"Yosemite is bad a--."
Those three words stopped me in my tracks.
I was perhaps 10 feet from a precipice on North Dome that loomed more than 3,000 feet above Yosemite Valley. To the west was El Capitan's famed Dawn Wall where Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgenson just seven months prior became the first free climbers to conquer what is considered one of the climbing world's most difficult challenges.
To the east was Half Dome looming so large above Tenaya Canyon it seemed you could reach out and touch its face. Nearby was Cloud's Rest with its treacherous spine you need to cross with the sheerest drop-offs ringing Yosemite Valley. Ahead you could see majestic Nevada Falls and Glacier Point standing guard above the Merced River.
And that was just for starters.
I looked back toward the 23-year-old from North Dakota who uttered those words.
I couldn't agree with him more.
I've been to Yosemite eight times since March. If all goes well I will head up there six more times before 2015 ends. My frequent day hikes on Saturdays haven't gone unnoticed. One of the rangers who works the Highway 120 entrance station on my last trip recognized me even before I showed her my annual national parks pass that I'd bought. Admittedly, she remembers me more by my license plate.
Before this year, I had been to Yosemite 21 times over 28 years including three times I passed through as part of fully loaded bicycling trips. So what got me to go bonkers over Yosemite this year? The short answer: Chris Teicheria.
Earlier this year he wrote in his column about encountering a European couple at Lake Tahoe who - once Teicheiria told them where he was from - marveled at how close that he was to Yosemite. They ventured to guess he must go there all the time and how fortunate he was not to have to fly from halfway around the world to enjoy it. Teicheira, if I recall right, noted that he hadn't been to Yosemite in 20 years.
It got me to thinking. In my own backyard just 2.5 to 3 hours away depending upon where you end up is a place that more than 4 million people venture to every year - many from as far away as Europe and Asia.
And while 91 percent of the visitors are from the United States with 89 percent of them from California, rest assured that very few of them can hop in their car, take in a six-hour hike, drive back home and do grocery shopping for the week before 9 p.m. rolls around.
I get that not everyone is into hiking 13,000-foot mountain peaks, trekking to passes, or even wants to hike miles just to take in a different view of Yosemite Valley or other aspects of the park.
That said, there are incredible places that are a day trip from where we are in the Valley that we all too often take for granted or ignore.
The visitor from North Dakota had it pegged.
"We don't have any trees to speak of and everything is the same," he said of North Dakota.
That's not a slam on North Dakota. But it does underscore how lucky we are to live in a state that has not just the most varied terrain in Northern America but natural wonders and manmade creations you won't see anywhere else or at least not so close to each other.
San Francisco - arguably one of the world's most cosmopolitan cities - is just over an hour an away. There's Santa Cruz, Big Sur, Monterey, Lake Tahoe, Napa Valley, the Gold Country, the Delta, Big Basin Redwoods, Point Reyes, Mt. Diablo, Pinnacles National Park, the Sierra and the Pacific Ocean. And that's just for starters when it comes to day trips.
And if you want to wow anyone under 30 from out-of-state take them on a tour of Silicon Valley passing the headquarters of tech firms such as Facebook, Yahoo, Google, and others. They are businesses that many of us commute past every day but to many young visitors it is the Promised Land.
If you drive for up to eight hours you can reach Los Angeles, two active volcanoes in the form of Mt. Shasta and Mt Lassen, the Lost Coast and its endless redwood groves, the portal for Mt. Whitney, the beaches of Santa Barbara, and much more.
Too often we don't fully appreciate what's in our own backyard. Many of us find it easier to complain about our lot in life than to devote time or energy enjoying what we've got as Californians.
California is an expensive place to live but considering what you get it's worth the price unless, of course, you don't take advantage of what Northern California offers.
You only get one shot at life.
And what's so nice about California, you don't have to travel far to pursue most of your dreams.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.