Life is busy. Technology accompanies our nearly every move, urgently demanding rapid responses amid crowded schedules and pressing demands. Safely ensconced in our urban or suburban existence we move from one artificial environment to the next, pausing only here or there for a few hours of outdoor exercise. For those lucky enough to live in a rural area, the outdoors is certainly a bigger part of life, but it isn’t always a necessary part of life – at least for the vast majority of Americans.
Like it or not, most of us live in safe spaces. Not the sort of ridiculous adult nurseries that have sprung up of late on college campuses like so many daycares for overgrown, underdeveloped crybabies offended by anything that doesn’t go their way, but the sort of safe space that removes us from the pressing demand to hunt or grow our own food, or think carefully about how we plan our travel, and eliminates any need to cover miles of distance on foot carrying only what we need.
What we need to counter the ultra-modernity of comfortable life is to get away from safe spaces, to venture beyond the realm of the routine and overly predictable.
I recently returned from a relatively last minute trip to western Wyoming where my family and I stayed in a cabin (with running water) and did day trips to Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. We did easy hikes and I did hard hikes. We saw wildlife. We watched as the summer foliage lost its vibrant green and turned to glowing yellows and reds.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, and this trip allowed me to add two more national parks to the four parks (and countless non-national park NPS-managed properties) that I’ve visited. As a truly remarkable national resource, the National Parks allow us to experience the landscape of our forefathers, to marvel at the rugged determination of the pioneers who pushed ever westward in search of fortune, or discovery, or simply a better life for themselves.
Grand Teton National Park is a breathtaking panorama of stalwart peaks surrounded by miles of hiking trails of varying difficulty (many relatively easy) and corresponding reward. While most easy trails yield only modest vistas, around the base of the Tetons there is no bad view, although the harder the hike the more rewarding the scenery becomes. The park is a hiker’s and cyclist’s paradise and hitting the trails requires you to prepare for any eventuality that may arise for the time you are on the trail; raingear is necessary, food and water essential and a first aid kit a good insurance policy.
Unlike the Tetons, Yellowstone, the oldest national park, doesn’t stun you with immediate beauty. Spread across the vast pine forest and rolling hills nestled between western Wyoming mountains the bison herds, geyser basis and elk invite closer inspection to reveal their awe-inspiring wonder. Far more cumbersome to get about, Yellowstone is a driving park where stretching your legs on a short trail must suffice if spending a day or more on a single trail isn’t an option.
There are plenty of great days left this year for getting outdoors, so put down your smart phone, shut off your e-mail, and get outside and enjoy the wilderness. With all the craziness of this election cycle, it will be a good investment of your time!