The last town before entering a National Park, known as a gateway community, is always interesting. Some parks have incredible towns full of amenities and attractions on the outskirts of their protected lands. Others seem to have little more than a gas station and a few curious locals eyeballing every car that drives toward the pristine wilderness.
Insects bug people. We all have had experiences on public lands where horseflies kept biting us, mosquitoes tried to drain us of every drop of blood and yellow jackets harasses and stung us. We come back dejected, itchy and sometimes swollen. I agree- days when bugs are bad can be awful. However, sometimes an encounter with an insect is the opposite, giving a day full of intrigue and wonder. For me, once such encounter occurred in Montana’s Paradise Valley.
The pressure builds in your head, your ears feel tight, the air gets thinner; these are the signs that you are gaining elevation quickly. Increasing, the only relief is a hard swallow or blowing your nose, “popping” your ears and releasing the pressure. This feeling is one of my first memories. I was four years years old, flying back from California and I was crying. The elevation gain was too much for my tiny head to deal with and was incredibly uncomfortable. I had my favorite stuffed animal clutched to me tightly as my parents and the flight attendant tried to reassure me that it would be alright. I was given a drink and some peanuts and the pressure was released. For years, I loathed this experience. Now, it is a sign that great adventures will soon be had.
It was the 1980s and I was a little kid when I first heard about Native Americans in Yellowstone National Park. I was told, by a ranger at a visitor center that Native Americans didn’t live in or even visit the lands within the boundaries of the park. I was told they were scared of the unexplainable and the area was avoided. I was told lies.
It was late summer of 2015. The snow had melted by February. There was a fire burning in the Queets Rainforest. It was the driest year on record and was my first glimpse at the extremes of climate change.
I had already racked up more miles in the Olympics than I had in the previous three years combined, and decided to take a trip up to the often-overlooked Black and White Lakes in Olympic National Park. It would be another glorious day in the wilderness of my backyard park and while expectations were high, what I encountered is still an event on Public Lands that I look back on fondly.
Nearly every hike I complete on our Public Lands becomes a favorite. From coastal treks past stunning sea stacks, to rainforest runs, canyon crusades and mountain top meanderings, every mile hiked is a memory I want to relive over and over again. These trails nourish my struggling soul, bringing back meaning and calmness to my normal anxious and worried state. With each step, I find balance and happiness, remembering why I walked away from my old life and started over in nature. No trail is a favorite for long, but some remain classics that I return to again and again. One of those is found out in Big Sky Country, where mountain summits await.
Relationships are tough. They cause pain and heartache, but also bring happiness and love. They give us incredible highs not found anywhere else, while still having the power to completely destroy us for days, weeks, months or years. They come and they go, leaving us forever changed, for bad or for great. They take and they give, they inspire and they crush. If healthy, they allow us to love and be loved.
John Muir. Edward Abbey. Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt. Ansel Adams. Aldo Leopold. These heroes of public lands have many things in common, including being old, white men. While the history of America’s Public Lands seem to be only filled with members of the patriarchy, there are hundreds, if not thousands of others who deserve the same credit and attention. One of those is Herma Albertson Baggley, who lived from 1896-1981. The other is Marguerite Lindsley, who lived from 1901-1952.
Our National Parks are filled with incredible history. From buildings and battlefields, to the cultural importance of these lands to the first people’s, every single one of these places of Public Lands is steeped in historical wonder. Our Public Lands have a lifetime’s worth of stories and tales, iconic figures and shady characters, allowing us each to have a favorite part of the unique history in our National Parks. While I could, and may, write an entire book about historical awesomeness around these regions, for now I will share one of the slices of history that I often repeat while taking people to Olympic National Park.
I was stressed and sad, or as I called it in 2013, Tuesday. We were in the midst of a Government shutdown and I was surviving my job as a political consultant on fumes and alcohol. My job was safe for the year, but the future was not. I had reached my breaking point and needed an escape. Campaign life was draining my soul and the rotten mood of America was permeating everything around me. I had to get away, so I bailed on my responsibilities for the day and decided to hike into Olympic National Park. I needed something beautiful to calm my restless soul.