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Musings on Nature blog

Beautiful, Inspiring Places

I am off traveling again. Off to see the sights, visit new places, enjoy new experiences and supposedly relax. But truth be told, travel is not always so relaxing. And sometimes seeing beautiful places can be a pain, especially when you have to share the experience with hundreds, maybe thousands of people you wish weren’t in line in front of you. What do you mean I need reservations to get into the park? How can this be?

Assessing why I travel and what I hope to get from the experience is no simple task. I just like to go; to see what is over the next hill or around the next curve in the road. Maybe it’s genetic, for my father and his father before him were always ready for a road trip. My mother, though, was more of a homebody, seeming most content when surrounded by the comforts of home and family.

The Teton Range is one of the beauty spots of the United States that inspire the heart and soul of the traveler. (Image by Gerald Klingaman)

Probably the main reason I travel is to have new experiences. This can take many forms - everything from meeting new people, seeing new sights, eating new foods to encountering cultures that don’t see the world the same way I do. Some people relish the tried and true, the predictable, the same-old while some of us like to shake it up a bit and experience some of the diversity the world has to offer. Sometimes the experiences fall short of expectations, but even the bad experiences leave you with a good story. 

A few days back I drove into the upper Snake River valley and cast my gaze on the Teton Range in western Wyoming. These mountains - perhaps because they stand off by themselves in the distance as if posing for all of us slack-jawed tourists who gawk at their beauty and majesty —never fail to take my breath away. Is beauty, as the dictionary says, the quality of being physically attractive, or is it more? Can you compare the beauty of mist rising off of the Buffalo River on a crisp autumn morning with the overwhelming presence of majestic mountains? 

Such comparisons are meaningless, because beauty is everywhere we turn and its perception is a personal expression of self. And beauty is more than just the physical attributes of a place.  Physical beauty alone can’t carry the day. To properly appreciate a place, it must be experienced at many levels, perhaps at many seasons. Was the weather supportive of absorbing the beauty of the place? Did the black flies leave you alone long enough to properly appreciate all there was to offer? Did the ticket taker take some of the luster away by spouting too many rules? Beauty is an atom of experiences with all sorts of factors circling and sometimes colliding to form the nugget that sticks in your mind. 

I hate the term “bucket list,” as if travel experiences are some kind of game where the person who checks the most boxes wins. In the spring I visited my 49th state, only leaving Alaska.  But I really don’t know most of these places. I have visited them, driven through and peeked in the window but understanding and appreciating the soul of a place requires more than a quick visit. In many ways the person who doesn’t wander far but knows their home territory well is the better traveler because they have a deep knowledge of place.

Another reason I love to travel is to learn. Visiting Sacagawea’s gravesite on the Shoshone Reservation in central Wyoming and being able to put what I know of her life in context with a piece of real estate made her adventures with Lewis and Clark more real. And the more I travel and see the rocks, landforms and the way wind and water have sculpted the earth, the better I am able to understand the forces of nature that are changing our physical world today.

And the plants. So many plants to see, learn and appreciate. Serviceberry is a well-known Arkansas plant, but to come upon a knee-high species of Amelanchier growing in the cracks of two-billion-year-old gneiss rocks in the Rocky Mountains gives me a new perspective on both the genus and the pliability of nature. Driving through a forest of 200-foot-tall Douglas firs arching over the roadway, creating the feel of a gothic cathedral reminded me that the Pig Trail back home evokes the same feeling of grandeur. 

So the trip continues and the experiences and new lessons learned pile up. And once the journey ends, the afterglow of the experience will continue as I think back on the people I met, the food I enjoyed and all the wonderful sights I saw.