After tomorrow, there is nothing left to look forward to on the calendar. The Super Bowl is over. The chocolates, flowers, and teddy bears have been handed out. February is now a dead month. There's nothing left to do other than wait until it's over. Just sit around and wait until the sun sits in the sky longer and breaks free of the cold air that dampens its radiance. Wait until everything becomes alive again.
When this finally happens, when we break free of winter's grasp around our necks, Spring Breaks and vacations are embarked upon to celebrate the equinox. Most will take this time to visit other concrete-laden metropolitan areas or binge-drinking beaches. My advice to you is to do none of this. Instead of eating and drinking some place different than where you currently reside, you should instead go nibble at some of the 51.9 million acres of land that make up the 59 National Parks we have.
When Ulysses S. Grant signed a bill creating Yellowstone National Park in 1872, the idea was to protect the majesties of nature from capitalistic interests like logging, mining, and fur trading. This became even more so when the O'Shaughnessy Dam was built and flooded the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite so the City of San Fransisco could turn its lights on. Over the last hundred and fifty years or so, we as a nation have come to understand that yes, we should protect these places. They have an intrinsic value on their own. And no, we shouldn't lose places like this so blenders and toasters can be turned on.
These places are protected and will continue to be. This won't ever be questioned again. As a result of this accepted agreement, the goal of the Parks Service has changed. The Parks' focus has evolved from a way to protect and conserve the natural world to a way for us to escape.
Most Americans have to sit all day at work and they despise it. A new survey commissioned by Ergotron, a global manufacturer of digital display mounting, furniture, and mobility products including sit-stand desks, found that nearly 70 percent of full time American workers hate sitting, yet 86 percent do it all day, every day. When they do get up, more than half (56 percent) use getting food as an excuse.
We now sit at work, sit in traffic on the way home, sit and relax when we get home, sit in front of a plate of food, sit in front of the television or a book until bedtime. When we finally stop sitting, we are only exchanging it for laying. Americans sit for an average of 13 hours a day and spend an average of 7 hours in front of a screen. Even though we don't want to be, postmodern life has turned us into sedentary sloths who now spend most of our life sitting down in front of screens.
This is what the parks offer. They offer a separation from the sad state of postmodern life. It's where we can see the Earth in its purest form, before man learned to manipulate the landscape to our choosing. It's where we can cut our knees on rocks, see the stars again, sleep underneath the Milky Way, hear the demonic yippings of the coyotes, watch the fire dance like we did in those fetid caves eons ago, and trounce around unfathomable landscapes that took millions of years to create. It's where we can go back and live life in its purest state, where we can break away from the ball of the screen that we are all now chained to.
If these few paragraphs of rhetoric has been enough to convince you and you are now aboard this idea of giving up the hedonistic beaches and the House that the Mouse built, then you need a place to go. Of the 59 National Parks, I have five that are "close" by that you should spend your vacation time at this year.
1.) The Grand Canyon
Of all the spectacles of nature, this one is the most sublime. Gazing into the Grand Canyon is like staring down into the beginning of time itself. When you look down into it, you are looking at millions of years. You can see what that much time looks like even though your brain can't fathom or comprehend it. The layers of rock, time, and water collide together to form the most unforgettable panorama you'll ever see.
Even if you don't take a step on a trail, it's worth seeing and driving around at just because of the view. But you have no idea how enormous it is until you traverse it. When you walk down, you can see all the individual rocks that when multiplied together create the image you see from above. You don't know how deep it is to the Colorado River, which is sheathed and merely glimpsed at from above, until you get down to brown bubbling water that shaved all that rock away. The intricacies are seen down below.
Additionally, the rim is Disneyland. It is swarming with people covered in sun screen while a myriad of languages are babbled. There's no room to breathe, sit, and think. From up there, you can't enjoy it on your own. It is a collective experience. There's babies screaming. There are buses rattling. It's a busy yet beautiful mess. When you go down into the canyon, you can have it all to yourself and not have to share it with all of the screeching creatures above.
The problem is that it is extremely strenuous. There's long stretches without water once you get three miles down. You have to hike back up and after hiking down. It can reach 120 degrees in the bottom of the canyon in the summer. You shouldn't walk down to the Colorado and back in just a day. There are numerous physical barriers, but it is worth it if you are up for it.
Backpacking Trip: South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Campground to Ribbon Falls to South Rim via Bright Angel Trail (23 miles, 3 days).
