In the moment, I didn’t realized the impact beating twenty mules to the top of the Grand Canyon would have on my life, nor when I played for hours in a remote lake in Canada with sun fish swimming all around me as a kid, or the first time I saw a midget rattle snake in the wild. Over the past thirty years parks and wild places have shaped me in ways beyond my imagination. I’ve based my life around parks and travel the world seeking to explore them. I’ve built trails in the mountains of Colorado, been a park ranger in the forests of Vermont, dove with sharks in the Great Barrier Reef and hiked hundreds of kilometers along New Zealand’s Great Walks. In my job, I maintain and foster a safe and positive environment for hundreds of people to recreate in. In my personal life, I am always planning my next adventure to a new place. Parks are important and they matter. There is a life force that comes from these special and protected places that binds us all, whether we are aware of it or not.
One of my most impactful adventures was when my husband and I geared up for an overnight backpacking trip down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. We lived for six months in Flagstaff, Arizona and made dozens of trips to the Grand Canyon. Permit affixed to my faded purple backpack, our boots crunched against the coarse stones as we descended Skeleton Pass. About forty minutes into the hike, we had passed the hordes of people wearing white tennis shoes and carrying a single plastic water bottle. Vultures flew overhead giving a brief reminder of how precious shade was in this barren world. Out West in the summer there was almost a daily guarantee of thunderstorms. Although we started our trek early, we were chasing time to try and get to the bottom and set up our shelter. With thick, growing masses of black clouds we increased our pace and propelled ourselves towards the sound of the roaring Colorado River.
Lightly bouncing, we crossed a black suspension bridge arching about 420 feet in length over the chocolate brown water as we quickly hiked to find our camp spot. The rain drops started to splash upon us as we zipped ourselves into the tent. Sitting inside we played cards for an hour as thunder and heavy rain pounded our tent. We emerged to sunshine glistening off a freshly washed red canyon floor. Desert flowers twinkled in the sun as we explored the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
After an early breakfast of oatmeal and tea, we packed up camp to ascend Bright Angel trail. We paused for a water break and heard the clanking of metal shoes and creaking of leather as a guided pack of twenty mules approached us. Being stuck behind this line of slow moving, pooping mules was not our idea of what climbing out of the Grand Canyon would be like. If they got in front of us on this narrow trail alongside the 1000 foot cliff we would not be able to pass them. Quickly buckling our packs, we took off propelling ourselves out of the canyon. Gazing out from the top of the rim we never spotted that mule pack again and reflected how we had been ‘down there’ and spent a precious night of our lives at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
Our time in the Grand Canyon was one of hundreds of amazing experiences we have had in a park on this planet. Parks are for the people and it doesn’t matter if a person is from America, the UK, Africa or any other country in this world, we can all go to the Grand Canyon and have our own unique experience, yet also relate with the fondest of memories a place can bring when we share our stories with each other. Parks are for everyone to explore, connecting us and grounding us in the reminder that we are all human and have the same basic needs no matter what class we are or where we were born.
We all need special places we can lose ourselves for a little bit. The ability for any one element to thread us so deeply as human beings constantly creates a sense of awe in me. For each humbling lesson a park somewhere in this world has shown me, I am truly grateful and I find the stewardship of these places worth dedicating my life to. If you find yourself feeling disconnected and looking for a reminder of something greater than yourself, get to a park today. These parks are there for you and for me; the joy is when we discover their greatness collectively.
About the Author: Tiffany Soukup: After her first year at university, Tiffany moved to Wyoming in the spur of the moment decision and she has never looked back -embracing a life of travel, exploration and endless curiosity. She and her husband Chris share the same dream of living on all seven continents. Follow their story as they venture from sorting potato’s, picking cherries, living as Inn Keepers, hiking into remote jungles and planning their next adventure.