Length of Stay:
- 3 days, 3 nights
- Exploring the Valley’s multiple viewpoints
- Construction and crowds
- The Mist Trail to Vernal Falls
- Waterfalls and rainbows
Length of Stay:
Towering water falls.
When I decided to take this crazy sojourn around the country, Yosemite National Park was a distant dream that stirred my rock climber’s imagination. Visions of Half Dome and El Cap danced in my head as I methodically planned out the route I would take on this fascinating road trip. Yosemite was on the top of the I-can’t-wait-to-see-it list.
It’s beautiful. It truly is.
It also strangely felt like Disneyland. Hotels, restaurants, tours, buses, camera-clad sightseers, and long lines. I completely understand why so many people would desire to come to this incredible paradise, but I also selfishly wished everything synthetically-made would disappear for a couple hours.
I wanted the entire park to myself.
I wanted to look at a waterfall without a small child bumping into me.
I wanted to hike to an overlook without having to a wait for a group of unmindful teenagers to move aside so I could pass.
I found bits and pieces of alone time while pedaling my rented bike through a less-frequented area or while strolling along the Valley Loop trail.
And this, friends, is the quandary facing many of the national parks. They are a preservation of a natural space, yet a place of recreation for others’ enjoyment. I am faced with a similar conundrum: I desire to see more Americans get outside and experience the beauty of the wild, yet I also seek to connect with nature on a personal, individual nature.
John Muir, a famous naturalist and advocate of the Sierra Nevada range, emphasizes the importance of finding solitude in the great outdoors: “Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.”
Length of Stay:
* Fun fact: General Grant’s trunk is so big, that if you filled it with gas you could drive around the Earth 350 times without refueling
I stepped into the forest.
It felt good to be back.
An odd feeling of coziness enveloped me. I found it comforting to be surrounded by a collection of trees and wild foliage, my footfalls almost hidden by the array of nature sounds percolating about. The smell of campfire smoke from the night before clung to my hoodie, evoking sentiments of general nostalgia as I walked along the trail. An involuntary yawn escaped; a myriad of birds had awakened me this morning a half hour or so before my natural circadian rhythm. I was grateful, though, as getting an early start was the best way to experience Pinnacles, the newest member of the National Park clan (thanks Obama).
A couple miles in I took a seat at a pleasant overlook, appreciating the landscape (it was beautiful) and looking for condors (no luck). I began to contemplate my personal level of contentment, marveling at the overall feeling of rightness that has marked the second part of my journey. While the early stages of my trip were rife with adventure and splendor, I feel that I have lately come to a fresh place of rest. This is due, in large part, to my whole concept of time. Standing in line for 25 minutes at a post office is no longer annoying, nor do I feel the need to whip out my Smart device to occupy myself. I can just stand there. I don’t feel that gnawing anxiety that often comes when us humans are kept waiting.
Life on the road has made time rather boundless. It may sound slightly hippy-dippy, but the truth is my days are not kept on track by an external schedule, save for the occasional check-out time and ranger program I hope to hit. Hiking in Pinnacles park, the miles float past, wrapped up in my wandering mind and here-and-now observations. I can sit on a cliff-side with no place to go, free to just be.
And I enjoy this time – oh how I cherish it.
Because at the beginning, it was difficult to let go of my idea of having to be somewhere and needing to check my watch on a regular basis. My days are no longer mandated by a rigid schedule, and, in accepting this, I have found ease in the simplicity of life.
It’s beautiful, letting time do its thing, while I focus on squeezing as much joy out of my days as possible.
It’s a much better way.
Length of Stay:
Part of traveling in the Southwest means deserts – lots of ’em. I was expecting a typical desert hike when I set out on the Devil’s Hall trail at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. I was pleasantly surprised when I ended up scrambling through a shaded wash littered by large limestone boulders, the evidence of the mountain range’s continuous erosion.
A desert striped whipsnake startled me when I stopped to snap some pictures. True to it’s name, the reptile slinked away, whipping it’s body in a twerking-like motion. Lizards were a dime a dozen, some looking washed out as a result of sunbathing, and others bearing bright blue throats that pulsed rhythmically.
About 2 miles into my hike I reached the famed Hiker’s staircase. It appeared man-made, but due to my conversation with a ranger pre-trip, I knew it was actually the result of complex geological processes.
The Devil’s Hall was even more mind-boggling. A narrow corridor perfect for human passage, this ravine was surrounded by huge walls of thin-layered rock. No matter how many outdoor places I visit and no matter how many parks I check off my list, I’m continuously amazed. There is so much diversity and ingenuity in our natural world.
I rested in the shade of the Hall, enjoying the cool, dry breeze filtering through the shrubbery.
I concluded that the desert is full of surprises.
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.
I want to be best friends.