Day Hike: Bright Angel to Plateau Point (6.3 one way, 12.6 total).
R&R: Sit at the Rim.
Unlike most parks that are composed of a forest, or a desert, or a chain of mountains, Big Bend has three distinct landscapes: the mountains in the basin, the Rio Grande, and the Chihuahuan Desert. All three lie in the Southwest bottom corner of the state.
Each one of these areas offer different experiences. You can kayak and canoe for miles and miles on the Rio Grande. You can hike up into the basin to the South Rim and stare out at Mexico. You can pierce your tongue with an Ocotillo and wander around the unappreciated desert. You can just drive around forever and stare at the window.
Whatever you do, the one thing that binds the multiple experiences available is the sky. West Texas has the least amount of light pollution in the lower 48. When I went here for the first time, I woke up in the middle of the night with the Milky Way right over my head. It was the first time I had ever seen that squirt of galaxy, so I crawled out of the tent, sat down, and stared up at it until I couldn't anymore. For that experience alone, this place is worth the trip.
Backpacking: Outer Mountain Loop (30 Miles, 3 days).
Dayhike: South Rim (12 to 14.5 miles).
Canyonlands has three districts. There's The Island In The Sky, Needles, and The Maze. They are all grouped together, but it takes a few hours to drive from one to the other because of how rugged the terrain is. I went to the Island in the Sky when I went. It was pure wilderness. There's one road in that stretches 17 miles. There's one bathroom. There's one place to get water. There's just a hand few of tent camping sites. There's just one visitor center. There's more coyotes than people that reside here. All of the necessary evils of gift shops, restaurants, and grocery stores are removed. It is exactly what a park should be.
The landscape is composed of mesas, buttes, and canyons created by erosion from the Green and Colorado Rivers. It has a larger breadth than the Grand Canyon, but not the depth. It's a place so filled with natural features that it hurts one's eyes just looking at it.
Also, it's a close drive to Arches National Park, which if you LIKE rocks, is a perfect place to check out if you have the time.
Backpacking: Taylor Canyon (20 Miles, 2 days).
Dayhike: Murphy Point (1.7 Miles).
R&R: Sunrise at Mesa Arch.
Zion is beautiful. Red and green mix together and contrast the sky to create the bluest sky you'll ever see. The valley is composed of several sandstone mountains that stand over the swift, and the mischievous Virgin River is something from a dream. Outside the valley is a carnival of streams and extraterrestrial rock. Zion is beautiful.
Aside from the beauty, there is a lot do to here. You can wade in the lazier parts of the Virgin River or hike the whole thing by doing the Narrows. You can take a variety of different routes to the top of the sandstone mountains. You can sit on the bus and stare up at it all. You can stay at the buzzing campgrounds, where trailers and smoke from barbecue pits and people laughing and throwing baseballs coagulate together into a picturesque view of America.
Day Hike: Observation Point (8 Miles).
Instead of going south on I-10 to Big Bend, you can go a little farther west and then north to where the highest peak in Texas resides. The 8,750 foot peak is a part of a chain of mountains made up of an ancient coral reef that stretches on top of lumps of Earth that resembles the ridged back of a stegosaurus. Getting there takes a 8 1/2 mile hike, 6-8 hours, and an elevation gain of 3,000 feet. From up there, you can see forever, as the flatness of the landscape melts into the sky while the cars crawl like inch worms along the highways and the 30 mph winds whip you in the face.
After that, it's only a 30 minute drive to Carlsbad Caverns, which is an entire underground world. You can take an elevator straight down to the caverns, but it's worth walking 2 1/2 miles through that gaping hole to get down there. Down there is such a strange place. Big melting and moist rock formations drip together in a subterranean carnival. Lights set up in strategic places bring everything to existence. While moseying along through it, it makes you realize how much stuff is below our feet.
Day Hike/Backpacking: Guadalupe Peak (8 1/2 miles, 1 or 2 days)
R&R: Take the elevator down into the caverns.
So, this spring and summer, don't go to Hollywood and see the names of thespians engraved in a gold star. Don't go get twisted and turned around on some metal monsters. Don't go sit in the sand and drink 15 Bud Light Limes a day. Don't go mock the animals sitting in their cages. Instead, go live again by seeing, feeling, and tasting your America.
Anyways, here's the Saturday Night Open Thread. Have fun talking about whatever it is you like, and thank you again for keeping BRB the thing that it is.