After our glorious first full day in the Sierra, I can say with full confidence that I am whole heartedly in love with this place. I’ve been reading John Muir’s The Mountains of California for some time now. I had always struggled to read it at home as it is meant to be read outdoors. I’ve been in many a beautiful place while reading it, and have thus guffawed at Mr. Muir multiple times while he boldly proclaimed the Sierra the finest mountain range in all the land. But after finally arriving here, it felt as though being here was what our whole adventure has been leading up to. Muir’s thoughts and observations echo through my head as I stare in wonder at the glacially carved peaks; or ponder the beauty of the pines, firs, cedars, and hemlocks.
At the end of August, we spent a week (not nearly enough time) exploring the Olympic Peninsula. Upon entering the otherworldly rainforest, my imagination was immediately captivated. It seems that every fairy tale that has ever been told could have taken place here. The lush rainforest is at once alluring, and at times foreboding. In the midst of our hike to Enchanted Valley, I imagined Snow White singing to the birds in the meadow. Moments later, coming upon a wooded forest once again, the trees seemed ominous, as if the big bad wolf was lurking just behind the next grove. Many times I expected to come upon some cottage made of sweets, or to see a fairy nestled amongst the intricate moss.
The massive and ancient Coast Redwood trees (Sequoia sempervirens) are master survivors from a prehistoric time. They are built to withstand fire, to ward off insects, and, most impressively, to regenerate themselves through burl sprouts. When a redwood is distressed from, say, fire, the cells or burl sprouts within it react by shooting out sprouts which can become new trees! It is not uncommon to see a redwood, dead or alive, with a younger cloned tree shooting up from beside it or even from within it! Is there any other species on this planet that has the ability to clone itself in such a way? While looking up a massive trunk to the tree branches and the reiterated trees sprouting from it, I said “This…this is higher power.” These trees have survived thousands of years because of their design. I am not a religious person, but being out here, I don’t doubt that there is a creator. Here, in nature, is where my church lies. Come out here yourself, and maybe you will be reminded that it is by honoring nature that we honor our maker.
Aside: I feel blessed to have spent a full month in the Canadian Rockies. I still have more to write about the area, as well as the amazing Olympic Peninsula, but for now I just wanted to skip ahead to Redwood National Park due to the level of influence it has on me.
Even before the wildfires in Banff started, the locals knew they were coming. We had just taken a relaxing dip in Radium Hot Springs at the south end of Kootenay National Park, after which we bought some snacks in town and I gave in to my bad habits and bought my first pack of Canadian cigarettes. As I lit one on a bench located on the boulevard between the filling station and the road, a small gas station attendant came frantically toward me. “If you’re going to smoke there, be very careful” she pleaded. “We have a small ashtray on the pavement you could use instead. We are very worried. Storms are coming.” “I understand,” I told her. I relocated myself outside the station.
Then, on our drive back into Kootenay, we noticed the fire danger sign now read “EXTREME”. This was a strange sight indeed, as I’ve never seen a Minnesota fire danger sign exceed “Moderate”. Sure enough, that night, as cracks of thunder echoed over the blazer where we were camped in Kootenay National Park, a burst of lightning started a wildfire near Sunshine Village Ski Resort, not 30 miles from where we slept. Fortunately for us, we had only just finished our hike to Egypt Lake. All the trails we had explored for the past three days were hereafter closed due to wildfire.
Idaho is known by many for its potatoes. It’s even on their license plate: “Famous Potatoes”. Also on their license plate is “Scenic Idaho”, and it is this impression that I took from visiting Idaho. I’m fairly confident that many have no idea just how amazingly scenic Idaho actually is.
In fact, over 60% of Idaho’s land is owned by the federal government, and most of the federal land is managed by either the Bureau of Land Management or the Forest Service. The result is a treasure trove of beautiful places. Maybe I’m a jerk to Idahoans for letting their secret out, but SERIOUSLY, Idaho is the place to visit. Still don’t believe me? Listen up. Continue reading
Grand Teton National Park, established in 1929, is part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. While Yellowstone was the first National Park, Teton is special in that its establishment was influenced by many different locals who truly appreciated the area and wanted to preserve the wildness of the Tetons.
In the early 1920’s, residents began noticing that development around Jenny Lake was starting to invade the Tetons. In 1923, locals met with then superintendent of Yellowstone at Maud cabin to start a conversation about preservation in the Teton Range, eventually leading to Grand Teton National Park being established in 1929. Continue reading
My spirit finds peace only in the wildest places. The absolute calm and silence of an early morning in the boundary waters comes to mind. Perched at the end of a natural jetty of rock that reaches out to the calm water, the sun emerging beyond an island in a soft pink light, I meditate easily. I am interrupted fleetingly by the sudden splash of a fish breaking the surface. Only by being in a place like this can anyone understand the wealth of the land.
Devastation has hit me lately, as what few sacred places we have left in America seem to be constantly under attack by our new administration. As I struggle to figure out what I can do to help protect the land I care so deeply for, as well as the water that we all depend on, I cannot help but feel guilty for my shortcomings. Though environment is on my mind every day, I am no model environmentalist. My biggest flaw lies in the love I have for the open road. Continue reading