I grabbed my hiking bag from the top of my closet, pulled my brown leather hiking boots out and brushed off the dust crumbles, earth likely from Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Park.
Walking to class on the endless concrete sidewalk, my mind wanders to national parks, craving lush greenery and scenic waterfalls. At school, I grew homesick for places that were never actually home. I feel at home in the park and in nature.
Traveling to the national parks and seeing wild buffalo fight during mating season is not the average family vacation, but our trips have had a transformative impact on my life. Being in nature allows me to feel at peace, and witnessing the crown jewels of America’s landscape is surreal.
I had my first adventure at 15 when we visited Acadia National Park and the rewarding feeling of reaching the top of Cadillac Mountain and looking over Maine had me hooked. I didn’t want to travel anywhere that didn’t have a national park.
Last summer, my family traveled to Yellowstone and then to Grand Teton. In a section of the park, there is the remainder of a Mormon settlement with a small church, built out of wood from the Teton National Forest. The panoramic mountain range and the turquoise lake pure from melted glacier water contrasted against the park’s historical sites. Grand Teton felt primitive as if technology — and the stress that comes with it — were centuries away. I settled into the rhythm of a simpler lifestyle on these trips and nature effortlessly slipped me into a peaceful and calm haze.
“Have you thought about where we should go this year?” my Dad asked, handing me the large national park coffee table book.
“I’m not sure. I remember seeing Mt. Rainier from Seattle, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
We had previously traveled to Glacier Bay, Alaska, and I had seen Mt. Rainier during our layover.
“What if we go back to Washington?” I said to my Dad and turned the book around. He takes notes and begins researching.
I squished the hiking boots into the top of my luggage, desperate to make them fit. For this year’s trip we were going to Washington to visit Mt. Rainier, North Cascades and Olympic National Park.
Upon arriving to Mt. Rainier, the park itself was packed, and although I enjoy seeing others enjoy parks, I find that large crowds obstruct the view, hindering the spiritual and emotional part of the trip.
However, the crowds dwindled away in the background as we began paying attention to the stunning views and wildlife. The trail was covered with dazzling wildflowers and we were granted clear blue skies. Backpackers traveled the same trail as me, but only when they reached the base of the mountain I realized they were going for the summit, a goal I hoped to accomplish one day and another reason to keep coming back.
At the top of the hike, the wildflowers turned into sheets of snow and glacier. The base of Mt. Rainier had yet to melt and I was able to slide down the glacier hills on my hiking pack. Looking up to Mt. Rainier, I eagerly took in the serene moment, fearful I wouldn’t be able to see the view again. In my daily life, I rarely stop and take in the scene, but I could’ve stood there forever.
I found nirvana, a senseless feeling of peace, calm and belonging, while submerging myself in nature. Normally, I spend my time working and taking classes, neglecting the adventurous side of myself. Being at the top of the mountain was unlike anything I’d ever seen before, and I could feel Washington stretched below my feet.
Later that week we traveled to Olympic National Park. On my first night, I slept in a tent under the sky. I was reminded of Montana and Glacier National Park, it’s called “Big Sky Country” for a reason. The night sky is overwhelming, it swallowed me up and made me feel tiny in comparison.
In Big Sky Country there are no buildings in the distance, only where the jagged mountains meet the sky. But here at Olympic, the open sky is different. Instead of stars, the large pine trees loom above obstructing the night.
Usually, the night sky I see is clouded by light pollution, and I’m only able to see a constellation or two, but the skies at national parks are pristine, and many constellations, planets and the occasional meteor shower sparkle in the sky. Seeing what was under the smog relaxed me as I knew that at least the night sky was visible under the protection of the National Park Service.
What I find special about the parks is that the natural views I see can’t be replicated as they’re ever-changing, and every sunset, hike, and day is unique. Being transcended to a peaceful and serene state by nature is what fuels my obsession with national parks.
Returning back to the city after nights under the pines and stars is an evil adjustment. There is no match for the feeling of nirvana from being in nature. Even though I’ve been home for about two weeks, I’ve already picked up “The National Parks: A Visual History of all 58 Parks” by Mel White. I’ve skimmed through and folded the corners of potential parks for next year’s trip, as the sense of wanderlust begins to set in yet again.
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