When you think sand, you think lying out on the beach, watching surfers ride the waves, and a perfect temperate climate. However, the sand at The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve has none of those things. Instead of palm trees, the Dunes are surrounded by the cottonwoods and ponderosa pines that come down the ridges of the Sangre De Cristo mountain range. Instead of a nice, humid climate, the air is so dry at the Sand Dunes that if you leave some fruit out, they will start shriveling up almost immediately. Though despite the dry air, the dunes occasionally catch some rain that comes down from the wet mountains that surround it. Back in those mountains, in the backcountry, clouds roll in, lightning fast, and have startled many a backpacker. In the backcountry behind the dunes, on the national preserve, is where I first went backpacking.
The hard work of backpacking may disqualify the sport as a vacation. Carrying your home, food, clothes, and water on your back up steep, rocky ridges may not sound all that relaxing. Though, I consider a vacation as going away and leaving your troubles behind. There is no further place from society than the back country. Here in the backcountry, you don’t have to worry about work, school, or people. You rely on your group to survive, but you rely on yourself to enjoy it all. Instead of busying yourself typing away all day, your hands work hard to make your own meals, build your own shelter, and other tasks that let you feel the reward of your hard work, immediately. You are not just aimlessly doing tasks, but everything you do has a purpose. And when it’s time to relax, you can find any secluded space, seemingly untouched by any man, and make it your own. And when you are bored, you’ll find that you don’t need technology or even human company. You will find things to explore and once again, it is an activity with a purpose. You accomplish things with your actions. You may discover plants you’ve never seen, views that you won’t ever forget, all the while, entertaining yourself. Back home, you can aimlessly play games but all that work will never yield any real progress. In the backcountry, you will find that simply surviving is more rewarding than any trophy you may have won or any game you may have defeated.
This backpacking trip, put on through the Ambassadors for Wilderness program at the Sand Dunes, changed my life. This trip taught brought out in me leadership and a love for the great outdoors. Realizing this, I wanted to use what I had learned to an advantage. The last night of the trip, after we had finished our dinner of rehydrated potatoes covered in cheese and bacon bits (yum!), the rangers told us that we all had an opportunity to apply to help lead one of these trips for the middle school students. It couldn’t have been a more perfect opportunity for me. So I applied and got the job!
This summer, I got to come back and watch as other kids’ love and respect for the wilderness grow, while watching them accomplish goals and learn about themselves. I watched them doubt themselves and push through it to summit Ambassadors Peak. I got to help them do it. Though most importantly, I get to rest assured that there are now more people out there, just like me, who love and respect the wilderness and who are willing to protect it.
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