As I sit here and I think about how a few years ago I didn't know anything about the national parks, how I could barely list 5 of them, and how now I've fallen in love and made a passion out of exploring them, I'm blown away! Who knew the national parks had an anniversary, that Yellowstone was the first, and that this was the centennial celebration? Not me!
So what changed? How did this become such an important part of my life?
I grew up camping twice a year with family and getting outdoors as much as possible. By outdoors I mean in our inner city, and later suburban, backyards. In the summertimes we'd head to the lake and in the winter we'd go cross-country skiing but I was never backpacking with the folks or learning survival skills in class; I was barely a girl scout. But I knew I loved being outside and I would find the nearest trees wherever I could and sit under them letting my imagination run wild for hours.
My junior year in high school I joined some friends a couple of times for a church group. I was also barely religious at the time but I was super into socializing and joining clubs. They were planning a hiking trip to the Smokey Mountains and at the last minute I decided to join. I'd never seen anything so beautiful! Miles and miles of trees! It's also where I first discovered my fear of heights and what it felt like to push past them to reach the top.
After that trip, I was intrigued for lack of a better word. After high school I headed to Chicago to go to the Roosevelt Theater Conservatory. It was one of the worst experiences of my life! Going through a mild case of depression, in theater classes that wanted me to tap into all of that pain, and living a tiny room with bars on the window. When I left Roosevelt, a counselor suggested anti-depressants. I'm not a doctor and I know that they're good for some people but I refused to let this be me. I decided I would keep a journal and I would get outside for an hour every day, even the -10 degree days in the Michigan winter. It worked. Slowly I started feeling myself coming back to life! And these were back in the days when I didn't have a cell phone to look at apps or listen to music, just walk and breathe.
Working at a ranch kept my love for the outdoors going over the next few years until I moved back to where it all started, Tennessee. I lived in Nashville for the country music industry and would try to hike every chance I got. I quickly learned that Nashville and the Smokey Mountains were not down the street from one another. When I looked into moving to Los Angeles I was hesitant to move to another big city but on my first visit, I went for a hike and that's all it took.
Again, national parks were not super on my radar yet. My dad and I planned a long road trip for the move to California and THAT'S where I started to get it. We stopped in Moab and took pictures at Arches National Park, we took back roads to drive through part of Rocky Mountain National Park, we stopped at the Grand Canyon to take in all of the wonder and man did it spark something in me!
A few years later I did another road trip driving through the Badlands, Yellowstone, and Teton National Parks. When I decided to create a show a year and a half ago my coach told me to create my dream show about things that I love. Nature and adventure! That was my first goal, to encourage people to get out and see it. And even if they're not crazy adrenaline junkies or professional athletes there's adventure out there to be discovered. The show was an in. I'd given myself permission to go and explore these "bucket list" places and finally had a reason to. If I saw a picture of a beautiful mountain, I was going to go see it.
Zion National Park was the first park I really explored. Hiking Angels Landing and The Narrows I got it. Hiking is always fantastic, but there is a reason these places are designated national parks and protected to stay that way. They are truly unlike any other place I've ever seen. Suddenly I was going to Joshua Tree, Bryce, Yosemite, Sequoia, and Shenandoah, and each one had it's own unique beauty. I could not seem to get enough!
Now when I travel, I make a point to find out if there is a national park within driving distance to go and see. I know that I'm new to the game and a lot of people grew up exploring these incredible places but I'm so grateful that I get it now. For a person who's spent my life moving from place to place, in the national parks I feel complete, I feel at home. So happy centennial National Parks, may you forever keep wowing us with your beauty, making homes for nomads, and introducing yourself to newbies like me.