I remember a family trip to Zion National Park, when I found myself repeatedly losing my footing, and then floating, unmoored in the river of the Narrows. I had to be pulled back onto my feet because of the buoyancy of the arctic explorer-type suits which hiking groups wear to travel through the Narrows. Though we experienced some beautiful views of the canyon from hard-to-access spots, from then on I preferred hiking on dry land.
I grew up traveling through other landscapes, in other regions of the world beyond the Rocky Mountains. However, my formative years were marked by many nature trips around Utah and the national parks of the Western States. I want to take an awareness of qualities in the landscapes from Utah to wherever I am going next. I’ve experienced vistas which reveal eons of geologic time unfolding in front of me. I see barren landscapes as beautiful and get a thrill out of scaling treacherous surfaces. I will take with me the deep-rooted knowledge that when you allow yourself to be immersed in nature, you will see more beauty in all the natural world.
A few months before the pandemic swept over the globe, I embarked on a five-week journey by foot across northern Spain on the Camino de Santiago. The Camino is a medieval route which is still undertaken by some as a religious pilgrimage; and by others as an extended hike or a section-by-section walking or cycling holiday whenever they can find the time. The traditional route begins in France and makes its way over the Pyrenees, eventually ending in the medieval city of Santiago. Many of those who have time to commit to the whole 800 km journey are people going through a transition in their lives—as I was.
I met walkers who seemed to reside on these trails. I met people who had embarked on several months of walking, including some who had walked far from their home countries in Europe. I walked the same terrain as people from a vast range of backgrounds; from countries all over the world; with different ages, occupations, and life paths. We were all pilgrims.
Opportunities unfolded to exchange meaning with others. I could go from feeling icy rain on my face as I trekked up a long hill alone, to chatting with many people by a toasty hostel fireside. After even the most subtle interactions, I often felt a degree of connection with someone whose language I might not have known, but with whom I shared the gift of the Camino spirit.
Realizing humanity’s future struggles, I want to preserve both ecosystems and people by studying that which could destroy them. My aim is to hold a mirror up to the future to help build a more peaceable transition to this nearly inevitable climate crisis. Both working for and being supported by the simple, tender things that hold us together in times of peril.
My experiences with people were even more enriching than my Camino connection with nature and animals. I am a person who loves to be immersed in the solitude and peace of nature as an escape from regular life, yet the Camino was more. I learnt that the beauty of an environment is not only due to the connection with nature, but also the human connection, and that these do not have to be separate from one another.
I look forward to the prospect of traveling again, not merely for the fun, but for the stimulating and inspiring interactions that make me optimistic about the world. The people I have encountered who care for the earth and are truly grateful for it, always expand my perspective on what I could be doing in life. Focusing on our local environments and becoming reacquainted with our regional landscapes is beneficial, as long as it does not come at a cost of isolation from those outside our regions and borders.
I believe that the landscape of a place is an integral part of why you think of a place as “home.” As soon as I reached the meseta (plateau) part of the Camino in the central region of Spain, I felt a happy sense of familiarity. That desert landscape reminded me of the red rock and climate of Utah’s national parks. This discovery is an important one for me at this stage of life. Everyone in my family is leaving Utah’s mountains and desert behind, moving on elsewhere after living here for many years. It is at this leaving stage that I realize how much the landscape of the whole Western region has shaped me, my outdoor pursuits, the beauty I see in the wilderness, and my level of awareness for the environment and land conservation.
Utah has a natural heritage of landscapes that I hope will be preserved far into the future. This preservation should not be taken for granted: Grand Staircase Escalante has been demoted from the status of a National Monument, but it still offers a vast array of breathtaking landscapes to drive through and hike.
I hope these places will stay rooted in my consciousness forever. Once I leave Utah, I may never again find myself uneasily and joyfully floating down the Narrows in Zion National Park. I would like to return to wild Utah someday, but for now I will have fantastic memories of Zion, Arches, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and all the beautiful natural Utah lands which must be protected.
Zion National Park, photo by Claire Edgley
Claire Edgley grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she enjoyed skiing and hiking in the mountains. She did her undergraduate degree at Carleton College in Minnesota, majoring in English. She has explored screenwriting, songwriting, and communications, and overall she hopes that writing will be an essential skill for circumventing job automation in the future.