Look, I’m not a mountain man. I generally stay on trails. I rarely go overnight backpacking.

But I will go off trails. You don’t have the sense of direction of Lewis and Clark to do this. A most basic understanding of the lay of the land, supplemented by a map, can give you confidence to walk many places, especially if you’re not going too far.

Well, this above photo was taken by going off trail. It’s one of my most favorite photos ever taken, and the two hours I spent in capturing this one image were two hours of pure bliss.

It was taken about 1,000 yards north of the parking area at the bottom of a trail that leads to the top of Yellowstone’s Mt. Washburn. After hiking up the 1400′ feet to the summit of Washburn, to get a more complete view of the national park, I made it back to my car when, lo, clouds were growing from the mountain tops and casting shadows across the green valley that invited me to test my polarized filter thoroughly.

You are looking northward. The lowest point of valley, which is roughly two-thirds up from the bottom, is the Yellowstone River. Here it’s flowing from left to right, north by northeast, to the northern gate of the park. By here it has flowed out of its famous colorful canyon, yet, still drains one of the prettiest valleys a man can see on earth, literally.

The total number of photos I took to capture this one was about 250. I moved from small hill to small hill and waited for shadows to roll to capture a moment that would be better than the others. After two hours the clouds disappeared, and the strong sun at 8800′ washed out colors.

My point, though, is that getting off trails to follow the light and land for vistas most don’t see has provided many more moments of pure bliss. Most people tend to walk trails like they drive cars. They rush in autopilot. They don’t see but what’s right in front of them. They go only where the trail takes them, and don’t know that even just a little curiosity can take them to far, far better places.

Exploring creeks across the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex – which only 1 in 10,000 would even consider doing – taught me this long ago.