Let’s be honest – when you’re deciding to travel to a new place your number one reason isn’t usually to broaden your already deep understanding of the region and its people – it’s because you were lured in. Maybe it was a YouTube video of someone whitewater rafting down the Colorado River or climbing some monumental slab of vertical rock. Or maybe it was a tourist brochure. Or maybe it was an impossibly detailed HDR rendering of an idyllic wildlife scene that caught your eye while scanning Facebook or Instagram – something that made your brain stop and say, “Oh, I want that!”
Immediately you start imagining yourself in that photo – having the absolutely perfect outdoor experience. Then you book your trip, arrive at that magical-looking campsite and … there’s another camp site with a crying toddler right next door, the vista is blocked by foggy drizzle, and of course – there are mosquitoes.
At some point, every traveler has to come to terms with the often vast difference between their travel expectations and their travel realities – but experienced travelers know how to find the beauty in that dissonance by ignoring all the things that are missing from the ideal and instead appreciating what’s there. Even if it’s cloudy on your trip to Crater Lake and the water doesn’t look quite as stunning as it did on your friend’s photos, you’re still in Crater Lake and it’s still gorgeous!
This is not, I have found, an issue limited to novice travelers and tourists – the same prejudices can sometimes get veterans in trouble. Oftentimes we, too, are so over-occupied with an insatiable quest to find unknown and hidden gems on our journeys that we can miss more popular destinations that are still well worth our time.
Late last winter, I had the chance to spend a month hiking and camping around Utah. Although I went without my usual hyper-scheduled, well-thought-out itinerary, I did have a few places in mind that I definitely wanted to check out – and one of them was Arches National Park.
In the winter, many parks in Utah are relatively deserted – but not Arches. After spending a few days in the relative solitude of nearby Canyonlands National Park, I wasn’t exactly prepared to be jostling for position for a mid-week permit for the Fiery Furnace at the Arches visitor center – but apparently I was caught in a deadly crowd combination of Spring Break and an half marathon in Moab. At the end of my second day in the crowded park, I was faced with two choices – get an early start on the drive to the nearly-deserted Needles section of Canyonlands or wrap up with a hike to Delicate Arch – by far one of the most popular trails in Arches. I mean, I’d seen the arch in a million photos and it’s even on the state’s license plate – did I really need to fight for a parking spot at the trailhead to see it myself?
Ignoring the protests of my brain, I did nab a parking spot – right between two over-sized tour vans – and started on the trail late in the day. But instead of focusing on the throngs of ill-prepared tourists joining me (is that person really hiking in dress shoes?), I soaked in everything the trail had to offer me – all the things that aren’t listed when you see “3 miles, 480 feet gain” in the park brochure. The fragrant sagebrush, the brilliant blue sky and endless gradients of red rock, the exquisite trailcraft that obscures Delicate Arch until the last possible second, then presents it to unprepared eyes in a full panoramic amphitheater complete with a backdrop of snow-dusted Colorado peaks.
When I reached the Arch, I sat on the ground and just stared at it, slack-jawed, for at least ten minutes … all the while thankful I was able to leave behind what I wanted the trail to be and just appreciate what the trail had to offer me that day.
And for the record, yes – that person was hiking in dress shoes.
Editor’s Note: Casey Schreiner is a regular contributor to the Sierra Social Hub as part of #TeamSierra. Check out more from Casey here: Modern Hiker.
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