Back in September of 2017, I visited the Ouachita National Forest in southeastern Oklahoma. This is a gem that sit only a few hours away from me that I need to revisit this year, FOR SURE. Enjoy some photos fro my morning that day and may you find the forest today and everyday.
It was the winter of 2015 and I had some time on my hands. We had already visited Alaska for Thanksgiving and though why not run through Michigan and Minnesota around Christmas. We visited my family in Rogers City and then up through the Upper Peninsula. One of the best places we stopped was Tahquamenon Falls on the east end of the peninsula. The path was snowy and icicles were prominent, making it all even more beautiful. Enjoy a few photos and escape into the winter wonderland that is the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
This weekend, I had an excuse for everything. From dinner plans to household tasks that NEEDED to be done, I avoided my local hiking haunts like the plague. I had apartment tours to take, property tours to take, a friend's birthday dinner, chores, shopping, and uncooperative weather. I truly had an excuse for every hour of daylight. Were the excuses legitimate? Maybe some, but certainly not all of them. Could I have taken a hike at one of my standby locations? Definitely. I'm not opposed to hiking in the rain or even the dark, but I used those two situations to justify staying home and being less active. I reached out to a couple of people to see if they would go with me, they were busy, so I used that as an excuse not to go out. The drive to the place I really wanted to go was 45 minutes, through traffic, so I avoided it.
I wasn't motivated at all this weekend to get outside because the options just weren't that appealing to me. I had this problem last year - when I didn't have an out-of-town trip planned, or couldn't drive a few hours to a nice state park, I would lose motivation or begrudgingly go to a local staple and not even enjoy the outdoors that much. So this post today, is about fighting off the excuses, fighting through the illusion that local green spaces aren't good enough, and getting excited about the local haunts that keep me sane between bigger adventures.
Pros of local spots:
- Easy to access, usually
- A little green in the concrete jungle
- Always there when I need it
- Cheap or free
Cons of local spots:
- Can seem boring
- Often crowded/overused
- Not wild enough/secluded enough
- Trails not long enough
This is all psychological, for me, and once I actually drive somewhere I get a little more excited and can look past the cons. Getting from my apartment to the car is the hardest part for local hikes so here's what I'm going to do to psych myself up:
- Start earlier to avoid people and traffic
- Know that I'll be better off after a few miles through the woods, always
- Come to terms with the fact that this is enough and plan for a more exciting hike the next time - it's all about balance
This post isn't very motivating, yet....hopefully this helps.
I'm aware that this is a personal problem, and is specific to my city life in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas. I'm working on being more grateful for the green space and nearby state parks I do have while also knowing I need to balance out these local spots with more adventurous places. I know life can get busy, but the whole point of the 52 Hike Challenge is to make sure I always set aside time for a hike. It is time to get pumped up again and make up for this missed week. It is time to show gratitude for the places I do have nearby and for the peace and clarity they can bring. I hope, if you're having trouble getting outside or are sick of the same parks you have, that you can try to break through that mindset too. Share with me what motivates you to get outside, bonus points if you have a story about feeling refreshed about your local spots. Happy trails!
For years, I'd stay up all night and sleep through the sunrises not waking until the sun was at a high noon. It wasn't until back in college when we started doing road trips through the night that I started to appreciate the sunrise. I've always had trouble sleeping, so staying up all night was never a problem; I always went to bed as the moon began to set. Driving all night - be it around Lake Michigan for no reason at all, from Michigan to Seattle (a few nights), or anywhere else we went - allowed me to be awake for the sunrise.
I can remember back to sometime my sophomore year of college, or so, that we did a winter road trip circumnavigating Lake Michigan. We left Grand Rapids, MI and headed south towards Chicago and up through Milwaukee. The best part, on each occasion this trip happened, was Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Up there, I remember seeing the best sunrises. We did the trip three different years, but the first trip was when I realized I'd forever be a sunrise guy. Below are three photos of the frigid winter sunrise from Michigan's Upper Peninsula from the early 2000s.
In 2007 my buddies and I started doing these spring break road trips that allowed us to see as much as possible in the least amount of time. Between the three of us, no one had crossed the Mississippi as an adult nor had we experienced the Rocky Mountains (or any mountains) in person. This road trip involved many stops but I can still remember that moment when the sun would barely peek over the horizon. That sliver of a sunrise signaled a new day and regenerated me every time. I tried to find some photos from the various road trips, but most are blurry or through a dirty windshield. Take a road trip, drive through the night, and let me know how that first sliver of light makes you feel.
