There are few moments as rewarding as experiencing a National Park with someone who has never been there. As they gaze upon your favorite places, overcome with wonder and feeling awestruck at the splendor of nature, I become filled a true happiness. For many of us, when we get to share our happy places with others, we have a chance to play guide and lay out a full blown, interactive presentation of why these areas are so spectacular. Like a dealer getting someone hooked on a drug, that is what I try to do with National Parks. We give them a taste and watch them become addicted with heading outdoors. This week on #NatureWritingChallenge, I share where I usually introduce people to the beauty of Public Lands.
I remember the moment I fell in love with Public Lands. I was six years old, and was stuffed in the back of my parents small Ford Festiva with my sister and our dog. We had driven for 14 hours over two days to get to our destination, but none of that seemed important to me. I was distracted with what was going on outside, just like everyone else. We were in Yellowstone’s Hayden Valley during the bison rut, face to face with a bull bison grunting at the small car. While somewhat terrifying, this moment is locked in my mind as the exact second I knew I would be dedicating my life to sharing public lands with others. My six year old brain couldn’t articulate that at the time, though.
Growing up in Grays Harbor, Washington, my family would take visitors to our house a few hours north to Olympic National Park, exploring the wilderness coast of Olympic or wandering the impossibly gorgeous rainforest trails of the Quinault. Like clockwork, a guest would arrive and within a day or two, we would load up the car to wander the trails and show off our “backyard” park. Sharing the moments with my family, public lands brought us closer together, sharing awe-inspiring experiences in some of the most beautiful terrain imaginable. Years passed and I continued to be smitten with National Parks, falling in love with a new one every summer like an endless series of summer flings.
As I got older and independent, I continued my family tradition of sharing my favorite places with important people in my life. In and after college, I would take my friends that were interested in road trips, or my family visiting town, out to explore and enjoy America’s Public Lands. I would take whoever I was dating to a National Park, sharing part of em that is important and hoping that they too would embrace the lands. Maybe this wasn’t a fair test, but if the person I was dating disliked camping or hiking or nature, that relationship would end pretty soon after we returned. Relationship after relationship would be brought to the Park, forgoing memories, both painful and great, with a handful of people.
I was lucky and privileged. I had the entire west as my playground and could take people almost anywhere. Yet, I always picked the same place. You’d assume, based on my love of Olympic and the fact that it is my home park, that this would be the destination I share with others to introduce them to wilderness and public lands. I mean, I have written a handful of guidebooks specifically for those hoping to fall in love with Olympic, but it isn’t where I usually take people first.
Instead, I take them to Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone is the land that helped shape me into the steward of public lands that I am today. It is wild and unfamiliar, scenic and inspiring. I know many parks say this, but Yellowstone has it all. It is hard for any outdoor enthusiast to hate the park, as geysers and thermal features abound, mountains rise into the heavens above the bison filled prairies, waterfalls pour over cliffs, jaw-dropping stargazing consume the nights, and the wildlife watching is simply incredible. Whether the person I take to the park is a hiker, runner, climber or someone who wants to only ride in the car and stop at the major attractions, Yellowstone is perfect.
Taking people to Yellowstone is something I love to do, and not just because it means I get another trip to the park. Yellowstone is the first park, the boldest public land experiment, and unlike anywhere else in the world. From the moment you pass under the Roosevelt Arch in Gardiner, Montana, you know that something amazing is going to happen. Passing antelope, elk, bison and bighorn sheep with the first five miles, you soon arrive at the iconic Mammoth Hot Springs, your first glimpse at the
Trips into Yellowstone can tell a lot about a person. For most, it is like a never ending dream of beauty and intrigue, where wondrous sights, one of a kind sounds and memorable smells inundate you at every turn. Yellowstone is like most public land destinations; a place where the stresses and worry of your day to day fade away, replaced with moments that truly can be life changing. Taking people to Yellowstone brings me joy, as I get to share a place that has played a huge part of my life. It has become part of my soul and when I am fortunate enough to take someone new to the park, I get revitalized and energized at every passing moment.
*This post was written in one hour for #NatureWritingChallenge