The boat across Jenny Lake at Grand Teton National Park afforded us an incredible view of the Tetons. Upon reaching the shore, the mountainside trails beckoned. Up we went, some slower than the others. In due time, the spectacular waterfall that would be one of the hallmarks of this trip came into view. The Teton peaks may give Grand Teton National Park its name, but the lakes, the waterfalls, the flowers of spring, the clean air, the beautiful mountainside hikes, and so much more make this park better than grand. Eloquently beautiful, sublimely inspirational, incredibly inspiring – no superlatives can truly describe this jewel of the national park system.
When I was young, my parents used to take me along trips and vacations to see the wonderful places the world had to offer. I remember driving to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park for the first time. My father was ecstatic looking at the mountains and the seemingly endless views of the valley below. My mother was busy posing for photographs. I was unmoved. A typical teenager, I just wanted to stay home and do my own thing.
A few years later, my grandparents were visiting us in Virginia and they decided to visit their friends in rural southeastern Virginia. If the barely two hour drive to the Shenandoah was long, the drive to Richlands, Virginia seemed like an eternity. Mountains, hills, valleys all melded into a mosaic of interstates and highways, rural roadways, the occasional town. It was a happy time for all – friendships rekindled, beautiful mountain air – with the exception of the grumpy teenager who just wanted to stay home. And of course, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was only a “short” distance away. So what to do? Drive through more mountain roads, look at never ending forests, gaze upwards to look at yet another mountain peak, and meet native Americans for the first time. That part of the trip was actually interesting. Clean mountain air, the fog that covered the mountains that made for spectacular sunrise and sunsets, the breezes that made the hot summer days bearable – I didn’t breathe, see or feel any of that. I chose to ignore the beauty that was around me. I just wanted to be home.
When my father bought me my first real camera, I started taking pictures of my friends. Eventually, I started taking pictures of the monuments and landmarks that were so close to me. Visit to the woods and parklands soon became a favored diversion. I started to read about the great places to visit in the United States. Shenandoah National Park. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Yosemite National Park.
I visited family and friends in San Francisco and they offered to drive me to Yosemite. I was unprepared for what I saw. I knew that the place was beautiful – who hasn’t seen the pictures of Yosemite taken by Ansel Adams and other great photographers. I envisioned cliffs, mountains, streams. Instead, I was treated to one of nature’s great cathedrals. Yes, El Capitan, with its granite face was a sight to behold. Half Dome, Yosemite Falls – they were indeed impressive. Still, they are but backdrops to the true beauty of Yosemite. The life sustaining valley nestled within the great peaks of the Sierras. The stone monuments, beautiful as they are, are the supporting cast to this place that the trees and animals call home. Yosemite. A monument for the ages. A cathedral for the living. A gift of magnificent beauty for all.