The First Time You See It: An Ode to Jaw-Dropping Vistas

After the last piece I wrote and a few recent conversations, I got a note from my mom. She said ‘when you travel, I feel like I see it through your eyes, you make me feel like I’m there.’ First of all, what a lovely thing to say! But second of all, this got me thinking about the places I’ve been fortunate enough to go and the experiences I’ve been lucky enough to have in my short life.

As I started to think about some of the places I’ve been, I kept coming back to one central moment of the experience: the first time you see it (or the first time you really see it).

The first time you see something you know you’re never going to forget, or something you’ve never seen before or even knew could exist. The first time you lay your eyes, your ears, your toes on a place that makes you have a physical response. I wanted to pay a little respect to the views and places that keep me yearning and striving for adventure.

Moab, Utah – Canyonlands

Growing up in upstate New York (and on a Christmas tree farm), I was used to green. Yes, the color green. But more than that, I was used to grass and mountains, mosquitos and turkeys and deers, and the sounds of oak and maple trees moving in the wind. As the saying goes, ‘I had never been West of the Mississippi.’ I decided to visit a friend who was working at Arches National Park in Moab, UT during the summer after we graduated college (in retrospect, probably not the best time to go to a desert, but I managed).

While there, I had an experience that I will never forget. It was probably not the first time I ever saw one of these types of landscapes, jaw-dropping that is, but after I saw it, I vowed to always chase this feeling and these experiences.

I was touring through Canyonlands National Park and I found a random pull-off that I can’t seem to remember the name of now. There was a trail that left from this parking lot and I ventured down it, walking on the ridge of this enormous natural canyon. I remember walking along this trail and passing by people, determined to find my own little spot in which I could just take it all in.

I eventually found a perfect flat area in which I could sit and hang my feet over the edge, and stare out at this landscape. I will never forget this seemingly small moment – I sat down and stared out.

Pictures don’t do this canyon justice.

Even among the other tourists and travelers there, I remember the crisp silence that the canyon provided. It was big, red and tan and completely unassuming. I remember the prickle of humility and awe I felt as if it were today. I got goosebumps all over my body and felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of the landscape, which was only matched by the sheer magnitude of emotions waving over me.

I sat there, stared out and thought to myself ‘I never want to leave this place.’ But of course, I did leave that place – it would be pretty ridiculous if that’s where my story ended and I’m now just living in Canyonlands National Park. But from the experience, I continue to try to replicate that beautiful feeling of being fully present while taking in something unfamiliar and stunning.

Whiteface Mountain, Adirondack Mountains, New York

The Adirondack Mountains have always felt like home to me. I grew up only 40-minutes from them and my family and I vacationed (camped and stayed in a cabin) twice every summer in the ADK. Even so, I find that I’m consistently surprised by what they have to offer.

In September 2015, I had just quit my job at an international travel company and had a few weeks off before starting my new job. I was kind of lost.

I had moved to Boston and shortly thereafter, gotten a job and started working 70+ hours a week, making it difficult to find friends or really have any time to do anything. I didn’t feel at home there, or anywhere for that matter, and felt unsure of myself and who I was. You know, normal 20-somethings feels n’ stuff. So I decided to go hike Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks.

Whiteface is similar to Mount Washington in New Hampshire in that it has a weather observatory on the top and also has an access road for non-hikers to be able to take in the vistas. I hadn’t hiked in a long time because of my job being so demanding and I found myself almost all the way up the mountain, feeling completely depleted, wondering why I do this to myself (see Type 2 fun).

If you’ve hiked Whiteface, you know that as you approach the last section of the ascent, you come up alongside the access road and there’s a clear view of some of the 46 High Peaks. I marched upward and gathered myself enough on a rocky scramble section to take in the view. It was a prefect, blue day. I could see for miles. Immediately upon seeing this view, I melted. Something inside of me broke down and I started to cry and crumble.

Part of Whiteface’s summit.

I felt renewed strength and gratitude for the outdoors. The rest of the ascent was the best I’ve ever felt heading up a mountain. This hike was a turning point for me – I decided never to let my job prohibit me from doing the things I love again.

Jenny Lake, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

During my trip out West between my jobs in September of 2015, my friend took me on a roadshow of some national parks, going to Yellowstone and Grand Teton. I had never seen either and found both to be beautiful of course, but there was a moment on Jenny Lake in Grand Teton, that I will never forget.

We set up camp for the night, it had been rainy and cold for our entire trip and I came relatively ill-prepared. I wasn’t as well-versed in the ‘gear world’ as I am now and didn’t bring the things I should have. Luckily, my friend had double of everything and helped me navigate what things you need when staying in a National Park like the Grand Teton.

We were camping a short trail-walk away from Jenny Lake and amazingly, the clouds lifted and it looked like we were going to have a beautiful sunset over the Tetons. We went down to the pebbled beach on the lake, snuggled in our jackets and sat and watched.

I had never seen jagged, rugged peaks like the Grand Tetons and the sky began to turn pink and purple as my jaw, seemingly permanently, dropped.

Jenny Lake, Grand Tetons during a beautiful sunset.

I had never even read or heard about the wonders of the Grand Teton National Park and was lucky enough to have a friend to show me these incredible landscapes. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so fortunate in my life.

Chasing Views

I write this to not only call attention to the beautiful, varied landscapes that are worth seeing during your lifetime (meaning don’t just look at them in magazines/on the internet, etc.). But I also think these vistas can be therapeutic and help you to understand that the world is bigger than just you.

It is a good practice to be humbled by nature once in a while, feeling smaller than you usually feel in your day-to-day life. But more than that, if you’re considering a vacation or a trip, pass it through this test that a friend once mentioned to me. The test is simple – you ask yourself this one question:

“When I’m on my death bed, am I going to be happy that I did this?”

This question will help you to keep chasing the views you want and help you have more jaw-dropping moments in awe-inspiring landscapes. Let’s keep getting out there and getting humbled, my friends.

Emily Holland
Emily Holland

Lover of all things outside. Mountains, rocks, running, dogs, fitness, music, Boston.

4 Comments
  1. As you know, I live through your life vicariously because I never had the opportunity to explore and visit the beautiful landscapes available to me. The happy moments in the Adirondacks only gave me a taste of what possibilities exhist out there. I’m very happy that I can follow you through the vistas seen through your eyes. I can only hope that I will experience the same awe and jaw dropping feelings in my life. I certainly plan on it!

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