The lessons I learned from my trip to Zion National Park began before I got even got there. As our car cruised along the I-15, past the borders of California, Nevada, Arizona and finally Utah, the prominence of ancient and hollow earth grew rapidly. The road toyed with us, leading us through canyons that would embrace us one minute and show us their spectacular layers and release us, just as quickly, to show us vast and dry terrain. The majesty of the earth was definite that day, as the same sun that shined during the formation of this landscape shined happily on our faces through the car’s windshield.
One of the first things you may notice when driving into Zion is the Virgin River. Its flow is deceptively slow and steady. This is the river that has carved and exposed the famous layers on the faces of Zion’s massive canyons. The one thing I couldn’t get out of my head while I looked out at the river was its sheer strength and the immense capacity of water to break away at something as tough and solid as rock. The Virgin River’s persistence over the course of hundreds of millions of years is a large driving force of the landscape’s shape and ecology. To say that I was awestruck would be an understatement.
The most memorable hike I went on during my time at Zion was Angel’s Landing. Never have the clouds and the sky seemed so close. When I reached the very top of Angel’s Landing, I was greeted by Uinta chipmunks that scurried around me, looking for dropped trail mix or leftover apple cores to nibble on. It was a weird reminder that I was in a foreign habitat where I was merely a guest. From the spine of Angel’s Landing, I was able to observe the very plateaus that were used as a primitive form of desert agriculture in the area by Zion natives almost 12,000 years ago. I was completely taken and overwhelmed by the canyons’ history and the presence of life within them, be it human life, animal life or plant life.
And now, maybe more than ever, our ability to protect these landscapes seems uncertain, be it through political talk hovering around the privatization of national parks, how no one cares or how it’s “too late.” And to this, I say, “Fuck that.” Though these arguments stay unrealized for now, we need to wake up and shift political talk, start to rehabilitate nature and start to care. In the case of Zion, as well as all national parks, I would argue that being idle not only marks the destruction of natural terrain, but also a destruction, and a desecration, of a human history and culture that is already often neglected.
My experience at Zion was eye-opening because of the fact that to feel so incredibly small, especially when we ourselves are often the most important things in our own lives, we have to be presented with something, with a force so extraordinary it overshadows our own importance. And Zion definitely did this for me. To be constantly gifted with a certain kind of beauty that only nature can provide, we must remember that lands like Zion are not ours to conquer or to privatize. Lands like Zion are ours to protect, restore and conserve, not only for the well-being and sustainability of our own lives, but also the billions of lives that are to come after our own. In honor of the upcoming Earth Day this year, and as a result of my trip to Zion, I don’t just want to plant a tree because that’s what you’re supposed to do on Earth Day (right?). I’m not saying I want to become an activist or become granola crunch crunch. Instead, today, tomorrow and every day, I want to take small steps in my own life to live self-consciously and with an awareness that I, admittedly, lacked before. I want to do this to show the Earth the gratitude, love and respect that I have for our one and only home.
Contact Chelsea Song at [email protected].