Hi there! You ever feel that by Thursdays you need to just crave a breath of fresh air. By Thursdays I am always ready for another trip into the mountains, which is why today I want to think out loud about what national parks have to offer us.
2016 marks the centennial of the foundation of the National Parks and Forest in the United States. Many national parks are located in the Pacific Northwest, including Mount Rainer National Park, Olympic National Park, Crater Lake National Park, and the Northern Cascades National Park.
Even though the podiatrist gave Ryan clearance to run and hike as his chipped foot bone heals, we decided instead of hiking to drive out further than usual and explore the Northern Cascades National Park. We took a short and easy walk along the river, enjoyed views of the mountains, and enjoyed the serene beauty of one of the many national parks.
And yes, the weather was chilly enough to bundle into layers of technical shirts and our favorite fleece Patagonias. Don’t worry, though, that snow is fake (although there is still snow in the mountains here!).
Ryan and I are fairly dedicated hikers (we have a whole closet dedicated to just hiking and backpacking), but there’s no reason to think that you can only enjoy a national park if you are hiking or camping. National parks provide time out in pure nature in beautiful locations – which offers numerous to mental and physical health.
You can disconnect from technology and bond as a family.
A majority of people are glued to their laptops, smartphones, and iPads throughout the whole day. While technology is part of work for many of us, national parks offer a time to leave your phone in the car and engage with the world around us. That’s not to mention how healthy unplugging is for relationships. National parks let you interact with your family and friends in person, rather than through the medium or, worse, with the distraction of, phones.
Research indicates that group hiking mitigates stress levels and anxiety. Less stress, as we all know, means better sleep, improved moods, and quicker recover during hard training periods. So why not head out to a national park on your rest day and lower your cortisol levels with family time in nature?
Panoramic views (and Instagram-worthy photos) abound.
National parks are so picturesque that they seem unreal, as if they were paintings. But these aren’t paintings – they’re tangible mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes, and forest! The sublime beauty of nature is simultaneously humbling and inspiring, and these offer quite the change of view from man-made cityscapes and miles of congested traffic (which, unfortunately, you will likely encounter when traveling to/from a national park near Seattle).
Getting dirty benefits your mental health.
No, get your mind out of the gutter – I mean literally dirty, as in dirt on your hands, feet, and legs. Some research posits that dirt to skin contact actually increases your serotonin levels thanks to healthy germs such as Mycobacterium vaccae. In addition to any beneficial bacteria you may pick up, there’s something utterly grounding and relaxing about being in contact with the earth. Fresh air and vitamin D improve your mental well-being also – as many of us know from how much better we feel after an outdoor run.
National parks raise your environmental awareness.
One of the reasons Ryan and I try to eat less meat is because high meat consumption (especially beef) strains our natural resources (for the same reason, I don’t use almond milk anymore). The more we’ve ventured into nature of the past year, the more Ryan and I have become aware of how much care and sustaining of the environment matters. That’s not to mention that, as a Catholic, I believe that just treatment of the earth is a moral issue.
Our government has deliberately preserved national parks for the last 100 years because without preservation, the wilderness and mountains would fall prey to the materialistic consumption of humanity. The national parks, in their (mostly) untouched naturalness, remind us just how beautiful, giving, and fragile our planet is.
You can read about environmental issues online or see photos on social media; yet the firsthand, awe-striking encounter with nature in all its force – both noble and frightening – is what brings about the realization of how precious our earth is.
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” – John Muir
Which National Parks have you visited? Which was your favorite?
Finish this sentence: by Thursday, you’re craving…