Last week, I joined some new friends and made the trip up to Piney Lake. This was my first visit to the oft-photographed destination. After making our way up the long and bumpy Red Sandstone Road, we were greeted by a magical vista: a picturesque lake — dotted with canoes, no less — at the base of the impressive Gore Range, its peaks still sprinkled with snow. In the foreground, bright wildflowers swayed with the wind. It was like a picture. In fact, it was so much like a picture I had a hard time appreciating that it was actually real. This was water, dirt and ice in front of me and not pixels.
Wait. Is there a difference? I’m not sure my eyes knew or cared.
I would venture to say I am more social media integrated and Internet saturated than the average American. (I’m a journalist by trade and spend much of my time researching things before I see them.) But to some extent, I think we are all this way. Who hasn’t researched a restaurant on Yelp or checked out a friend’s vacation photos on Facebook. We’ve all looked up driving directions online or Googled a Match.com date.
So I am curious if anyone else is having the crisis I am having: Does our modern day access to places at the click of a keyboard diminish our sense of “awe”?
This conundrum has become more apparent now that I am in Colorado. The incredible landscape that surrounds Vail should be, for the most part, pretty foreign to me. Except it isn’t. Not really. I’ve seen photos of Vail and its surroundings for years. I looked up all my hotels before I got to town. I checked out Vail Mountain’s Instagram feed. I read travel magazines and photo books that displayed the mountains in high resolution color.
By the time I arrived in the Rocky Mountains a little over a month ago, I’m certain my eyes already had a pretty good idea of what to expect. In fact, my eyes were probably a little disappointed. Real life doesn’t look as good without Instagram filter.
I can’t help but wonder what it was like for Coronado or Lewis and Clark when they saw the Rocky Mountains for the first time. They didn’t expect to find craggy peaks at the edge of the plains and I doubt their eyes had a precedent for what a mountain range of this size and scope would look like.
Naturally, I can’t help but be a little jealous of these explorers. I want to stumble upon a natural wonder of the world myself. I want to take a wrong turn and find myself affronted with the Great Sand Dunes or Glenwood Canyon; geological phenomenon so unlike anything I have known before.
ADVOCATE FOR SOCIAL MEDIA
Despite all this, I remain an advocate of social media and the power of the Internet in general. Sure, it has made the world a little smaller and a little less surprising, but then it has also opened our eyes to many of its wonders in the first place. No longer are we clueless of what lies beyond our own backyard. Watching someone’s Instagram feed makes me hungry for travel and encourages me to shut off my television and go seek adventure. And I don’t just mean the Eiffel Tower or the Grand Canyon. How many times has Reddit and Buzzfeed shown you something stupefying and inspiring? Our inner explorer — and ever present FOMO — commands us to click on “27 Surreal Places To Visit Before You Die.”
And for those of us who can’t readily travel to remote corners of the Earth, social media can remind us the world is much bigger and brighter than the social or economic problems that tie us down. We might not all be able to see the world with our own eyes, but at least the images of those places can expand the limits of our imagination and fuel our dreams.
As for me? Well, I am lucky enough (more than lucky, really) to be in Vail this summer and to see with my own eyes the natural wonders that sit just beyond the highway. And though much of my trip is planned for me, I’m going to welcome surprises whenever possible. I’ll try to know only enough before my next adventure and try my hardest to get lost.
Above all, when I do come across something that takes my breath away — a view like the one at Piney Lake, that filled me with joy and wonder — I’ll be sure to take a few minutes to appreciate being in the moment. To make sure to see the light, smell the flowers and feel the air.
I’ll try to do all this before I take out my iPhone and snap a few photos for Instagram.
Benjamin Solomon is the winner of America’s Best Summer Job, a 10-week, all-expenses paid summer job exploring what summer in the Vail Valley has to offer. A freelance writer based in New York, you can follow his journey on Blog.Vail.com as well as on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #VailBen.