“Every American citizen should stand in this spot before they die,” I proclaim to my fellow students and our chaperones. Despite my tendency to speak my mind before I think, I know that no one is going to disagree with that statement. We stand in silence for a while; a few nod slowly, agreeing with my declaration. Others just stare, lost in thought as they consider their otherworldly surroundings.
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We’re walking along a trail in Yellowstone National Park through the Imperial Meadows, and the view is nothing to complain about. To our far north, the Washburn Range forms a jagged, magnificent horizon. Behind us, to the southwest, Fairy Falls loom in the distance. The narrow, mystical flow of water seems hundreds of miles away, yet it served as our picnic spot just over an hour earlier. Turning to the south, I face the most breathtaking image of all: Imperial Meadows and Fairy Meadows. I see nothing and yet everything. I see nothing in the great, open plateau in front of me. I see nothing in the endless, baby blue skies that seem to spill on forever. I see nothing in the bland, sandy appearance of the thermodynamic features scattered in front of me. But yet, in the absence of so much, it seems there is nothing I can’t see. They say the skies get big out west; they aren’t wrong. I may not have anything right in front of me, but in turn, I’m able to observe every detail of my environment in every direction. I found that quite accurate both in a physical sense, as well as a metaphorical sense…
Moments similar to such occurred over and over throughout our travels. Taken back by the pure beauty of my surroundings, I couldn’t help repeating certain phrases over and over. This is amazing. Everyone should see this. This is incredible. Wow. Oh my gosh. Or simply a moment of silence to appreciate what I was experiencing.
My experiences in Yellowstone prompted many emotional reactions. I spent a lot of time in absolute awe. I was constantly filled with pride for my country. I even became frustrated at times. It seemed that there were more foreign tourists in the park than there were American citizens. This, at first, infuriated me. Why should our national park system benefit those from other countries rather than our own people? I slowly realized that there was no one to blame for that except the American people themselves.
We often fantasize about the Alps of Europe. We dream of sandy, tropical beaches in the Caribbean. We yearn to learn more about the ancient cultures of Asia. Yet, we have a paradise waiting for us right within our own borders. There is a dying society of fur traders, cowboys, and outfitters in Wyoming and Montana (among other western states) that continues to struggle on, slowly succumbing to the black hole of technology and noise that has taken over much of America. These things won’t remain forever.
I’d encourage anyone to take a trip to Yellowstone. The park contains unique beauty on every trail, in every meadow, at every peak; in every place you would most or least expect it. The indescribable feelings I was lucky enough to experience were motivation enough to want to spend a lifetime in the park.
I found my spot in the Imperial Meadows, the spot that convinced me that the nature found in our country is more valuable than anything we can put a price tag on. I urge you to go find yours.
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