Friday, April 17, 2015

My first independent venture into our National Park System.

This past weekend my girlfriend and I took a drive down to a charming little town called Springdale, Utah. There we found, red rock, a tent campsite, and some crazy Australian/British (depending on who you ask) students from California. But much more importantly, the entrance to the main canyon of Zion National Park. The views from the town were amazing, very tall, sheer cliffs of red rock sandstone complemented by the green juniper needles abundant around the Virgin River. That night, we made tinfoil dinners on a bed of charcoal briquettes in the fire ring, listening to Mumford and Sons on my brand new, fancy-pants, environment-proof speaker system (which I thought would be perfect for hiking). I held Jessica's hand throughout this entire process, cluing her in on everything I knew about essentials of camping. A satisfied smirk of contentment came over me as she became more comfortable in an environment she's been dreading since she had terrible experiences camping in San Antonio and Oklahoma in her youth. She became more at-ease and accepting of some of the less comfortable parts of sleeping outside, in a tent. My life is so heavily involved with camping for my work and during hunting season. I admire her willingness to try something new that is so important to me. This is the second time we've wandered outside her comfort zone in the last two weeks, having gone out to murder some cans with as many bullet holes as we could muster. Yet another thing that Jessica a) never grew up around b) was very frightened of and c) willing to try because she knows how important it is to me.
About to risk our lives on the final leg of the Angel's Landing trail
Not only was she willing to go outside her comfort zone for me and go camping. outside. with bears?!?!! she thinks... But she was actually excited to go out and do massive amounts of cardio on some of the hardest hikes in the park! We saw some amazing views, feared for our life, and ate well earned PB&J's. This trip brought us closer together as a couple and made some amazing memories in one of the most beautiful canyons in the world. As much as it pains me to say (because they're under the Department of the Interior agency of the federal government just like the BLM, who apparently I'm supposed to have a friendly, brotherly rivalry with because I work for the Forest Service), the National Park Service has their shit together in their corners of this country. Their road and trail systems are impeccable, well-designed, and well-planned to accommodate such heavy use. Zion was the perfect combination of all of the things I love about nature, beautiful views of geological formations, a variety of interesting tree species, and the beauty presented in the sky, clouds and weather. Needless to say, this trip was chock full of beautiful views and awe inspiring hikes weaving through the red-rock. So yeah, Zion NP was a good place for me to experience the things I love most about nature, but I also had the experience of having Jessica by my side.
Taking a break at the top of Observation Point, taking in all the majesty of the canyon
Yeah, we did the touristy stuff, the things that you hear the most about the park. We laughed in the face of danger while climbing to the top of Angel's Landing, with only a length of chain keeping us from plummeting to our deaths. We went as far as we could up The Narrows, inadvertently soaking our boots and socks with water from the Virgin River that throughout time carved the shape of this spectacular park's main canyon. The majesty and sheer size of these landmarks alone make you feel small on this planet while still inspiring me with it's spectacle of color, diversity, and height. I couldn't help but think of my favorite president ever, Teddy Roosevelt, and everything he saw in the American west before venturing back to Washington and implementing the preservation of such national beauty. Being in areas so well preserved makes me feel closer to the way the entire west looked like before it was so heavily developed. Yes there was plenty of bitching, inflamed joints, with a touch of sunburn, but we kicked some ass and took some names (slowly and steadily) on some of the hardest and most scenic hikes in my entire life.

Taken from Observation Point, looking down at Angel's Landing and the rest of Zion Canyon

I had never been to this part of Utah before, but once we started planning, the date couldn't come fast enough. I'd heard so much about this place, with much respect and admiration from all those I spoke to who had ventured down to this mystifying place before me. I never expected I could have such an emotional and spiritual experience in such a highly-traveled area, but being dwarfed by the sheer, runny, rusted, streaking red canyon walls I would eventually summit during my trip is a soulfully humbling experience. Being in these historically preserved places remind me of the best part of my job, which is being in very remote areas, rich with beauty. It's always a very humbling and equates to concentrated meditation sessions that recharge my soul and center me. What's even better is that as of now, Jessica and I are planning a trip to Arches National Park in the coming weeks for a similar experience outside of Moab. Much like Springdale, Moab is another one of those highly tourist-based towns, but it still as a very homey, small-town feel that's very inviting to me. I even talked Jessica into agreeing to a resolution to visit a new National Park every year for the rest of our lives! I could not love Jessica any more than I do at the conclusion of this trip, despite her being fairly grouchy for being outside of her comfort zone in a strange environment, doing something very foreign to her. It's her willingness to at least try to take interest in activities I am constantly doing year round that is so attractive to me. It was a captivating experience, and I don't wish to have had anyone else accompany me to what is now in my top 5 favorite places in the entire world. I'm proud of you and grateful for you, baby.
This picture pretty much sums up not just the trip, but our relationship in general

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