“We Need the Tonic of Wildness”
A STORY by
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Some of you may recognize the quote from Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden.” It’s come to be something that both Nick and I live by. Both of us work full-time jobs that we love (he a teacher, and I a journalist), but our true passion is the outdoors, and we try to disappear into the wilderness as often as we can. On our most recent trip we spent 10 days road-tripping through Utah, hiking the “Big Five” and exploring state parks and ghost towns along the way.
We drove for over 1500 miles, hitting six National parks (Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches), four state parks (Kodachrome Basin, Goblin Valley, Dead Horse Point, and Antelope Island), a smattering of ghost towns, and as many breweries as possible. In July, no less. One thing that really stuck out for us - many of Utah’s state parks are as breathtaking as its National Parks. We began planning our trip months ahead of time and even so, we could not make campground reservations at any of the national parks; they were already reserved. So we began looking at state parks and scored some amazing campsites and got to experience a part of Utah we hadn’t originally planned on.
We were blown away by Utah’s colors, by the remote desert highways, by the star-filled skies. In each park we sought out the routes less traveled. Our goal was to truly escape into nature, away from the crowds and the cars and cell service. There were however a few uber-popular trails on our to-do list. We couldn’t very well come to Utah without hiking down into Bryce Canyon or experiencing Delicate Arch. So we hiked at sunrise and at dusk and we were amazed at how the crowds thinned. And we could experience these amazing places as they were meant to be experienced.
We hit a few road bumps along the way, which frankly if you don’t hit a few after driving 1500 miles I would be truly be surprised. In one such instance we became stuck on a sand dune while taking a short cut to Goblin Valley State Park (in the middle of the night). Another night we almost had our tent collapse while camping on the rim of a canyon in gale-force winds. Looking back, they all add to our amazing adventure.
On one special night we camped at Dead Horse Point State Park, and spent the day exploring nearby Canyonlands National Park. We headed out to Canyonlands at dusk and caught sunset over the canyon rim. At the very beginning of our trip we visited the Grand Canyon (a first for both of us), and while we were blown away by its sheer scale, the crowds took away from some of its splendor. At Canyonlands, the canyon might not have been as deep, but it left us all the more speechless. To experience a place like that at sunset is breathtaking as is, but to have a corner of it all to yourself, that is something truly special indeed.
After the sun had set, we hiked by the glow of our headlamps to Mesa Arch, arguably the most famous arch in Canyonlands’ Island in the Sky district. Seeing as how it was after sunset, all the photographers had left by then. My camera could in no way do the sight justice at that time of night, but my eyes could still pick out the depths of the canyon below and the full moon in the sky. I did take one photo to remember that moment, but the moment was about the experience; it won’t be winning any awards but it has all the more sentimental value to me.
And that is one thing we always try to keep in mind on our trips. We are both avid amateur photographers and we are always taking pictures of our journey. But we don’t seek out a place in order to take an amazing photograph. We seek out hikes and experiences and take photos along the way. So the light might not be perfect and yes, perhaps that mountain would have photographed so much better at sunrise, but maybe we wanted to sleep in that day? Stay cozy in our tents for a little bit longer and seize the day when it felt natural for our bodies to do so. Perhaps one day we’ll seek out award-worthy shots, but for now our journey is not about the perfect shot, it’s about feeling alive. It’s about finding a escaping our 9-5 lives, getting back to nature, and challenging each other to hike farther and longer. And we take photos along the way to share them after we’ve returned. If our journey inspires others to do the same, then we’ve accomplished our goal.
There is a big debate right now on social media, whether we should be sharing photos of the places we love, whether that will lead to overcrowding and misuse of the land. We often debate the same thing ourselves. But I truly believe that people need to feel a connectedness to a place to foster a passion for conservation. So I hope that by sharing our journey, it will inspire others to visit some of the places we love so much; to visit them and to preserve them. We all need to do our part.