With so many highs it was difficult to choose favorites. On a different day we might name another place. How does one judge descending into the New River Gorge against wading in the Colorado's frigid waters on a Glen Canyon beach? What makes learning about the one-armed, explorer, cartographer and general badass John Wesley Powell any less intriguing then witnessing Native American dance? Is the culture of the Puebloan people preserved at Bandelier National Monument any less important than the sculpture gardens at the Nasher Center? Is anything more beautiful than stumbling upon the expansive crater of Valles Caldera at sunset, or watching J look upon the Pacific Ocean for the first time, or having a cool lake to ourselves on a sweltering Texas day?
The first time I saw Pittsburgh I knew I would leave her. She could be cold, nebby, and casually racist, but really, it was me. With so much out there to see in this world, I've never entertained the idea of being tied down to any one city. I've never had a car note, a mortgage, or a desire to settle down. While I appreciate the homes others have fashioned for themselves, I'm not quite ready for a long-term commitment. I have an ongoing joke of a New Year's resolution: all new mistakes. It's a way to remind myself to take chances, explore new territory, learn to dig deeper. It's a call to say yes to opportunities and have a sense of humor when things go awry.
As a young girl, I remember sitting in a dark theater watching Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. I wanted to be just like Indy. I was captivated by the sight of Petra, a city carved into the mountainside; enchanted by the canals and footbridges of Venice. I wanted to explore ancient catacombs, ride a motorcycle through the countryside. I also hate Nazis (but I'm not afraid of snakes).
Most everyone, even those who haven't been to a beach, understand that it's a good thing. Even as a child living next to Lake Erie, I would leap at the chance to go to Huntington Beach, or even Rocky River Park, just to be on the sand and hear the waves. While I am certainly no expert, having only recently upped my ocean count by one, the Southern California coast was a truly luxurious experience. Being able to take advantage of an October heatwave and play in the Pacific Ocean is something that would make a younger J's head explode. The impossible made possible by the mere passage of time.
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is the Disney Theme Park of the National Parks System. The village boasts a rail line, airport, entire fleet of buses, kennel, mule stable, hotels, restaurants, art, geology, and cultural museums, campgrounds, three visitor's centers, two entrances, and a partridge in a pear tree. Much like Disney, it is also perpetually mobbed. In an act of providence, we were able to secure the last site available at the Desert View Campsite the day before it was to be shut down for the winter. We pitched our tent below an exquisite, craggy juniper and made our way to the Desert Watchtower.
The rocks of the cliff side whistled and jeered, both mocking and celebrating our presence. The towering spires, remnants of ancient red sand dunes, looked as if an alien forest had left its eulogy in the land itself. The crushing scope was like nothing I'd ever seen; the red spikes climbing up from the valley floor towards us, the vicious gash carved by the Colorado River, the stretch of scrubby grasses and shrubs flowing out past the Six Shooter Mesa in the distance, the slow roll of the sparse clouds on an azure backdrop, all of it incredible.
Take heart, gentle traveler, for there is a way to mindfully take joy in the true national treasures of the United States. The men and women protecting our parks are fighting an uphill battle to protect us from ourselves, and we can help them. Follow the rules posted on the clearly posted signs. They are meant to protect both you and the wildlife. Place trash in proper receptacles. They're everywhere. Adhere to the trails. The maps are free and comprehensive. Do not try to steal the limited, federally-protected nature. Basically, don't be terrible.