A couple of weeks ago I visited Zion National Park in Utah and it was an amazing experience. Every National Park is different but they all teach us similar things: get outside! One impressive thing about the way Zion manages their park is that they flat-out refuse to sell plastic water bottles. They have signs posted at their lodge and dining areas stating that they will not sell plastic water bottles because that would contribute to the 1.5 million tons of waste produced per year by plastic water bottles alone. I thought that that was a very bold thing for them to do and something that must make a difference.
When I saw those signs posted, I thought: “Why doesn’t every National Park have that policy?” I think that it would be one small step in the exact right direction. Are the National Parks supposed to cater to the visitor’s every want or are we supposed to push the visitor into different habits?
I suppose, like most things, a balance must be struck. But I have gotten the feeling that the less-popular areas of National Parks have more freedom in pushing visitors in the “green” direction rather than making compromises. Or perhaps it is the people that go to those places that are okay with being pushed.
I used to think that Kings Canyon was a backpacker’s best-kept secret. But I recently went on a trip to Mineral King that has made me think that that is the best-kept secret of National Parks. It is on a whole different level of seclusion and you can really feel the rawness of the land out there.
Throughout this experience, I have constantly been confronted with a contradictory idea that lives inside my head: I want to share these beautiful places with others so that they will value them, but at the same time I want to be selfish and keep them a secret. Is that the way all of us feel when we discover something special? Do we always have the dual impulses to share our new favorite thing with the world but still keep it for ourselves? Or is this feeling intensified when land is involved?
There is definitely something about wide-open spaces that is different from anything else. Isn’t that what brought people to the West in the first place? It was the unclaimed land and freedom that brought people across the country and across the world. We are running out of that unclaimed land every day, so perhaps it has become more precious than ever before. But can the select few who use and value it also have the luxury of keeping it a secret?