By Norman Knight
Our goal was to do a bit of hiking in each of Utah’s “Mighty Five.”
Although it was likely coined by someone in the Utah Tourism Department, “The Mighty Five” is certainly one way to describe the national parks that Becky and I visited recently. The five parks which spread mightily across southern Utah are Arches, Bryce, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion. We spent seven days walking beside the massive rock walls and among the towering spires, scrambling up rocks and boulders and hiking primitive trails. It was truly a wonderful and even spiritual experience.
If I were some sort of Ansel Adams-type photographer maybe it would be different, but I’m not. So of the hundreds of photos I took, not one of them really captures the feeling of being among those imposing landforms or expresses the sense of broad spaces that stretch to the seemingly limitless horizon.
September is a popular time of the year for tourists to visit, so usually we shared the trails and sites with other people. Even so, each of the parks is so big that we often felt as if we were two alone in a vast wilderness.
Even though our preference was for solitude, when we did meet and talk to other people it was almost always a good thing. These chance encounters led us to another sort of experience, the opportunity to connect even briefly with others who were just as overwhelmed by the stunning beauty and awe-inspiring power of the land around us.
Besides the connection we shared with the nature that surrounded us, we also felt a kinship by the physical fact that we were hiking. Everyone seemed so happy just to be out in the parks and on the trails. Smiles were the order of the day and of the entire week.
Maybe it was the endorphins or other chemicals that physical exertion produces in a body. Maybe it was the simple fact that we were far away from the commonplace hustle and hassle of day-to-day life. Or perhaps it was the spiritual reality of being outdoors with God’s natural world towering over and all around us. Whatever the reason, the “better angels of our nature” seem to show themselves on our trip.
On the last day while on our final hike I lost my prescription sunglasses. We started that morning hiking with temps in the upper 30s, so we were dressed in layers. When I stopped at a waterfall to shed a pullover shirt, I hung the glasses loosely in my pants pocket. The valley was shaded, so I neglected to put them back on and later down the trail realized they were gone.
Nothing to do but slowly retrace our steps.
We asked the first people we met on our way back if they had found some sunglasses. They had not, but promised to keep an eye out. The next couple had not seen anything, either, but promised to turn them in to the park ranger if found. This conversation repeated itself at least three or four more times during our treks back and forth. One woman already knew because the story had gone up and down the trail.
The thing that struck me was how sympathetic everyone was to our dilemma. I could sense genuine concern and empathy from each of our fellow hikers with whom we shared our story. They truly hoped right along with us that things would turn out well.
And they did. On our third trip back to the creek where we had originally stopped, Becky nearly stepped on them. Hooray.
We resumed our hike and came upon people who knew the story. To a person they expressed happiness that all went well. What a great way to end our trip.
Now, back home, I hope to keep that good feeling, that hiking spirit with me. It’s not really a difficult thing to look at the beauty all around us. It’s not really difficult to care. It’s not hard to smile.
Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.