If you’ve ever Google searched or read about Yosemite National Park, you’ll know that two of the biggest, and most visited, landmarks are El Capitan and Half Dome. (If not, you know now!) On average, 4.5 million people flock to the park every year to catch a glimpse of these natural wonders. But what about the overlooked gems we so easily scurry past in our hasty rush to The Valley?
This November was my first time visiting Yosemite. Ever. It’s a BIG one on my bucket list, and movies like Free Solo and The Dawn Wall only helped my imagination to run rampant before arrival.
So naturally, I wanted to get to those gorgeous walls of granite as soon as possible. We zipped through the South Entrance, made a stop at the Mariposa Grove. From there on out, I had an all business attitude: get to the valley, stat! We only have one day and I want to see as much as possible!
Much to my dismay, my dad decided to pull off on the side of the road barely 15 minutes after entering the park. I couldn’t believe the audacity, especially seeing that we were visiting MY bucket list location. Who did he think we was, upsetting the scheduling of my meticulously planned itinerary? One day is not a lot of time in Yosemite National Park, people!
I huffed and puffed as he pulled the car over, so excited by the thought of what I would see in The Valley that I wasn’t too bothered about stopping on the road beforehand. I reluctantly got out, not wanting to spend more time at this pull off than necessary.
A few picnic benches were scattered about the area, and the continuous hum of rushing water filled my ears. Might as well check out the river while I’m here, I thought, no point in wasting time.
Crystal clear water bubbled at a leisurely pace down the bank. If there weren’t ripples of movement or light glinting off the surface, I could have easily thought there was nothing there. Poking a daring finger into the stream, my skin was instantly greeted by the fresh sting of morning cold. Enough to take your breath away upon jumping in, but also to act as a quick reminder of the sensations of life. Yosemite in November will bring you back to nature, and the present moment.
Looking back from my river place, I saw the tree. I say ‘the tree’ because this is a tree I will never forget so long as I live. Sitting peacefully a few yards back from the river, morning light lit up the tree’s fading yellow leaves to make them look as if electricity were coursing through them (electrified the tree’s leaves). A light mist hung above the river and slightly crowded the air – just enough to make me feel like ‘something’ was there.
It took my breath away, and I couldn’t stop staring. How could anything be more magnificent than this moment?
What I didn’t realize in my haste was the blatantly obvious fact that beauty lies in every crevice and crack of this park, from the fall foliage on the ground, to the clear water of the meandering streams, to the shadows of centuries-old trees.
How silly I had been to think that what was right in front of me was less important than what lay ahead. I am here, right now, at Yosemite in November. Not farther down the road, or at tomorrow’s meeting. We are always exactly where we are, even if our minds are far away.
In many ways, I had disregarded all of my own practices in mindfulness. This moment seemed ‘less important’ to me because I held such high expectations for the future. I wanted to be THERE, ahead of time. Not here, now, where ‘the best things’ hadn’t happened yet. That was the reality I was creating in my head, which was a far cry from the untainted, spectacular reality I could be living by simply focusing on the present moment.
Low and behold, this very spot turned out to be one of my favorites in all of the park. I couldn’t tell you what it looks like at any other time of the year, but in that very November moment, my eyes and soul were forever grateful to be present and full of gratitude.
While the rest of my Yosemite trip lived up to and exceeded my expectations (how could it not?!), this particular location and moment will forever hold a special spot in my mind and heart. It taught me two major lessons.
One: to always appreciate the beauty of where I am, and the world around me.
And two, to remember that we are ALWAYS practicing the art of mindfulness. We are always right here, right now – but this is easy to forget. And it’s easy to be hard on ourselves when we realize we are not being mindful.
Which leads me to a BONUS! Lesson 3: to always treat myself with kindness and forgiveness. We could all use a bit more of that in our lives, don’t you think?
There are plenty of hidden gems to be found in Yosemite National Park. All you need to do is be present and look.