Sarah Stinson, Maria Carrillo High School junior


Have most urban dwellers truly seen the stars? The few sparse lights that glimmer in city skies sadly can’t compare with the gleaming brocade that blankets areas of remote wilderness. Although it can be difficult for people to release their clutches upon the comforts of their daily lives, it proves to be a very rewarding experience for one to set out in an open-minded exploration of nature.
When I left for a trip to Death Valley with my aunt and uncle the spring of my sophomore year in high school, I was reluctant to abandon my computer and TV. At first I was relieved because I could at least bring along my cell phone — obviously to communicate pointless details of my life to friends through text messages — until I discovered that there would be no service for miles within the national park. Still, I embarked on the trip, admittedly with the expectation of seeing unimpressive natural scenery.
In the end, I had a magnificent time that any technological distractions would have tainted. Rather than hunching passively in front of my computer, I explored a new, fresh part of the world. I felt my extreme insignificance within nature’s grandness, yet grew personally with this realization. After I returned from the trip, I realized I could never view life quite the same way again. I gained a new sense of what I want a major life goal of mine to be: to live while learning as much as possible about my surroundings, for they shape who I am and how I live. While exploring nature I learned about myself.
A part of the trip that affected me most significantly was the sheer amount of direct experiences I had. I tasted salt straight from the ground in the salt flats. I saw the odd natural phenomenon of moving stones on the ground in the Racetrack Playa. I heard the chilling but awe-inspiring silence of the desert mountains. I felt the searing sunlight on my face and the bitter cold grip my body before I dove into my sleeping bag at night. I experienced my surroundings with no shelter apart from a frail tent at night and a weather-beaten jeep when traveling on foot was implausible. Through these experiences, I saw a side of the world that I often overlook. The world is brimming with exciting adventures if only one is willing to explore.
My relatives and I wanted to immerse ourselves in the nature as much as possible, so on the final night of our trip we camped in a secluded spot several miles away from any people. The icy wind almost whisked our tent over, and we were forced to secure the tent poles with small boulders found at the base of a nearby cliff.
I never really acknowledged nature’s enormous power until I was directly forced to deal with it. I became aware of how often I feel isolated and secure from its strength, and so sometimes feel entitled to ignore it from behind the protective walls of my house. I began to realize the importance for humans to cooperate with and understand their natural surroundings.
During my trip to Death Valley, I shed numerous aspects of my usual life. I adventured in the absence of my lifestyle’s unnecessary habits and dependencies, and I gladly explored without a roof above my head. No matter how far away it may seem to be in a city setting, the natural world is a fundamental part of humankind’s existence. It significantly shapes people’s lifestyles; we need to work with it rather than around it.