Yosemite Falls in full thunder — late May
Yosemite Falls in full thunder — late May
Visiting Niagara Falls on the Canadian side in April
What could I possibly say about Yosemite National Park that far more talented people haven’t already offered?
That’s how I feel thinking about Yosemite: speechless. Tiny. Powerless. A speck in the universe — one small person, a woman trying to hold up her chin in the shadows of something so much larger than myself. Of all the places we visited in California, all beautiful, it was Yosemite that made the biggest impression on me.
In the weeks since we returned home, I’ve found myself incessantly Googling the park and its waterfalls. I wrote a column about it for the paper. Yosemite is now my screensaver. My precious photos are stacked in folders so I can look at them often, remembering our all-too-brief time in the park. It flashed by in an instant.
Once we made it to Yosemite Valley, a perilous drive on our tour bus from Tioga Pass, Spencer and I practically ran from our group to see Yosemite Falls. I’m a wee bit obsessed with cataracts . . . and I guess that’s an understatement. I’m a waterfall chaser. If there’s rushing water to be found, I will seek it out — and photograph the heck out of it (see: my long-standing fascination with Niagara Falls). I’m most happy standing by the roar of falling water with spray dusting my shoulders.
So how did Yosemite Falls measure up? Very, very well. After walking an easy path up to the base of the lower falls, I could only stand in awe. It’s cliche, I know, but sometimes you can’t look up into the face of Mother Nature and think anything but, “Wow.”
I’m not outdoorsy. I hate bugs, can’t bear the thought of using the restroom outdoors, need a clean bed and pillow on which to rest at night. I don’t swim or hike or climb things. Generally speaking? I’m pretty lazy. I don’t like getting sweaty and am pretty annoying when I’m hot and thirsty.
But put a waterfall sighting within my grasp and I’ll be bumping tourists off paths through sheer determination alone.
Waterfalls aside, Yosemite is a truly magical place. Just driving around on a bus left me awestruck, staring out the windows at scenes like this:
I mean, really.
I’m going to be honest with you: since returning home to Maryland, I’ve thought about why I live on the East Coast. My answers are vast and varied, starting and ending — most importantly — with the fact that Washington, D.C., is my home. The only place I’ve ever lived. The only place I’ve ever known, and where my family and friends are. It’s where I work. Where I’ve started my career. Where I’ve built relationships. It’s where Spencer is.
But sometimes when we travel — taking in other vistas, other views — it’s easy to imagine yourself somewhere else, doing something else. Like building a camp and squatting illegally in a national park, say. Living off the land. Photographing streams. Scaling cliff faces and wandering the Sierra Nevada — a miniature (and female) John Muir.
Sometimes places call to you, grabbing your hand and refusing to let go.
I’ll always remember holding Spencer’s hand as we walked to the base of that waterfall. And my heavy, heavy heart as we turned to go.
Few things in life are enticing enough to get me to set my alarm clock for 4:02 a.m.
A day of unlimited funnel cake consumption, perhaps — with no caloric intake, obviously. Or an afternoon with a favorite author. Or a dash to the airport for an exciting vacation.
Up until Saturday, I wouldn’t have added “local waterfall” to that list — but I can occasionally be swayed. Our photo trip was to Great Falls, on the Virginia/Maryland border, and I’ve been wanting to visit the park for years. My love of waterfalls is deep and far-reaching, but I couldn’t hear someone talk about Great Falls without wanting to grab my Canon and capture it all.
But I had to get there first — at sunrise, no less. Our photography club organized an early-morning shoot convening at the falls and it sounded awesome . . . except for the whole getting-there-at-daybreak thing. Most of my photographer friends — and my boyfriend — are early risers and real go-getters, so the wake-up time didn’t disturb them in the least.
But for me? Captain Sleepypants? It was a serious deterrent. The last time I watched the sun come up, I was standing at my hotel room window in Wales on the final leg of our British vacation. Jet lag had reduced me to a pummeled mess, but I was determined to soak up the ambiance of a foreign country and couldn’t didn’t want to be deterred by something like sleep. Saturday was different, of course; I was choosing — of my own crazy volition — to get up before daybreak and travel to a waterfall in the dark, dark night.
But I had my mom and boyfriend with me. Along a stretch of scary, windy road cutting through the wilderness, we entered Great Falls and met up with a group of photographer friends. Our group headed straight for the first overlook, where I could hear the falls before I saw them.
Though we didn’t get spectacular colors, it didn’t matter much; it was enough to be standing there as the sky lightened and revealed strips of clouds. The light was soft and gray and natural, and our crew set up their tripods to capture water streaming down the Potomac and the shores of Maryland across the chasm. The Potomac was low, a friend pointed out — the water level is sometimes so high, most of those rocks aren’t visible.
Can you imagine?
Spencer is always way more adventurous than I am, so he trotted off on his own to make his way to the shore for a different vantage point. I didn’t notice where he’d gone until he called me from the rocks below and told me to look down. Seeing his red T-shirt among the rabble was like getting punched in the stomach — just thinking about being that close to the river made me feel shaky. (Spot him in the photo above?)
Despite years of swim lessons, I never actually learned to do more than tread water — and I don’t feel safe around lakes, rivers, oceans, swimming pools . . . you name it. It’s strange, then, that I’m so enamored with waterfalls — especially Niagara Falls — and try to see as many as I can. Compared to Niagara, of course, Great Falls looks like a dripping faucet — and neither have anything on Iguazu Falls (or Devil’s Throat), an amazing set of cataracts on the Argentina/Brazil border that another photographer friend visited recently.
But Great Falls is in my neck of the woods, easily accessible and more than worth a visit. And how awesome was it to have been up for hours on a photo trip by the time I would normally be getting dressed? It’s not easy, but I think our early-morning trips are a way to finally find more hours in the day.