In 2012 I spent 9 days backpacking in breathtaking southern Utah. It was one of the most transformative experiences I’ve ever had. I grew up camping and playing in nature so the outdoors has always had a special place in my heart and mind but when I lived 9 full days and nights with nothing but sky above me and 1.7 million acres of sand and rocks below me I realized what was truly important in life. This realization came while surrounded by one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. It was Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and it is one of the many monuments being reviewed by our current administration.
During this trip I faced some of the toughest physical and mental challenges I’ve ever faced. I climbed a sand dune the size of a mountain for hours and hours, knowing that forward was the only option. I slept soundly in a forest littered with furry grey spiders despite massive arachnophobia. I lived without the luxury of music, television, electricity, vehicles and running water. At no time during this journey did I think to myself I don’t want to be here, I could be doing something more interesting, or I want more. This perspective was because I felt the value of perseverance, appreciation and surprisingly silence.
While climbing in and out of deep canyons and hiking across miles of rolling deserts (filled with adorable bunny tracks!) I took joy in getting quiet with myself. I didn’t perceive boredom as an uncomfortable state. Loneliness and longing weren’t emotions that I put effort toward because I knew I already had all that I needed. I had sturdy clothes for any type of weather, an abundance of food in my pack and of course, my 11 or so fellow backpackers that were knowledgeable and helpful. And yes, we all had first aid kits!
Through the quiet moments under that giant sky filled with more stars than I’ve ever seen (even in Northern California), I was able to recognize that I don’t need more than that. The rest is luxury.
My camera battery even depleted on day 4 and I didn’t care. I was actually excited for the opportunity to be even more present and keep only my memories and my journal entries for those last days. Come to think of it, my memory after day 4 is so much more vivid than when I knew I could simply take a picture of a moment and preserve it forever.
We learned about the Anasazi tribes that lived on the land for hundreds of years and we did 25 river crossings in one day. One morning my boots were frozen and the only way to thaw them was to pour water on them and hike in wet boots. And I didn’t care. I didn’t care because the magnificence of the canyons and mountains around me put things in perspective. They were a constant reminder that my old daily needs and wants were petty and unnecessary. I didn’t care that my boots were wet because I was appreciative of the fact that I had boots to wear.
Backpacking in this National Monument was such an edifying experience for me. It changed my relationship with myself and in turn lead me to make a lot of positive outward changes in my life. The vast deserts atop the deep red canyons and the powerful Escalante River remind me of how important contrast and diversity is in life. The desert complements the raging river within the canyon below and that system houses a flourishing ecosystem. If you remove just one part the system might not be able to sustain itself.
Right now Grand Staircase-Escalante is one of the National Monument under review by our current administration. If you have ever had one quiet moment with nature or 9 days full of quiet moments in nature I urge you to take action on this issue. What you can do:
1. Educate yourself.
2. Talk about it! Speak up and let others know about this issue. Word of mouth is powerful just like the Escalante River.
3. Donate to NPCA
4. Tell Zinke to protect our National Monuments.
5. Plan a vacation or an outing to a National Park or Monument!!