Experience America at its very best, make a pilgrimage to a National Park

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Garfield Country Office of Tourism

The Natural Bridge formation at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah

by James Engel

There are five pillars of Sunni Islam. These are the basic and essential beliefs that hold the religion together and provide some foundation for believers, similar to the way the Ten Commandments are treated in Judaism. The fifth and final pillar is what Muslims call “Hajj.” Hajj translates to “pilgrimage” in English. The final pillar states that each person professing to practice Islam and who is financially able to, must, at least once in their life, travel to the city of Mecca, the birthplace of Mohammad. This trip shapes many young Muslim men into who they will become and how they will apply their faith.
American culture lacks this idea of a pilgrimage, but I think it can be applied far beyond the bounds of organized religion. The western United States has some of the most serene and stunning landscapes of Earth, and to live a life without seeing some of this vast wilderness would be denying one’s self the greatest privilege this country has to offer.

James Engel
Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park

I can criticize American culture, government, economics, and policy endlessly, but the American landscape is unparalleled. There is no substitute for the West. There is nothing in Shaler, or for 1000 miles that could even compare to those stunning things. Although it was photographs that originally peaked my interest in exploring these areas, I soon learned that they could never begin to truly show these landscapes in their full glory.
This past summer I visited two national parks in southern Utah with my father, on our own pilgrimage. I spent two days in Zion National Park and one day, just north of there, in Bryce Canyon National Park. Those three days changed how I think about the world, and, by that, I mean the physical world itself. I did not know anything so utterly gorgeous could exist. But I do now, and so I am telling you, go. Please, go.
I am privileged for being able to make such a journey, not only financially, but also by having such a willing and enthusiastic father. I understand most are not in the same situation I was in, but every student will soon graduate and during the formative post-high school years there is no better place to see than the West. But as the Hajj states: Don’t bankrupt yourself. Save some money, plan with friends, and during the summer go to nature for a few days. Every second will be worth it.
There is no atmosphere more refreshing than that of a national park. Just as all Muslims unite in Mecca, all people unite in nature. Every race, religion, nation, and gender is represented and everyone is there for one single purpose: to experience the land. They are united by rocks, trees, and waterfalls. I never witnessed a single conflict in my time at these parks, we were all simply mesmerized by what laid before our eyes. It was refreshing to breathe new air, and to walk on new dirt, and to touch new trees, and everyone felt this. Honestly, to try to put the experience into words would be wholly disrespectful to the feeling. Go, and feel for yourself.
In 1865, Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, said in an editorial, “Go West young man, go west and grow up with the country.” Although his time has long since passed, the idea still remains. Just as Muslims are obligated to visit Mecca, each American should feel obligated to see the majesty of the western landscapes in our nation. See the buttes of Utah, the geysers of Wyoming, the Rockies of Colorado, the canyons of Arizona, the glaciers of Montana, the forests of Washington, or the sierras of California. There, beauty abounds. I encourage a new Hajj, an American Hajj, because a life in one place is no life at all.