It’s March. I’m sitting near Delicate Arch on a rust-colored slab of sandstone, eating a slightly-melted turkey and cheese sandwich. Despite the dozens of other people milling around on the sandy bluff and a nearly 400-foot drop just a few feet behind me, it’s the most content I’ve been in a long time.
It is my first day in Utah’s aptly-named Arches National Park and I’m freshly amazed by the natural beauty around me each time I turn my head. I’ve seen mountains before, but never mountains like this. The sharp, glittery La Sal Mountains rise to the southwest, and the bright red Fiery Furnace with its fractal-like patterns are just a few miles away as the raven flies.
In that moment, I wish that everyone in the world could sit, even for just a second, on this mountaintop and look at this arch in front of me.
I’ve visited seven national parks in my time, including Arches. Just to flex, I’ve seen Canyonlands, Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Mammoth Cave and Shenandoah national parks, each of which have been uniquely beautiful. I truly believe national parks are the most accessible way to understand the one and only earth that we live on.
How much of the natural world do you experience in a day? It’s probably not very much, if you think about it. Visiting a national park, you’ll realize just how paved and sanitized most of our world has become. There’s something truly special and even relaxing about fully immersing yourself in a natural environment.
The best place to actually take a break over break is at a national park. Modern life is a stressful cocktail, and wandering out into the wilderness of a national park is a perfect remedy to its head-splitting hangover. You probably won’t have cell service, either, so you can actually unplug.
To me, the best part about national parks is the hiking. The hike up to Delicate Arch was around a mile and a half of steep sandstone. Whenever we thought we made it to the top of the hill, there was another hill around the corner to climb. I was sweating like crazy by the time we got to the arch.
But hiking is also insanely rewarding. The view was beautiful. My sandwich tasted extra good. I almost forgot about how tough it was to climb that hill by the time we headed back down.
If you don’t like hiking, that’s fine. Most national parks offer tons of driving trails and viewpoints to see the best spots in the park. But maybe try out a hike, just for me. It doesn’t need to be as steep as Zion’s infamous Angels Landing, which gains almost 1,500 feet in elevation. Yes, I did it, and yes, it sucked.
As a disclaimer – the National Park Service has a long and complicated history that I won’t fully dive into here. It’s important to note that national parks are built on Native American land – land that was usually secured under false pretenses.
Some have called for Native American stewardship over the land currently controlled by the National Park Service, which I wholeheartedly agree with. Hundreds of years of Native American history lie in the parks, like on the hike up to Delicate Arch, where we saw Ute petroglyphs carved into the wall.
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As with every governmental organization, the NPS is not without its flaws and missteps, and I don’t want to promote it uncritically. However, the more people who visit the parks and connect with them, the more people who have the voice to push change.
So get out there. If you do one thing this summer, visit a park. You don’t really even need to go that far – there’s Indiana Dunes here in the Hoosier state, Mammoth Cave down in Kentucky or Cuyahoga Valley in Ohio, among others. There’s also copious state parks and forests to visit. I urge you to experience that same peace I felt at Delicate Arch. If everyone felt that at least once in their lives, I genuinely believe the world would be a better place.
Danny William (they/them) is a sophomore studying media.