As the years went by, road trip sunrises quickly became one of my favorite things. If you catch a desert sunrise, road trip or not, it's probably going to be one of the best things you see. Another favorite sunrise of mine was in 2011 at the Grand Canyon North Rim in October, right before they closed for the season. This was not only my first Grand Canyon sunrise, it was my first time seeing the Grand Canyon in person. What a way to be introduced to the place - as it wakes up.
On my most recent trip, to Minnesota, I woke up just in time to see the sun rising over Lake Superior. Everyone was asleep, even the dog, so I quickly got dressed and crept outside to watch the sun come up. I walked from the house, through the pines, and ended on the beach. I could hear the ice moving, see the fog over the city behind me, and see a couple of dogs being walked down the way. It was an amazing moment in time, to stop and take it all in.
Sunrises may be my favorite, but don't think I wont whip out a camera or phone to capture the sunset just as often. Every beginning has an end and both are beautiful.
**Seeing can mean believing... more of my opinions on inclusiveness in the parks.**
I know some people who have gone to National Parks. They have seen the majestic beauty, right along side me, and have proclaimed how beautiful it was aloud. These same friends, they don't really go to National Parks that often or at all anymore which is okay. These people saw the beauty, believe in the beauty, and will remember the beauty of these wonderful places forever. THIS IS IMPORTANT.
A National Park may not be their family vacation destination every time, but they may return someday. These people understand the importance, value, and impact these places have on the general population. They get it - because they've been there. Because these people have been there, they get why it's important to protect and fund these places. These people then connect National Parks and the preservation ideals to other natural areas that need preservation. It can build.
Visiting a National Park, once or twice, has left an impression on these people. Will they return? Maybe. Will they remember the good times there and what those parks stand for? Definitely. It just takes one time, even if nature isn't their thing, for someone to fall in love with the idea of National Parks, Monuments, Forests, etc.
Plant the seed and see what grows. We need to continue to get people of all areas of life/status/etc to these place to see for themselves - maybe only once. Maybe it isn't their thing, but maybe it is. Even if it isn't their thing, they'll remember the trip and could see how important these places are for our country.
It's amazing to me that I can remember so much from such a brief visit to a National Park. I was thinking back to my first trip to Death Valley National Park today and I can remember it all like we drove through yesterday. I remember the Devil's Golf Course, Badwater Basin, and Stovepipe Wells. I remember hugging my first redwood just days prior up in Redwood National Park. A year later, I was camping in Arches National Park after an edge-of-your-seat drive through a blizzard in the Rockies on the way there. I remember the trails we hiked to go see the various arches and landscape views as well as the campsite and the view from the tent. I remember it being something like 11 degrees and very windy with some icy spots on the trails - and a funny sign warning of falling on ice. I remember the BLM land on the Loneliest Road in America - US 50 - and the campsite there with snow. We pitched the tent, dug a trench to divert any melting snow, and made a fire. That night, the sky was so clear and full of stars. You could see US 50 for miles, and in that one night I only remember seeing two cars in the distance.
I remember something from each visit to Redwood National Park and I remember our brief drive through Olympic National Park. I remember the moss growing on the old wood - making everything pop with green. I can't recall a more worthwhile hike than the one Delicate Arch, despite not really knowing much about where we were going. I can still picture Bryce Canyon, covered in snow, from Inspiration Point. The hoodoos poking through massive snow drifts below is a sight forever burned into my brain. Snow melting, muddy trails, and the spray of waterfalls in Zion in the early spring only make me want to return.
I could go on, and on, about things I remember without even a picture to trigger it. I have so many memories from trips to National Parks. I've experienced visits as brief as a drive through with stops at scenic lookouts to camping overnight. The experience doesn't matter, as long as it happens. If we get people that may not be able to or people that don't really know too much about the parks to the parks, they may have these little memories to hold on to and may be more inclined to help preserve them. If people can develop memories or find meaning in these places, they may be more willing to join the fight to fund, protect, and expand them. We must continue to fight to get EVERYONE out to the parks. We must continue to fight the current administration and their desire to shrink, drill in, and/or eliminate these places. Together, through collective thoughts and actions we can make these parks accessible to all people and create new ones for the future while securing proper funding. I believe it is possible, do you?
