Yosemite is a transcendent place, especially during the winter season. Awe-inspiring, magnificent, mammoth, glorious, inspiring. There aren’t enough adjectives to describe the majesty of eclipsing, towering sheets of rock and ice, glistening waterfalls that appear to be moving in slow-motion from a distance, crystal clear lakes casting perfect reflections of the surrounding mountains in the mirror of their still waters. Just imagine: the sun setting on a perfect winter’s day, casting light and shadow on cliff faces and sheets of stone that extend past the periphery of the naked eye, silent pathways and trailheads punctuated by the occasional birdsong, bubbling brook, and your footsteps rustling through the eaves, a cloudless night where lights, billions of years old, twinkle coyly in their brilliant constellations across a black canvas.
All of this ours for the incredible, restorative, and all too short days we spent marveling in Yosemite Valley. Our journey began by hiking up Vernal Falls, a 1000 ft. elevation with looming rock at every winding turn. Not the easiest of trails but well worth it for the stunning views at the top. With the edge of the falls a few steps to our left and Emerald Pool to the right it was the most exhilarating and sublime moment. I will never forget the feeling of reverence and wonder as we ate lunch in reflective contemplation cocooned by miles of rock and sun with not another human being in sight, the joyful gurgle and whooshing sounds of descending water the perfect musical accompaniment. As we drank in our last moments at the falls we reluctantly departed from paradise and finished the day looping around Mirror Lake which brought us to another kind of heaven.
Mirror Lake, so aptly named, was quite a contrast to the upward battle with Vernal Falls. But it was the full loop around the lake that introduced the gamut and wonders of Yosemite’s diverse terrains. We wandered into woodland, rainforest, jungle, and my favorite section, what I dubbed the granite desert – an eerily beautiful cemetery of stark granite rocks with a crescent moon peeking overhead, a scene made more surreal by the setting sun bathing the rock faces in half light, half shadow. When we finally came upon the lake we stared in awe at the upside down worlds revealed. The lake’s mirrored surface painted the clearest reflections I have ever seen, making it difficult to gauge reality from fantasy; from every angle was a different vantage point, a new element that had been hidden until we took a step backwards and sought new perspective.
And with Yosemite, the wonders don’t set with the sun. On our way back from a long day of hiking, we stopped again at Tunnel View to marvel at the stars. There was not a cloud in the night sky and we could just make out the black, mammoth outlines of El Capitan and Half Dome in the distance. But the real spectacle was up above as the stars were unabashedly on display in perfect clarity bathed in moonlight. It was as if we’d been introduced to another world – away from the noises, chaos, and weary drudgery of the city, the stars performed freely as if to say, ‘we’ve been right here all along, won’t you stay awhile?’ And under such proposition we simply sat back and enjoyed the show.
The wonders of travel and the revelations through scenes like these never fail to remind me of how small a speck of insignificant dust we are against the infinite dominion of the galaxies. No photograph or word can accurately capture all that was seen and heard. To be swept away from the familiar and comfortable, and be filled with wonder, gratitude, and humility even for a moment – what a gift.