Why did it take me so long to do this?
That’s the thought that popped into my head while I was a mile above ground in Zion National Park. From those heights, a lot of emotions tend to flow through one’s system. Personally speaking, I was somewhere between nervous and terrified, as I’ve always been afraid of heights. But the higher I walked, and the more spectacular the views became, I felt a new emotion bubbling up: freedom.
A little bit about me.
I’ve never really considered myself a “nature” guy. In fact, I’ve always argued that hiking is just strenuous walking with a backpack. No, thank you. But my experiences this past week have changed all that. I’m currently taking a cross-country road trip out to San Francisco, with some adventurous zigs and zags along the way. In the last seven days, I’ve visited New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah and Colorado. And I sure have seen some things.
It all started innocently enough.
My drive from Santa Fe to Phoenix wasn’t supposed to include a hike. But when I saw signs for Petrified Forest National Park, I became curious. I figured that I had some time to kill and since it was a beautiful day, I’d go for it.
As I pulled in, the first sight of the canyon below made me giddy. I shouted some expletives I can’t repeat here, followed by the type of laugh you’d unleash if you just hit the jackpot. Because that’s how I felt. The beauty of the scene below made me feel like the luckiest man in the world for having viewed it.
And that’s when the itch began.
Over the next few days, I started proactively seeking out hikes to do wherever I was staying. It was Sunrise Mountain in Phoenix, and then Torrey Pines in San Diego. From there, I added Joshua Tree National Park (CA) to the list and then Zion and Arches in Utah.
The more I hiked, and the more natural beauty I was able to consume, the more I fell in love with being outdoors. But it wasn’t until Zion, as my lungs burned and my shirt dripped with sweat that I felt a true release from the worries of everyday life. I felt free in a way that I hadn’t experienced since childhood.
Therein lies the beauty.
As I started my descent down the trail, I started to think more about my “moment” at the top. And it’s like this: the beauty of nature isn’t just what your eyes can see, but what your heart and mind can feel.
There’s always Google image search if you want to look at scenic views. But being out in the wilderness created, in me at least, a sense of positive insignificance. The world is much bigger than any one of us, and is certainly much bigger than any day-to-day worries we may have.
It’s a beautiful thing, this whole “nature” thing. I’m hooked. And I can’t wait for my next adventures.
Visit the blog in April for Jay’s first National Parks Power Rankings, including his upcoming trips to North Cascades, Yellowstone and Grand Teton.