Note: I wrote this love letter in May of 2016 after my first trip to Utah, but never published it here. I had no idea that I’d be taking my San Francisco-based job remote to move to Park City in July of 2019. This is now my “back yard” and I have the same feelings about it 3 years later.
At first, the Utah desert appears two-tone. Gargantuan rock formations and canyon walls rise impossibly upwards from the endless expanse of russet earth. Scrappy green shrubbery prevails and provides contrast in this otherworldly landscape. The vastness of the red and green range is paralleled only by the moody sky, which shuffles in storm clouds and displays its bravado each afternoon.
But soon the eyes adjust, as they do when stepping outside into a sunny day, and the green splashes reveal a multitude of hues. Sage blue speckles the landscape and chartreuse pops vividly against the red dust. Each flower demands appreciation for its ingenuity of simply existing — no energy wasted, no mechanism without reason. In the desert, everything has its place and purpose; no more and no less.
In the midst of a deranged election year and political climate, the desert also houses a shining example and reminder of something this country got right. Utah contains 5 National Parks and several national monuments, recreation areas, and historic sites. The stewardship and preservation of this land is a nod to the inexplicable draw to nature that all humans contain, no matter how diluted or forgotten in our day-to-day lives.
During our 10-day mountain biking trip, we visited Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park. While we jokingly created “tourist bingo” for our jaunts into the parks (spot a group of 5 or more with matching bucket hats, follow a tour leader with a totem, find a kid on a leash), these same tourists epitomize the impact of the National Park Service. Although tempting to poke fun at groups of visitors with matching dinosaur track t-shirts or “extreme tourists” wearing thousands of dollars of GORE-TEX and camera gear, their presence in the park is a powerful statement. There are few things that resonate with such a variety of people as the grandeur of nature. Travelers and families from all over the country and globe join in on the sacred act of stewardship and suddenly have an experience and appreciation in common.
Still however attempting to avoid the humanity, we ventured deep into the parks to explore. Beautifully maintained trails led us through desert mesas and canyons, where we stood at the edges of canyon walls to marvel at the scenery and try to capture with our cameras some representation of the magnificence before us. I found myself remarking how “beautiful,” “crazy,” and “amazing,” my surroundings were, but those words are futile. The truth is that I struggled to take it all in. No words could capture all of it; the vastness, texture, colors, air quality, spirituality. Words scarcely do it justice — to see it is to experience it, and even to see it doesn’t seem like enough. I wanted to breath it in and disappear into it. I wanted to stretch my arms out and inhale and feel like maybe, for a second, I could draw the wildness into myself.
In August, the National Park Service celebrates 100 years. I like to think about how the NPS started — those moments of foresight when our predecessors realized that these lands needed protection; when they invested in systems and services to ensure future generations could share and benefit from experiences in nature. I also like to think about the next 100 years of NPS and the adventures I’ll have in my lifetime. Utahs’ parks reminded me how accessible these areas are and inspired me to continue exploring. This Summer, dip into nature and celebrate by visiting a park. Lean in to the wildness around you and appreciate the land that is protected for your enjoyment.
And don’t forget to wish NPS a very HBD.