**Disclaimer: This is a blog entry I've put together describing how I fell in love with our public lands and where I think we need to go with them. I don't claim to be an expert and this blog entry is strictly my opinion. My ideas are my own and are subject to change with conversations, education, and experience. Thank you.**
If we go back to my first National Park, it would be Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore or Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. I am almost sure I went to both as a teenager, with my grandparents, because my parents never took us anywhere out of the county - because of work, money, and time. I grew up far away from the beauty that was Rainier, Yosemite, Yellowstone, or Rocky Mountain. I knew not of these places until high school, but really not until college and beyond. I've always had nature, just not public nature. We had a couple hundred acres to roam, ample state land in Michigan, and plenty of friends with land. I never really grasped the concept of National Parks, designated wilderness, or the like until college. I took a course in wildlife management, learned a lot, and within the next few years visited some national parks. I had student loan money, so I was invincible. Not really, but it paid the tuition/rent and I had a few bucks left over for a spring break road trip. I don't advise on having a few bucks left over - borrow only what is necessary. I do, however, advise saving hard-earned money for a spring break road trip that isn't to some beach somewhere. Traditional spring breaks did not appeal to me - but a road trip with my buds to places people weren't going sounded amazing.
In 2007, my two friends and I, set out on that spring break road trip driving from Grand Rapids, Michigan to Denver and through the Rockies and beyond. We went right past Rocky Mountain National Park and visited a friend in Grand Junction, Colorado. We drove down through Utah, right past the Arches and Canyonlands, and onward to Texas. We drove past EVERYTHING because we didn't know much about it and one of us wasn't into the outdoors. The next year, my outdoor friend and I insisted on a better, more thoughtful trip that included national parks. We went from Grand Rapids to Seattle, down to Redwoods NP, and onward to Death Valley. We saw two parks the entire trip - which was better than nothing for us; we had to compromise for time and interest of the parties involved. I mean, forget that we drove right by Badlands, North Cascades, Olympic, Crater Lake, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and Petrified Forest. If 2017 me went back to 2008, I'd punch myself in the face for being so dumb. Anyway...
In 2009, my buddy and I drove out to Arches and camped - determined to see more of our public lands this year. We traveled onward to some BLM land in Nevada and then over to the Redwoods. Up the coast, we went to the Olympic Peninsula - which was pure magic. Saw more, stopped more, spent more time on public lands - really understanding what they were now and what they meant to me. This trip was the one that really cemented how important these places were. When 2010 came around, and we were half in college, half not sure what life was all about, half employed, we naturally decided to go to Vegas in the spring. Sin City was exciting, but I feel the real excitement was about the road trip to various national parks. We hiked in Death Valley, saw the sights from high to low, and I saw how big that place really was. From there, we went to Capitol Reef, Arches, and Zion before flying back to Michigan. If 2009 cemented it, 2010 sealed that cement. I was in love with our national parks.
In 2011, after moving to Texas I met a new friend and we went to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in October. It is hard to put into words how I felt about the views, the yellow leaves, and the crisp air. In love? Probably. 2012 brought a revival of the random road trip with my outdoor buddy (since he moved to Texas) and we ended up in Tucson at Saguaro NP. 2013 Included Carlsbad Caverns, Arches again, and the Grand Canyon South Rim. In 2014, we went to Big Bend in January and Rocky Mountain NP in August. In 2015, my other half and I took our friend on a road trip to Petrified Forest, Grand Canyon, and Zion. Later in 2015, we went to the Arch in St. Louis. In 2016 I made my return to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore with visits to Redwoods, Oregon Caves, Point Reyes, and Golden Gate. This year, we've visited Kenai Fjords, Redwoods again, and Sequoia/Kings Canyon. It's true love.
In the past few years, I've spent more time exploring public lands than I had my whole entire previous existence. I've hiked in national forests, visited the parks mentioned above, and have plans for so visiting so many more public lands. I was lucky to find the parks in 2008 and luckier now because I can afford to visit more frequently. The more I visit, the more I love these places and value their existence. The more I visit, the more I want to fight to keep them public. The more I visit, the more I see that they may be all of ours, but they're really not available to everyone. The more I visit, the more I want to use my privilege to open these parks to those who have never visited or can't visit due to distance, cost, or any combination of reasons. I can't imagine the level of passion and devotion I'd have if I'd been visiting these parks since I was a kid. It is absolutely VITAL that youth of all backgrounds, socioeconomic levels, and age groups be exposed to (and educated about) these places. Maybe these lands are not for everyone, but maybe a few of them will grow up to protect, love, and fight for them. We need to work to include everyone in the outdoor world. We need to diversify the DOI and hire people from all walks of life. We need to designate more parks/monuments/etc in more places representing the spectrum of Americans that exist.
I'm not sure quite how to accomplish the tasks at hand, but I've decided a vital step is to find a way to get more people involved and interested in our public lands. I need to immerse myself in projects, organizations, and maybe even a career shift to building a diverse following for our public lands. It may be a new love, but it's a true love. I feel as though I've finally found my place in this fight to make sure our public lands are open to all and I'm determined to make a difference.