When I think of exciting travel destinations that I want to visit, I tend to think of the world’s major cities. Places like London, Paris, Tokyo and Rome. I think of tropical destinations, like Jamaica and Hawaii, or far-flung places like Australia and Bali. I don’t immediately think of the places that are in our collective backyards, the sites entrusted to American citizens as part of our legacy.

I didn’t even realize, but I’ve been sleeping on America’s National Parks. Now I feel like a born again National Park EVANGELIST.

It's like being in a postcard!

It’s like being in a postcard!

Look at me! I’ve had a revelation. All because of Nokia. And Yosemite.

All of these years that I’ve been living in the United States, and not once did it even occur to me to plan a trip to any of them. I’ve flown over the Grand Canyon a handful of times and it makes your jaw drop every time. I lived in Miami for a dozen years so I was well familiar with the Everglades and Biscayne National Parks. I’ve visited Bahia Honda State Park a ton of times but that doesn’t count in the same category because it’s a state park. There are 401 national parks, and the collective mission is to care for “special places saved by the American people so that all may experience our heritage.”

Last month I was lucky enough to go to Yosemite National Park with a group of influencers handpicked by Nokia, brought together to learn more about the amazing photographic capabilities of the Nokia Lumia phones. Lumia handpicked a very diverse group of people from so many walks of life, and brought us together to learn photography tips from the amazing and inspiring Colby Brown. Colby is AWESOME. Warm, wise, worldly, and a giver in the truest sense – besides being an acclaimed international photographer who goes to the world’s most far flung places to capture the kinds of images that wind up on calendars and screensavers and Pinterest boards of places-to-visit-before-you-die, he’s the founder of The Giving Lens, a non-profit organization that uses photography to educate and enrich the lives of communities in developing nations. We got to learn from Colby and the equally amazing R. Peyton Hale, how best to use our Lumia phones to capture the glory of Yosemite.

Bridalveil Falls Yosemite

I feel like I’d be getting ahead of myself if I didn’t say a few words right now about Yosemite. Quite honestly, I’m not sure what TO say. I’ve never been anywhere like this before. There are very few places in the world like it. Visiting Yosemite made me think of the lyrics of America The Beautiful. Spacious skies. Purple mountain majesties. Just being there was a reminder of my place in the world. How small we are, and how insignificant many of the things we worry about are. Yosemite is a spiritual experience that I recommend everyone has at least once.


Currently they’re celebrating 150 years of the Yosemite Grant Act – click here to learn more about that. June 30, 1864. On that day, Congress enacted the Yosemite Grant Act and made Yosemite the very first of America’s National Parks. We got to drive around with some very experienced tour guides and I loved learning about the history of Yosemite as a park, and Mariposa County in general. It’s a fascinating place with a rich history of gold panning, mining, and super dangerous early settlers who faced unimaginable conditions to make this mountainous region reachable and habitable. We got to learn about the history of Mariposa County  in a visit to the small mountain town, complete with a tour of the museum and demonstration of gold stamping.





This good gentleman’s name is Ed, and he’s the local gold stamping specialist.


The museum was SO interesting. I love this kind of immersive experience. The lady above was super sweet and informative.



I bought one of these as a souvenir!

After the museum, a visit to the old jail (where I felt my claustrophobia go into auto-trigger, I had to get up on outta there), a tour of the old courthouse which has been around for a long time…



Later that day we got to visit the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, which was such an inspiring, jaw dropping, once-in-a-lifetime experience, I can hardly express the feeling of being amongst such enormous and ancient living things. They say the oldest giant sequoias may exceed 3,000 years in age. They are the world’s most massive trees, the largest living organisms on Earth.  Being amongst them is such a reminder of your place in the world.


It’s really hard to effectively capture the size of a sequoia on camera. I hope this gives you SOME idea. These are the roots of an uprooted giant sequoia.


Check this out for a little greater scope. That’s me and Jerry the tour guide. We became besties on this trip. I had to ride up front in the tour bus a lot because that motion sickness was next level. I’d never experienced anything on that level before.


Here I am next to the Grizzly Giant, the 25th largest giant sequoia in the world. 209 feet tall.



Here I am inside the California Tunnel Tree, one of the last remaining tunnel trees in America. These were cut into in an era when the goal was to drive tourism to America’s National Parks. Now they prefer to preserve nature as much as possible. These trees try to heal themselves, and the most famous one fell over in 1969.



The Giant Sequoias were strong contenders for the most impressive thing to see in Yosemite. But then the next day we went to some truly scenic locations and I found myself blown away every time.

Bridalveil Falls Yosemite


The waterfalls in Yosemite are incredible. Bridalveil Fall is the most famous and it is a sight to behold.



One of our photo lessons was on capturing reflection. We stopped by the Swinging Bridge to capture this shot.


This is Tunnel View. You can see SO much of the grandeur of Yosemite from here. BTW it was freezing in April. Bring layers and be prepared for temperature drops.


This is at the top of Glacier Point, elevation 7,214 feet. I was too scared to go close to the edge or climb on the rocks like some of my fellow Lumia Explorers were, but for me just being up that high was enough. My mind was already blown. There was so much to just absorb and capture internally.

I met some truly amazing people on this trip, like I mentioned earlier. I didn’t get into the details but I’ll shout out just a few of my new friends here. I got to spend time with BMX bike pro and X Games athlete Aaron Ross, professional rally car driver Verena Mei, TV co-creator April @ProducerGirl, the homie JD of @EarthXplorer, tech vlogger, gamer and funny man @LamarrWilson, and so many other cool people. Shoutout to ALL of the #LumiaExplorers, we had a blast!

The closest thing I’ve been able to compare it to, is going to adult summer camp in the Garden of Eden.

When I was in Yosemite it struck me that the visitors didn’t include as diverse of a range of people as I wanted to see there. There were so many European tourists, so many Asian tourists. Not enough American locals of color. More of us should make a point to visit and enjoy and experience the National Parks. If you’ve never been, you should go. You should make it a point to go. It’s a lifechanging, out of the ordinary experience. I’m so honored and blessed to have had it, and so enriched by the experience. 

Now I want to visit MORE parks. Yellowstone is next on my list!



Thank you Nokia, for including me on this phenomenal journey. I truly had an amazing time and I love the picture quality of the Lumia phone!

My travel was provided by Nokia, but this experience was all mine. I will cherish it forever. 


afrobella says:
May 28, 2014, 7:49 am
thank you!
Erika says:
May 28, 2014, 8:19 am
Beautiful! That sun has you glowing!
pets says:
May 28, 2014, 12:31 pm
Wow! Yes continue to visit all of USA's National Parks and I do hope that this post encourages all of the rest of USA to do the same. I enjoyed the pictures and the story.
PayLess4Brands says:
May 28, 2014, 5:42 pm
Owe, just gorgeous!! One day we'll go there too……http://www.payless4brands.com
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