February 11, 2019
“Few places in this world are more dangerous than home. Fear not, therefore, to try the mountain passes. They will kill care, save you from deadly apathy, set you free, and call forth every faculty into vigorous, enthusiastic action.” -John Muir
Here I am, at the shore of the Pacific Ocean. My journey has brought me from the Atlantic Ocean across the continent to the Pacific. This is the first time I have ever made this cross-country trip, but it will not be the last, before the year is up. Indeed, I have farther treks ahead of me.
It has been a good stretch, since the government shutdown ended. This feels like the trip I envisioned, planned for, and hoped for. I have visited familiar parks, and new ones. My first visit to Organ Pipe National Monument was a pleasant surprise. I fell in love with that glorious place and must return another time. Northward through Arizona I visited several National Monuments of the ancient American variety. More cliff dwellings and ruins left behind by the Hohokam, the Pima, and Salado – cultures that were at home in this land long before the Europeans arrived. Their remnants remain a stark reminder of the impermanent nature of all things – especially of culture and the fragility of civilization. This notion was driven home as I rolled into Las Vegas for two nights of R and R. Vegas. The quintessential American city. Everything is here – the good, the bad, and the ugly. The American Dream is on full tilt, 24/7. But it is just a dream. Las Vegas will almost certainly be the first major U.S. city to suffer complete collapse. The water level at Lake Mead is incredibly low and getting lower every year. Soon enough, the fountains at the Bellagio will run dry. Then the faucets will follow – along with the tourists, and then the residents. Eventually the Las Vegas strip will look like the ruins at Casa Grande National Monument, and some future archaeologist will dissertate upon the demise of a once powerful civilization.
My trip has been full of dualities and contradictions, and there is no better example than my abrupt shift from the glitz of Las Vegas to three nights in a tent in Death Valley National Park. What a palate cleanser! My first visit to this glorious park was everything I hoped it would be. I drove the rugged roads, hiked aimlessly across the salt flats and playas, and stayed up late to take in the beautiful night skies. It was a perfect National Park Experience. If Las Vegas is the bright center of the universe, then Death Valley is the cold void of distant outer space, and I love it. Vast, empty, stark, unforgiving, and utterly breathtaking in every detail.
Southern California feels like another country. This has been my first visit to this part of the state. I have no foothold here but I am willing to roll with it all. It is beautiful, but unseasonably cold and rainy. 38 degrees in Los Angeles this morning. I spent the better part of yesterday venturing out to Channel Islands National Park – to the island of Santa Cruz. It was another superb National Park experience. Although there are some minor developments on the island, it feels like the most pristine National Park site I have ever visited. I fell in love with the Island Foxes. A dwarf decendant of the Grey Fox that are about the size of a housecat. Beautiful creatures, not timid, but unwilling to look you in the eye. I stalked them around the island for over an hour trying to get the perfect photo.
I have already seen so much. So many memories that I hope will endure by the end of my journey. I have learned so much. So much history about our country. History of the ancients, and histories that we would rather not repeat. I have met so many kind and interesting people. Each on their own journey of some sorts – but kindred in their love, appreciation and reverence of the National Parks. My trip is still young. I have a long road ahead of me, even as the 12,000 miles behind me fades into memory.
Parks visited since January 31st:
Saguaro National Park
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Hohokam Pima National Monument
Casa Grande National Monument
Tonto National Monument
Montezuma Castle National Monument
Tuzigoot National Monument
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument
Death Valley National Park
Manzanar National Historic Site
César E. Chávez National Monument
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
Channel Islands National Park