I’m not sure what my very first national park was, but to my memory, it was Badlands National Park. I was thirteen and my family had spent 20+ hours in a big hulking van driving west. My brother and I passed the time looking for license plates. The breeze from my dad’s open window and the Lord Of The Rings book cassettes acted as our soundtrack.
So much of the landscape seemed the same as I stared out my window. Until suddenly it wasn’t. Suddenly it didn’t even seem earthly anymore. My dad parked the car and we got out and looked at this dusty, brown, exotic place. It was breathtaking. We couldn’t stay more than that brief moment, but we climbed around and felt the earth beneath our fingers. We wanted to stay longer. I remember feeling an intensity about the land and despite being 13 and terrified of encountering a snake with every step, I still wanted to go further and know more about this land. We would travel to many national parks that summer. We stayed at them longer, pitched our tent, hiked, explored.
In that big hulking van we saw Yellowstone, Yosemite, Redwood, Point Reyes, The Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce and Rocky Mountain. I fell in love with each of their exotic, other worldly landscapes.
Last summer I repeated parts of my childhood trip. This time I loaded up a petite and slender car with my tent and my dog and drove west. Some of the places I visited were new. I went to Teton and Arches National Park. I also went back to Bryce and Zion. I remember talking to my dad during that trip. He had gotten out his old journal to read through again and to think of me in these places we had once hiked and explored together. We talked about how these places touched us in spiritual and transcendent ways.
“We take so much for granted and spend so much time seeing what we can overpower with our humanness,” I told him. “And yet here are these parks, these places we have seen fit to preserve because they are important. These places where hundreds of thousands of people come from all over the world and pay money to marvel at evidence of the power and destructive nature of our planet. Because at the end of the day, that destruction is what has carved out these places and what makes these canyons, rivers, geysers, hot pools, and mountains so beautiful. Here are these national reminders that this earth is so much more powerful than us.” I am so glad for that reminder, and I am so glad for these preserved places.
I haven’t been back to The Badlands yet. Someday. In the meantime I will continue to explore. I will continue to climb, hike and marvel at the beautiful intensity of our land.
In honor of National Park Week, I will be sharing stories all week of some of my favorite national park moments.