One of the most visited and loved national parks in this country is Zion in southwest Utah. It is so beautiful that it is flooded by Americans and people from many other countries. It is so admired that one cannot drive into the park on many days throughout the spring, summer, and fall because of limited parking. When this happens, you have to park in the small town of Springdale and take a shuttle into the park. It will drop you at many locations where you can hike along the valley floor or up out of the valley along steep switchbacks and explore the red rocks and green forests of this beautiful park.
The trouble of course is that you often don’t get away from all the people. At first this takes something away from the experience. This is not a wilderness hike. In fact, while I was on the shuttle bus on a recent visit, I felt like I was in New York City. But once I realized that these people were all here, just like me, to get a taste of our vast open spaces and spectacular views, I started enjoying listening and talking to my fellow hikers.
I engaged in numerous chats with families from Japan, France, Germany, Australia, and the Middle East. I loved hearing all the languages and enjoyed trying to guess where folks were from. Hearing Spanish, Russian, French, and Arabic while chugging up the steep inclines really made my day. I realized that no matter where we were from we all loved these special places.
I had a great talk with an African American man from Georgia who looked like he was in much better shape than I, but he was relishing a stop in the shade even more than I was. We stood there puffing, trying to catch our breath, and looking out over the clear vistas to the sun drenched, opposite rim of the canyon. For a moment, we were like old friends, happy to be there in that place of beauty, if not solitude.
I kept leapfrogging a French Canadian family who was on a 4 month trip visiting US national parks and loving it. I realized that the preservation of these parks is a significant economic boom for our country – attracting people from all over the planet – to see and support these unique and accessible wonders.
The highlight of my hike, much to my surprise, turned out not to be the wilderness or the beauty of Zion, but was encountering a group speaking Arabic, scampering up the hillsides, clearly appreciating what has been preserved in the American southwest. Our 400 national parks are open to all comers, bonding us in a way that is hard to describe.
Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot certainly knew what they were doing when they preserved so many national treasures for the common man. Now people from all over America and the world are benefitting from their forward thinking. It has proven to be a brilliant move to realize that a deserted and barren place in Utah would attract so many people from so many countries and end up being important for building our world community.
I came away not discouraged with the crowds, but proud to be part of a tradition of preservation and sharing. Of course I will still look for those places off the beaten path, where I can stumble onto more wild things and experiences. But I will also take pleasure watching others enjoying the natural world wherever they find it.
Take-a-way: Preservation of our wonderful national resources is good for us and good for our relationships with people from other countries. Let’s all work together to preserve and share what we have been given by the efforts and sacrifice of our ancestors.
Photo 1 by Heather Dorst. Photo 2 by Sharol Felch.