavation projects, map and database production, and writing technical reports.

This summer, I led two 10-day backpacking trips to remote areas of Yosemite as part of test excavations at archeological sites with a team of seven others. I’m currently working on writing a report about this project in collaboration with a professor from UC Merced.

I will also be leading a couple of small survey and excavation projects within and close to Yosemite Valley. Occasionally, I also work on research projects and my master’s thesis focused on prehistory in the northwestern part of  Yosemite.

What do you enjoy doing outside of working in Yosemite?

I have travelled extensively over the past few years and have been to 32 countries. My wife Hillary and I even went on a single trip around the world. Traveling is definitely my biggest passion and I am looking forward to an upcoming journey to Norway and Kosovo.

Who were some of your Idyllwild mentors?

I really enjoyed my classes with Doris Lombard, Patty Carratello, Lenore Sazer-Krebbers and Mr. Valdez. Holly Guntermann was a great P.E. teacher and occasional coach. I also received a lot of support from my friends’ parents, particularly Dave and Lori Fraser.

My parents used to visit Doris Lombard in Mountain Center. However, my parents are now very ill and are unable to make the trip from their new home in Oceanside.

What are some of your favorite memories from growing up in Idyllwild?

I mostly remember being independent as a teenager and having the freedom to walk or bike throughout the area by myself. When I got a car, I started spending a lot more time in Hemet. Once my parents moved to Hemet, I gradually spent less and less time in Idyllwild.

I think if I were to revisit my old neighborhood I would not have the same freedom to explore the area and would worry about people finding me suspicious. I hope kids there still have the same freedom I enjoyed.

Do you have any advice for the younger generation of Idyllwilders?

My advice for the new generation of Idy youngsters is to stay active and respect your parents. Get out and explore the mountains, get involved in organized sports and clubs, but also make life easier on Mom and Dad.

As I got older, I became more interested in activities that were not constructive and illegal. I found that while a lot of that time was fun and a great way to branch out and rebel, I was lucky to have not gotten in real trouble or hurt. Some of my friends had a harder time and did get into rough situations. Fortunately, I had a great home life and my parents helped me stay focused on academics, sports and work.

I worry now that kids are less interested in getting outside and exploring. I also worry about kids that don’t have as much support at home. Idyllwild can be a hard place to live if you feel isolated and not supported. I see my childhood as a period where I was learning, engaged, and healthy. I also had parents that were always looking out for me, providing structure and helping me accomplish goals.

I don’t know if I took for granted the advantages I had as a youngster, but I have come to value more and more the hard work my parents did to make me and my sister successful.

I also recognize that it doesn’t take much for kids to disregard that relationship and act out in ways that are hurtful and disrespectful.

Please, enjoy yourselves, get out and explore the woods and screw around with your friends, but try to keep out of real trouble.

Do you know an Idyllwild kid with an interesting story? Please email your suggestions to Halie: [email protected] or PM us on Facebook.