I’m from Arizona, land of the Grand Canyon, the roaring Colorado River, Monument Valley, the San Francisco Peaks, Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, Fossil Creek, Lee’s Ferry, the Vermillion Cliffs, Lake Powell, Antelope Canyon, Havasupai, the Ponderosa pine forest, the never-ending Milky Way in the night sky… I could go on and on mentioning the amazing outdoors. Hang on. The sunsets. Man, are the sunsets amazing. Country music artist Eric Church sure was wise when he wrote the lyric, “Arizona, where God paints the sky,” in his song “These Boots.”
All of these places are just a handful found in the vast, wild and sprawling landscape of the American Southwest. This is where I grew up, where my heart longs to be. I miss it often.
There’s a reason why so many people are enchanted with the West, and have been for decades. It’s undoubtedly a very special place. Zane Grey knew this well and documented it throughout his lifetime in dozens of books. Artists through the years have attempted to capture its beauty through photos and paintings. If you’re an outdoors person, it’s heaven on earth.
In 2010, after graduating college, I made the big move across the country to Washington, D.C. I quickly learned that not only is the East Coast different than where I spent the first two decades of my life; it is hardly the same at all. After nearly two years of feeling miserable in my new space—the traffic, the high cost of living, feeling like I could never fully embrace my new environment, etc.—I told myself to stop complaining and stumbled upon my own valuable lesson: If you can accept a place for what it is and embrace the things they have to offer, rather than compare it to another place you love, you’ll be much happier. You can’t compare two things that aren’t even similar. As the old cliché goes, it’s apples to oranges.
Washington, D.C., certainly isn’t Arizona, and the Mid-Atlantic definitely isn’t the American Southwest. In fact, one of the few things the two places have in common is people like me who have lived in both.
The good news is that a quick drive south, from D.C. to Virginia, will land you on the George Washington Parkway, one of the most breathtaking drives in the world during the fall. The leaves that in spring are full, lush and green turn every different color of orange, yellow and red you can imagine in the fall. When winter comes around, all the leaves fall away, only to return in spring. Billions of leaves fall and replenish. The forest goes from naked and dead to alive and full again. It blows my mind every time.
The Shenandoah Mountains to the southwest are beautiful, with views of the forests of West Virginia at the top of long hikes. Apple-picking in the fall on Virginia’s farms is something I had never experienced before moving east, and now I try to go every year. In 2014, I went on my first whitetail deer hunt along the Potomac River, which brought back the feelings I had when I hunted mule deer with my father on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon as a kid. Sure, the landscape was different, but the rush of the hunt and the appreciation for what God put on earth for us to enjoy all felt the same. And speaking of the Potomac, the endless streams and rivers of Virginia and the East Coast continue to amaze me.
Even in the heart of D.C., just south of the Washington Monument, you can appreciate nature’s beauty by walking around the Tidal Basin, lined with gorgeous cherry trees. The reflection of the sunset at dusk bounces off the water with a wash of different colors.
In life it’s easy to be frustrated by change, rather than embracing it. I’m glad I finally found a way to regularly get and appreciate my outdoor fix, even while I’m living in the big city.
Read Katie’s other posts here.