Nature can be euphoric. It is mood altering. It can provide serenity or an intense adrenaline rush. Each of us has a different reason to get out in nature. No matter what our individual calling is, millions of us make the journey as often as possible. I suppose for many of us, one of the things we seek is to find ourselves. Being at one with nature can do that. We need that. There is no better place to experience this than in our National Parks.
For the past 100 years, our National Parks have been one of the ideals that have continued to make America great. The story of the creation of the Park Service is an interesting tale and is filled with foresight, conservation, morals, and opportunism. I dare not attempt a retelling of that drama, nor should anyone, because Ken Burns summed it up purposefully, poetically, and perfectly in his PBS documentary, The National Parks – America’s Best Idea. If you have not seen it, you must. You will have a heightened appreciation for the parks and the people who worked so passionately to secure them for us and future generations. The parks and the people who established them are national treasures.
I often think about some of my first impressions of the National Parks that I’ve visited over the years. There is something special about these particular moments. The wonder and amazement you feel as you exit the tunnel and Yosemite Valley appears before you, as grand a sight as you may ever see. Surreal. Epic. Beautiful. The drive up the southern Sierras as you pass the Four Brothers in Sequoia and enter the Giant Forest, home of the largest and oldest trees on Earth. The jaw-dropping grandeur of the Grand Canyon where, if you listen hard enough, you can sense and hear the spirit of the region. The rugged, alpine, glacial terrain of Glacier, where you feel as though you are on a different continent. The mysterious yet beckoning Carlsbad Caverns, filled with otherworldly forms, alien but magnificent. The indescribably blue waters of Crater Lake, and the restful, yet powerful forces that lurk within Mt. Rainer. The list goes on and on; however, I think I make my point. No doubt you can conjure up a unique memory or two from your visits.
I’m a believer that you have a ‘home’ park. The park that is your personal mecca, your Xanadu. The place that you know and that knows you. Where you feel at home. Where you can find yourself.
Being a native California boy, mine is Yosemite. Please, if you will, humor me for a paragraph or two, and let me tell you a little story. It circles back around to finding yourself in our National Parks — I assure you!
A year before I got married, my soon to be fiancee and I went on a road trip (she got points for that right off the bat). One leg of that journey took us to Yosemite. Having both been there many times before, it was wonderful to enjoy it with each other, hear stories of earlier visits and create our own memories. That trip tied the knot, so to speak, on our relationship and we were married a year later.
Life got busy and years passed before we were able to get back in the car and head back for another trip to Yosemite. We packed the road trip essentials and headed off on our adventure. As we entered the park’s southern entrance we reminisced about our earlier trip, and enjoyed the thirty or so minute drive down to the valley. We came upon the tunnel that I mentioned earlier and we fell silent. We exited and El Captian, Half Dome, Bridal Veil Falls and the awe-inspiring valley came into view. I pulled the car over. We sat there for a few brief moments and then looked at each other, tears streaming down our faces and smiles as big as ever. Feelings and memories of a lifetime merging. We were home.
There is something about Yosemite that grounds us, energizes us, and reminds us to appreciate the world around us. <em>It makes us better people.</em> We visit as frequently as we can and with each trip, stories are retold, new memories are made, and we get centered. It makes us whole. This is no coincidence. We have #FoundOurPark.
Chapters in your personal National Park story are being written with each visit. They are, or can be, a very big part of who you are and who you want to be. I challenge you to get back out there and #FindYourPark, but moreover, #FindYourself. It can be life changing.
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