For my STEP signature project, I travelled from Cincinnati to San Francisco, visiting several national parks, forests, and monuments including Arches, Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Sequoia, and Yosemite. During our stays, we hiked, climbed, and camped.
During my project, and in the time spent preparing for it, I learned a lot about independent travel, camping, wilderness survival, planning, geology, and geography. Simply planning out a detailed itinerary and budget, booking campsites and park/activity fees, and purchasing necessary gear strengthened my communication, organization, and time management skills. I spent many hours planning the trip, and it was extremely rewarding to see my hard work pay off as I travelled and made my plans become reality. During the trip, I was more confident that I was prepared to handle any problems that could arise. I learned that I was more capable than I thought I was and that my preparation helped me feel more comfortable during my travel. Having only camped once before the trip, I was a bit nervous about living in the outdoors for multiple nights at a time. However, I quickly learned that if properly prepared, camping is extremely easy and very fun. I learned how to appreciate my time outdoors, without the distraction of my phone or other common background commotion. During the day time, I was worried I would not be able to complete certain hikes due to exhaustion or my fear of heights. However, I learned that determination, focus, and the satisfaction of completing a strenuous hike and seeing rewarding views lead me to appreciate even the hardest moments and inspired me to continue to seek challenges. I also learned a lot about the history of the parks, which was interesting because I not only got to see some of America’s most beautiful nature, but I was able to learn how it was created over, usually, millions of years, and how the parks have affected history. After this trip, I feel more confident to plan more independent travel plans successfully, and feel more motivated to continue to travel to explore other national parks, both inside and outside of the states. I have an increased trust in myself and others, and feel more comfortable with pushing my boundaries. I have been inspired to tackle more strenuous backpacking trips and climbing projects in the future.
The first major experience that really changed my perspective was during my Delicate Arch hike in Arches National Park. At the top, where the famous arch is located, I was able to hear and speak to people from all over the world; I remember hearing French, German, Chinese, Spanish, and other eastern-european languages that I was unable to identify. Not only was it neat to hear and see all of this culture in one place, but it made me reflect on the importance of preservation of national parks. Not only do they provide some of the most incredible, breath-taking views, but they also bring together people from across the entire world, seeking to see for themselves some of the most miraculous feats of nature. Outside of every park was a small town, and then no civilization for miles in between the parks. These towns only sprung up due to the masses of people that travel to see the parks every year, another example of how unifying nature can be.
I also really enjoyed talking to people we shared campsites with and hearing their stories and what brought them here. It was interesting to meet people from Germany and Australia, who were doing a tour of western national parks for their summer holiday. Everyone at the campsites were very friendly and flexible, something that I have noticed is very similar amongst most people I met. I think this is because when camping, spontaneity and flexibility is important – you have to learn to adjust to changing weather, changing plans, figuring out day-by-day situations, etc. I learned a lot about spontaneity and flexibility while camping for several nights in a row and I’m glad I was able to share my experience with people who had similar interests and values. There is a great sense of community at campsites and at national parks, and I hope to continue to make more connections with similar people.
Another moment that was very significant for me was after we had finished a hike to the top of Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, and we were riding the shuttle back to our car. During the ride, we mentioned the Olentangy River in conversation, and the mom and daughter in front of us overheard and asked if we attended Ohio State because they were from Columbus. This put into perspective for me just how popular and incredible these parks are, and how small the world is. It also reminded me of the powers of the natural world, and how it brings people together from all over the place, simply by being there, unknowing of its purpose and how It shapes the world around it.
Shortly after that shuttle ride, we drove to Sequoia National Park. The experience in this park was a big change for me – before, we had only seen orange/brown limestone and sandstone rock in the desert areas of Utah and Arizona. Suddenly, we were surrounded by blue and grey granite rock. The change in warmth and color palette was very intriguing to me and was a nice switch up from what we were used to seeing. I enjoyed researching how different climates and environments affect the type of rock that forms.
Yosemite, by far, was my absolute favorite park, and perhaps the most beautiful place I have ever seen in person. I was honestly expecting to be slightly underwhelmed, thinking it would be overcrowded with tourists. However, I was absolutely in awe of this park. It cannot be put into pictures or words just how massive these rocks were, and how small they made you feel. Yosemite not only had amazing mountains, but also had valleys, and waterfalls, and forests. Sitting at the top of Sentinel Dome with a 360-degree view of the park, I felt extremely grateful that I was able to have this experience, and feel inspired to share it with others and encourage them to see it for themselves.
In the future, I wish to continue to visit different national parks and push myself to accomplish harder backpacking and climbing trips. This trip was just the beginning for my passion for outdoor travel and adventure. In the following years, I wish to become stronger at climbing and learn more about climbing outdoors. Climbing outdoors can be very dangerous and requires a lot of expertise, which makes me very anxious when I hear about fatal accidents. However, I hope to strengthen my confidence by learning more and challenging myself more so that one day I can pass along my knowledge to new climbers. Besides climbing, I also wish to conquer more backpacking trips, as mentioned earlier. Backpacking requires individuals to carry all camping equipment, gear, food, and water on their back as they hike out to their destination over several days, stopping along the trail to camp every night. Besides the push for more outdoor travel, I will also apply the skills and knowledge I have attained in my future academic and career goals. I feel more comfortable talking to people of different nationalities and cultures, I feel more inclined to research online and learn about things of interest through the internet and through knowledgeable people, and I feel more confident that I will be able to achieve goals that I properly prepare for and set my mind to.
I also intend on joining student organizations or causes that promote wildlife and national park preservation. I think that every American should be able to see the national parks, and in order for this to be possible, more attention and funding needs to be directed towards preservation so that future generations can continue to understand the importance of being outdoors and seeing the miracles of nature. As society becomes more reliant on technology and production, we are slowly losing a focus on the importance of the outdoors and the solace it can bring. It is extremely liberating to be outside, feeling the dirt underneath your feet, the wind blowing through your hair, and the sun shining on your skin. As cheesy as that might sound, it is extremely beneficial to physical and mental health to be outdoors. I hope to carry this frame of mind into my future endeavors and know that no matter where life leads me, I can always remember to find my peace in the outdoors.
Here is a picture from each site I took during the trip. Looking back at these, I feel extremely grateful that I was able to see all of this, knowing that millions of people will never be able to have the same experience. I also feel a sense of gratitude that I understand the importance of these places, beyond the picture – I am able to take myself back to the location where the picture was taken and remember how the sights made me feel.
If you wish to learn more about my trip, I also kept a blog with more detailed information about each location, the hikes we did, and my reflections at Stepsophiawiedmann.blogspot.com