Thursday, March 26, 2020

Crowded Canyon



Reporting live from day 14 of self-quarantine. It's 9am, I completed a Youtube workout, my abs hurt and I haven't even drank coffee yet....

Which begs the question, who is this Juliet?

So many interesting questions and conversations being posed during this time of overwhelming unknown: on community, solitude, productivity, mental health, justice, government, and life as we know it. One of the most profound for me has been the conversation around outdoor access and responsibility.

When I arrived home from Tucson, my plan was to circumvent the worst aspects of quarantine by getting outside every day, hiking mid-week, and indulging in forest therapy. Unfortunately, all of humanity seemed to have the same idea.

In a way, I'm amazed and delighted by how many people flock to the outdoors to combat anxiety. It says so much about our core need for grounding through earthing. Sadly, trails are no more safe than a shopping mall when everyone shows up and proceeds to abandon even the simplest rule of maintaining 6 feet of personal space.

A parking lot at one of the Columbia River trailheads in N. Oregon on Saturday
Rattlesnake Ledge this past weekend. The trail has since been closed.
Angel's Rest in Zion. All those hands on the chain....Gahhh!!

News stories and trail reports documenting the explosion of people seeking solace outside had me deeply concerned and re-evaluating my plans to hike twice this week. Washington and Oregon quickly shut down all state parks after photos spread of the weekend crowding, and now most county and city parks are gated. Our National Parks-Mt.Rainier, the Olympics, and the North Cascades, are closed to visitors.

So let's travel back in time to a few weeks ago, pre-social distancing, when I was still in Arizona. Back to the Babad Do'ag mountain range, inside Coronado National Forest, where we decided to brave one of Tucson's most popular outdoor attractions: Sabino Canyon.

I say brave because this is a much more crowded trail than any of our group would normally chose to do, even in the best of times. But I had read reports on All Trails about Seven Falls running mightily this year and was curious to see the desert oasis described: a deluge of saguaro, stream crossings, and perennial pools, ending at a 7-tier waterfall.

After taking a shuttle from the park entrance to the trailhead a la Zion, we did our best to maneuver in front of other groups in order to claim some space away from the trail talkers.

Quite green at the beginning especially

Photo by Mark Johnson

The stream crossings were fun puzzles. It was lovely to see that I've overcome my PTSD towards water crossings. After dislocating my kneecap a few years back on wet rocks, I struggled with tackling even the simplest stream/creek on hikes. Feeling much more at ease these days.
Photo by Mark Johnson
There was no escaping the crowd once we arrived at the Falls. As we sat and snacked I thought about how funny and inescapable it is to feel utterly infringed upon by the other people in National Parks/ landmarks. I'm annoyed by their presence, and they're annoyed by mine. We're all there with a similar desire to experience sacred spaces, and in theory we all have an equal "right" to them.

Yet it remains a disappointment every single time I show up to a trailhead and see more than a handful of cars or humans. Sharing these treks with others tends to lessen the emotional impact of the experience, which is the very medicine of nature therapy. Imbibing the great outdoors isn't really about being outside of the house. Hiking can be immensely spiritual when solitude, silence, and ~space~ are involved. Otherwise it's just a workout.

Photo by Dad

It's clear that for the immediate future, over-crowding is more problematic and harmful than annoying. In order to keep myself and others safe, any outside time will necessitate alone time. No hiking in my favorite parks or at the crown jewel trailheads, and no trail buddies during Quarantine.

As the 'Stay Home, Stay Healthy' order comes to a close in Washington, I'll venture out to test some lesser known logging roads and river rambles. I will NOT report back if I'm able to find safe and spacious solitude ;)




On my last morning in Tucson, before my early evacuation and scramble to get home, Dad and I found a quiet trail just outside the entrance to Saguaro National Park. We really enjoyed this river wash walk and the petroglyphs!

1 comment:

  1. Relieved you "passed" the two week wait-and-C Virus test. After considerable "exposure" on the road...including a meet up with my brother who flew into Phoenix, went to a college reunion convention in California...shaking hands with hundreds of people...then back to an auditorium full of people in Phoenix to hear his Bro-in-law speak. Risky business, but we passed the "test" too. :) Our trails are not crowded...sorry to hear about parking lots full of people. Take care...Keep writing.
    mark

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