John Muir was right about Yosemite

Back in grad school, I was teaching assistant for a course called History of the American Environmental Movement. Each semester, I would grade perhaps 70 to 80 essays, including a section on John Muir, an advocate of preserving nature for nature’s sake, and Gifford Pinchot, who advocated responsible conservation of resources for human use.

While Pinchot was the rational business-minded one, I considered John Muir the passionate activist, one who had the writing skills to make the “tough sell” of protecting faraway lands from development.

John Muir said this about Yosemite, which was the first land in the US set aside specifically for preservation:

“It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter.”

I always figured Muir was just a spiritual writer who connected in a different way with nature. This line about nature being a temple, I took that as hyperbole and as a metaphor. I was wrong. Muir was right.

After one visit to the Valley, Yosemite speaks for itself.

There is a temple in Yosemite, and it’s formed by the cliffs themselves. In the Valley, the interplay of light and shadow off three thousand-foot cliffs creates the sensation of being in a giant hall of worship.

The sun filters through a slight haze, making everything in the far distance look like a backdrop from a movie. As you wind down the mountainside into the Valley, breathtaking views in the far distance materialize in more-than-life-size miles as you realize you’ll be standing in the middle of that movie.

We are often awestruck by the magic of the “golden hour” before sunset. In Yosemite, this awe-inspiring moment lasts all day. Light shifts and transforms on the Valley walls from sunrise to sunset, as you’re surrounded on three sides by sheer granite faces too close to let sun stream through in full.

While Yosemite’s landscape is unique, the sensation of sun streaming through clouds, reflecting off the natural landscape is not. It’s what we felt in Storm King, in the Hudson Valley, which explains why the painters of the Hudson River School made their way West to capture Yosemite’s natural beauty on canvas. Their paintings, in part, encouraged thousands to move West.

Though as much as John Muir can rhapsodize in verse or as large as the Hudson River School painters may paint their larger-than-life portraits, it has to be seen in person to be fully appreciated.

Experiments in Extreme Weekend Travel

We just returned from a weekend getaway to Barbados, and I wanted to share impressions on what I’ll term our first experiment in “extreme weekend travel”.

To fit nearly a week of travel time into one weekend, all you need are the following:

  • two vacation days that connect to the weekend or a three-day weekend that you can stretch to four;
  • a direct, red-eye (overnight) flight in both directions;
  • a discount flight (under $300), ideally, to make the short duration worthwhile;
  • an inexpensive destination or somewhere to stay.

We’re both trying to save our vacation days for a larger trip later in the summer, so this was an experiment born of necessity — taking only two vacation days, we managed a full four-day vacation. As noted, this required a red-eye flight in both directions and a return straight to work from the airport.

A direct flight was essential, since changing planes in the middle of the night will ruin your chances at arriving rested to your destination.

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Thanks to The Flight Deal and a great deal on JetBlue, we were able to get an overnight flight direct from New York (JFK) to Barbados (BGI) for $192 round-trip. We departed at 9pm on Thursday, arriving at 3am and returned at 4am on Tuesday, returning at 8:30am to New York.

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We survived, and on the return flight we both slept soundly, thanks to the extra leg room and comfy seats on JetBlue. There was actually enough room in coach to fully extend your legs under the seat in front of you and stretch out. Bring your own pillow and blanket, however, as they carry an extra charge.

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Returning to JFK, New York on Tuesday morning

Destinations

Flying from New York to the Caribbean allows you to get far enough away for a real vacation, visit a foreign country, yet stay in a similar time zone.

JetBlue flies to dozens of destinations in the Caribbean and from my experience, many of these flights are direct and of the overnight variety. Their flight map can be consulted here.

Norwegian flies from JFK to Guadeloupe and Martinique and offers some great deals, though these are daytime departures and would require an extra day of vacation.

If you’re looking to fly domestically, nonstop cross-country flights, i.e. JFK to SFO, OAK, LAX, LGB offer the chance to get some rest, though jet lag can be an issue if you’re returning straight to work. Given the time zone difference, the return (West-East) flight needs to be overnight, though the East-West flight only takes 3 hours and could be done in an evening.

Searching for Flights

Use ITA Matrix to search for arrivals and limit the selection to flights departing at night or early morning.

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Example: Searching for overnight flights to California

For flights in a similar time zone, also select “Early Morning” and be sure that you’re searching for nonstops. Running a search to a series of nearby destinations, as shown below, can be very useful if you’re just looking to get out of town.

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Example: Searching for flights from NYC to all airports within 1000 miles of Barbados

I hope these tips inform and inspire. Good luck in planning your next Extreme Weekend Getaway.