For weeks I have been trying to summarize my adventures in the U.S. in one encompassing story. To find one perfect day that represents the rest. But, I find that no story can capture every feeling and moment perfectly.

When I look back on the 15,000 miles I have traveled in my camper van, my mind doesn’t return to a single moment. Just like my other road trips, it races through the many places I experienced: down the Virgin River of the Narrows in Zion, up the Paintbrush Canyon in the Grand Teton. It looks over the Grand Prismatic in Yellowstone, stands across the Highline in Glacier, and dives deep into the caves at Carlsbad Caverns. It stands before the giant Sequoias in Mariposa Grove, beneath the misty Vernal Falls of Yosemite, and looks down over the sprawling and endless Grand Canyon. When I reflect, every memory floods back, fresh as the day I was there.

I have traveled through 15 national parks, one national monument, and camped in dozens of national forests and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) areas since I first visited Yosemite in early May of 2014. It was there, driving down Sonora Pass and into Yosemite Valley, that I recognized how special America’s national parks are. Many I have visited several times over, each time adding a new experience to the memory rolodex. To pinpoint one adventure and hold it above the rest would be a disservice to all the others. Each offers something completely unique — not just a new vista but a new challenge, a wholly unique experience, another epiphany.

I think nature’s greatest gift is that it brings clarity and ideas. To venture deep into the wilderness and leave all human interference behind and come out with a greater understanding of yourself and your connection to what is becoming a fragile planet.

It was during my first long road trip through these national parks that I made an important discovery about myself. I reached a turning point and felt I was no longer treading water, but determined, with a goal in mind to do what I had always wanted to and forge ahead in a career that follows my passion. Nature sparks the imagination in a way no other experience can. I have since urged all my friends to forgo the cities of Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Miami, and turn inland toward the national parks.

“The more arduous the adventure, the greater the reward.”

And I mean arduous only as in physical effort. There is one moment that I often return to. A seldom taken walk up the Paintbrush Canyon from Leigh Lake to Lake Solitude in Grand Teton National Park. If you return the same way, it is an epic 22-mile trip. There are many stops along the way, like a quick dip in Holly Lake or the view from the top of the Paintbrush Divide and looking out toward the phenomenal North Fork Cascade Canyons. I recall the generosity of the Americans I met along this trail, helping me with their own ceramic water filters and iodine tablets when I had run out, and seeing my first bear in the wild, eating berries on the trail. I learned that any boundaries I encountered were only in my mind — the reward of pushing past my physical comfort level is one that I will always cherish. There is no other experience like it.

Nothing can reciprocate the mental and physical stimulation you receive from hiking up a long trail and looking out over the breathtaking views that each park offers, and they are all so different. Nature is the reward for me, and I will always hold the memories of my national park hikes close. They serve not only as an escape from the cities, but as a reminder of where we came from.

We must do everything we can to protect the incredible nature of the 59 U.S. National Parks before it is sold away to the highest bidder. Once the first domino falls, it will only be a matter of time before the rest follow. We can’t let human interference turn nature into a mausoleum and entomb Mother Earth forever. There will never be another Zion, Bryce, Arches, or Bears Ears, and it will take millions of years once the dust settles before these parks may return to their former glory, if  they can only survive the next few decades.

Share this:
Dan Sadgrove is from New Zealand and is currently on the road travelling. With a background in anthropology and ethnomusicology, he has a strong interest in different cultures and often travels to places that offer a unique slice of life unlike his own experience of growing up in suburban New Zealand.