Nature and I used to be acquaintances. We would interact on an occasional basis, exchanging pleasantries and sticking to surface-level subjects. I’ll admit that I was closed-minded when it came to the great outdoors; I rarely noticed nor cared to explore anything that didn’t suit my immediate purposes.
And then I went to Zion National Park in the fall of 2015.
For the first time in my life I was 100% completely and utterly overwhelmed by my outdoor environment. I felt as if the sky was soaking me up with its vivid colors of blue and its lazy clouds that wandered contentedly across the sky. The air felt almost juicy – thick with possibilities and awareness. But it was the mountains that called me. I had been to my fair share of highlands and had a pretty deep appreciation for areas of great elevation. Zion, however, was in a whole other league. John Muir’s much-recited quote about the mountains calling him came to mind as I simply stared at the world around me. My eyes worked hard to take it all in, and my brain worked harder still to keep up with what my senses were discovering. The colors of the rock, the shapes of the fissures, the form of the cliffs – the whole scene left me awe struck. Moving ever so slowly, I turned around, engaged in the landscape. This fantastic place was one big playground that I would spend the next couple of hours exploring. It didn’t matter that it was below freezing – this was an opportunity to connect with nature and I was resolved to seize it.
This is the moment when nature and I became friends.
It required a shift in thinking on my part. I wasn’t looking to receive or get something from being outside. I had come to the realization, standing by the Weeping Wall in Zion, that being outside is about discovery. It’s about enjoying all of the living and nonliving aspects of an ecosystem. It’s about investing time to find the beauty in the great outdoors.
Returning home to my suburban lifestyle was difficult. Traffic was suddenly more annoying and the concrete felt like a disease that ate away at my outdoor world. This is why, in January of 2016, I decided to quit my job and visit all of the national parks in the continental U.S. Surprisingly my friends and family didn’t think I was crazy, yet I questioned my own sanity countless times. Purchasing a teardrop trailer and downsizing my living situation were some of the final steps I took before embarking on my epic road trip. I wanted to find that bond I had experienced in Zion a couple months prior. I wanted to develop that friendship I had forged with nature while standing surrounded by the sandstone cliffs.
I’m at the halfway point in my trip, gearing up for another trek westward. Each park I have visited so far has allowed me to view another fascinating characteristic of nature. In Dry Tortugas I marveled at the spread of blue that blanketed the horizon. In the Smokies, I came face to face with the attractiveness of running water, the backdrop of the Appalachians adding to the magic. In Great Sand Dunes, I fell back into the role of a child, tromping up the piles of sand and playing under the steady heat of the sun. The national parks are unique. They each have something special to offer, yet it can only be found with an unpretentious humility. I know that I can’t afford to make the mistake again of assuming that nature is at my disposal. During Part II of my journey, I want to be more than simply familiar with America’s outdoor landscape. I want to connect, relate, commune, empathize, cooperate, and converse with nature.
Litter! (Tossing sunflower seeds, nut shells, and food scraps on the ground is rude and unacceptable. Yes, it may be biodegradable, but it’s not native to the desert environment, it’s an eyesore to your fellow hikers, and it will take a long time to decompose) #leavenotrace
Last November I visited Zion national park and was completely astounded at what I discovered. My eyes were opened up to a whole other world that existed beyond my day-to-day reality. Looking up at the cliffs, barely acknowledging the below-freezing weather, something inside of me shifted. A blatant desire was born – a passion to see more of the beauty in America hidden in plain sight within our national parks.
Thus, Zion has a special place in my heart. Returning to this park made me realize how far I’ve come on my journey – both geographically and experientially.
Many people see Zion as a sacred place. In fact, early pioneers named various features of the park in such a way as to describe a spiritual awareness. Angel’s Landing, Court of the Patriarchs, Temple, Great White Throne… all of these majestic places are truly awe-inspiring.
Despite the crowds, I enjoyed viewing parts of the park that I didn’t have a chance to during my first visit. The Narrows was an interesting hike. Wading through water along a slender canyon was an enjoyable challenge. It was slow-going; I was extremely cautious not to lose my footing on the slick rocks and plunge into the 49° water. The Museum of Human History was another place in the park that was fun to explore.
I reveled in the feeling of coming full circle at Zion national park. Looking back at all of the adventures I’ve had fills me with a genuine sense of fulfillment. And now I look, once more, to the future. Ready to engage in more exploits and take on the world… one park at a time.