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.

Transcending time in a New York cab

It’s 4:20 in the morning and I can see the stars. This is a bit glamorous, I think as I flag down a taxi on a nearly deserted Third Avenue below our apartment.

I have had plenty of early morning flights, but this will be my first pre-dawn departure since moving to Manhattan over three years ago. I imagine the Chrysler Building winking down on me from further uptown, sprinkling me with moonlight New Yorkiness for being hip enough to be up at this hour.

The night before, I imagined in my mind’s eye recapturing a few minutes of lost sleep as the taxi took me to the airport at the speed of Robert Moses’s dreams, 1960s-era highway speed. That was a dream.

Back in reality, something is wrong: we are headed downtown. LaGuardia Airport is uptown or over, being that it’s in Queens. We are heading south, though the driver seems totally certain of it.

After second-guessing myself several times, I finally ask, “Why are we headed downtown?” The driver responds, “This is super secret shortcut, we take the Williamsburg Bridge. This saves twenty minutes.” Trusty Google Maps said the entire trip would be 23 minutes.

My thoughts are the only other vehicles on the road. Indignation: This guy has no idea where he’s going. Doubt: Don’t second-guess a cab driver. He’s a professional. Self-doubt: Am I too nice? Is this how Canadians feel? Resignation: I’m stuck here, just relax. You planned for spare time.

At this point we have crossed the East Village, turned left onto Houston Street and are now ascending the Williamsburg Bridge. The driver assures me this is a shortcut once again as he accelerates. As if to prove himself right, he keeps his foot on the gas well past the 45-mph speed limit: 50, 55, 60, 65, 70, 72.

Our presence expands to two bridge lanes as we challenge the laws of thermodynamics. New York drivers “take the lane”. This is normal, right?

Wrong. Suddenly, honking as we’re passed in our right-hand lane. My brain turns on and activates its next emotion: Fear.

We are a pinball sent ricocheting up the expressway. The concrete retaining walls guide our path. I hope he’s better at pinball than I am.

I am sure the driver will activate the Flux Capacitor and my wristwatch will start running in reverse.

Moments later I check my phone: He’s done it, he has transcended time. The last hour has actually only been 15 minutes.

We continue to exist in two lanes, for stability, I assume, as I gird myself for takeoff. Hours or minutes pass. Not soon enough we angle off towards the airport and promptly pull up at the wrong gate.

Screech.

Wait, this guy doesn’t know directions? He knows the super secret shortcut. He has the flux capacitor. Reality begins to creep in, though it’s still black as night outside the window.

We make the rounds of the entire airport to circle back around to the proper gate at a reasonable pace. It’s 4:50am. The light of day has still not shown on any of this adventure.

January’s 10 Best Stories in Travel

Photo: January at Labrador Mountain, Truxton, NY

I’m here to share with you my favorite stories of the month from around the web. All have an international flavor, many explore the unseen side of the places we hear about in the news. If you’re wary of traveling there, at least you’ll be able to visit vicariously through these talented authors. I’ve also added in a few travel how-to’s and what-to’s that stood out from the crowd. Enjoy.

Underground in East Ukraine
Illegal coal mining in rebel-held territory in Ukraine has its own risks and rewards and continues on despite periodic skirmishes. Read on for more on the trials of daily life in contested territory.
http://roadsandkingdoms.com/2016/underground-in-east-ukraine/

A Gift From the Sea: On China’s Land Reclamation Free-for-all
Entire new cities are rising from the sea in China as coastal areas are filled and developed at a breakneck pace, appearing to create “something for nothing”. How is it done, and what is the catch? Read on.
http://www.vagabondjourney.com/a-gift-from-the-sea-on-chinas-land-reclamation-free-for-all/

Salvation by the Slice
A veteran of the war in Ukraine opens a pizza shop in Kiev staffed entirely by veterans and finds great success serving those heading to and returning from the front. Italian food in Eastern Europe is an unlikely savior.
http://roadsandkingdoms.com/2016/salvation-by-the-slice/

Time Travel to Anadyr, Russia
Taking the world’s shortest trans-continental flight from Alaska to Russia’s Far East is like stepping back in time and exploring the rarely-seen populated corners of the Arctic. Click here for the story with great photos from Sherry Ott.
http://www.ottsworld.com/blogs/anadyr-russia-travel/

Visiting Ojai, California
Visit Ojai, the cozy and creative town outside of Los Angeles, bed down neo-hippie style in an Airstream trailer, grab a fresh brunch, and browse the outdoor bookstore. Add this place to your next road trip destination.
http://escapebrooklyn.com/ojai-california/

Ultimate List of Travel Movies
From Into the Wild to Crocodile Dundee, this list touches on the great road trip and travel movies, both classics and more recent films. You may know half this list, which will make the other half you haven’t seen even more enticing.
http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/the-ultimate-list-of-travel-movies/

How Shenzhen Became the Global Epicenter of High-Tech Innovation
Electronics designed, sourced and built in a matter of days instead of weeks or months, this is how Shenzhen is shaking up the international marketplace in computer hardware. The next Silicon Valley?
http://www.vagabondjourney.com/how-shenzhen-became-the-global-epicenter-of-high-tech-innovation/

How to Eat Street Food Without Getting Sick
Ever wonder how the locals manage to eat all the best tacos, quesadillas, and fried treats without getting sick? It’s not just the water. Read this for some new tips.
http://www.legalnomads.com/2016/01/street-food.html

A Crazy New Kind of Amazing Race: International Car Rallies
If you know me, you’ll know the Europe-to-Asia Mongol Rally is on my bucket list. Here are several other crazy options that will now be vying for our future plans.
https://www.yahoo.com/travel/a-crazy-new-kind-of-amazing-race-international-117138357567.html

The Big Cow Con
How a young South African cattle trader stole a fortune through sleight-of-hand in California’s dairy country during the booming 1990s and then disappeared with the spoils, and how he was finally caught on the other side of the world.
https://story.californiasunday.com/rocky-pipkin-agricultural-detective