By Diana Reyes
I’m 25 and I live in Phoenix, Arizona. Growing up one thing my mom would refuse to have in our house was cable. She didn’t want us to be sitting in front of the TV and not enjoying playing outside. We could afford the cable, but she said no. Every time I look back on that, I’m grateful because it made me love the outdoors. I used to live right by a park and I remember always going there growing up. As soon as we hit the park there was a hill. The first thing I would do is run up that hill and every single time I felt a complete sense of freedom.
I grew up loving to run and it was always a high for me. Every time we got to that hill I would run straight up with my little legs. Even as a kid I told myself I need to be active, not just because it was physically satisfying, but also mentally and emotionally satisfying. I try to go hiking a lot. I love Camelback Park in Phoenix, Piestewa Peak, and on my bucket list for this year is to try new mountains and trails that I haven’t explored.
Last year I saw a picture of Havasupai Falls on Facebook and couldn’t believe that existed in Arizona. I was online at 8am on February 1 when registrations opened and my friends and I got six spots. The registrations booked immediately right before our eyes. We wanted to go in the spring but we could only book in November, which ended up being perfect and not too hot. That was one of the best outdoor experiences I’ve ever had. Prior to this trip I was facing a lot of career and personal challenges. I told myself that this hike would help me release stress and it was something to look forward to. It’s 10 miles to get to the Falls and campsite. It’s not a harsh hike but it’s challenging because you’re carrying stuff on your shoulders. I’ve never done that before. That was an experience in itself. Seeing the falls was breathtaking. It was so beautiful. The water was cold, but not cold enough to stop me from going in. This occurred the next day when we went on our day hike to Moony Falls, which was not far from our campsite. There is more than one fall in the area besides the famous Havasupai Falls.
One thing that I learned even prior to attending was that Havasupai means people of the green and blue water. Simply from observations you can see the tribal members were very self-sufficient - they had their own farm, stores, school, and homes. It was very welcoming.
When it was time to go we packed up all of our stuff and we started making that trip 10 miles back to our car. It was during that last mile when it really started to get to me what I had just witnessed and the beauty of these outdoors. I realized what we have here and what we need to preserve.
When we hit the last mile to the top there were a lot of switchbacks. I looked to the side and there was a sunset. In that moment I knew, even with all of the challenges in my life and with this hike itself, that there is always beauty in the struggle, and anything we think is hard is only because we told ourselves it is. I know it’s cliché, but that is what I felt. I realized I did 10 miles in, stayed out for 2 nights and made it this far. There will be obstacles in your life, but we can make it through.
I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the people that I went with. One of my friends put on inspiring music to keep us going. Another friend helped me with my bag that that needed adjusting. At one point my bag was getting so heavy and someone helped me out and literally held my hand as we reached the switchbacks. In that moment I realized all of this meant a lot. This is how life is. There are people around you that support you in all different ways.
When I got back home those life challenges were less stressful. Being outdoors and being able to reflect, I learned that there’s more to life. Life is beautiful. We went through so many different terrains – beds of flowers, forests, red rocks, colored rocks. I wish I could bring more people to see this, but I can’t bring everyone. The friends that I went with didn’t know each other when we left, but at the end they all became friends, so that was a nice little perk.
Today I have younger nieces and I always try to encourage them to be outdoors. It’s great that technology is advancing, but I don’t want my nieces to miss out on those experience that I had. I know my brother takes them to the park and maybe that’s the influence of my parents.
I worry now about the destruction of the land and building on top of what used to be beautiful fields. I understand the conflict of economic growth and job opportunities, but even as a kid I worried about running out of land, and that still hits me now. If you live in a city it will keep growing. It’s important to continually preserve these parks and bring awareness to the importance of trees and nature not only for recreation, but for what it can do for us, like help with pollution, provide ecosystems and habitats and land to feed us. There’s so much benefit to the outdoors. It relaxes us mentally and emotionally, it makes us think, keeps us physically fit. We need to protect our lands and protect where we live.
We all share this earth and we all have to be cautious about what we do in what we call our home. We all should contribute to protecting these lands not just for ourselves but for the next generations.