In the past two years, I have tried to make meaningful New Years Resolutions. Last year, I made "environmental resolutions", which eventually led me to go vegan in February 2019. This year, I resolved to visit one new place each month. The first three months were incredible. I went to London for my first solo trip and first time to Europe. February was Yosemite and I still dream of going back. March was Utah. We spent about a day in Arches National Park, but we did not get to venture much outside of that because of COVID-19. My April and May trips, of course, did not happen. I had planned to go back to Europe for an extended stay at the beginning of June-Early July. The rest of 2020 was going to be spent exploring North America.
The funny thing about life is it rarely goes as you planned. Of course, I was bummed about not getting to travel to these places. That's partially where I got the idea to start a bucket list in my state.
The idea came from seeing a friend post a picture from a place that looked like Utah. I clicked the link and quickly realized the location was only a few hours from me at Gloss Mountain State Park. I sent the location and pictures to my best friend/travel buddy and my little sister, my other travel buddy. Both were down to take a trip and SHOCKED something so cool could be found in Oklahoma.
This led me to start searching for and making my list. After a couple of hours and getting suggestions from friends, my list is at 37 places to visit in my beautiful state. Some places I had visited as a kid and do not remember much. Some places I had visited more recently but wanted to go back to see again. And some places sounded amazing, and I had never been to before! Number 2 on the list, but the first stop, was Black Mesa State Park.
Black Mesa State Park is in the panhandle of Oklahoma, a less-traveled part of the state. The Mesa itself is the highest point in Oklahoma, a fact I remembered from 4th grade when we learned about Oklahoma at school. Oklahoma is not known for having high heights most of the state is relatively flat, which leads to excellent farming. However, Black Mesa is at the very tail end of the Southern Rockies, before things flatten out the further south you go.
We stayed in Boise City after some confusion with camping at Black Mesa State Park (the website says first come, first serve but now all reservations have to be made online). We left before sunrise to drive the 45 minutes to the trailhead. The views with the rising sun on the drive were gorgeous and we arrived at the parking lot of the trailhead right at dawn. And that's when things got interesting.
Now, I have been in my fair share of nature bathrooms. Whether that be flushing toilets or vaulted toilets. However, I have never quite experienced anything like the bathrooms at the Black Mesa Summit Trailhead. I'm not one to have a weak stomach but these bathrooms did me dirty (pun intended). Knowing it was a longer hike, we decided to all use the bathrooms beforehand. My sister went first and quickly warned us of the stench as soon as she got out. Next, was our friend Jamie, whose advice was to "Breath through your mouth." As I went in, I joked about how I am incapable of breathing through my mouth (there are some snorkeling stories to go along with that one but I'll save those for another time). I was in this restroom for maybe 1 full minute and as soon as I emerged I knew I was in trouble. I was gagging while in there, from the stench, and ran out to say "I am unwell."
We started to walk towards the trailhead and I knew something was very wrong. I said I needed to stop to get gum, hoping the mint would deter nausea. Two steps later, right at the trailhead, I threw up. I hoped for the best and thought that might be it and immediately said "I'm okay" and kept walking. About five feet later and my entire vegan protein shake and all the water I had drunk on the 45-minute drive in were coming up rapidly and uncontrollable. My sister starts laughing, an appropriate response. Jamie starts panicking and repeatedly asking me if I am okay and if I can make it while I am hunched over purging that horrid bathroom from my body. I left a little bit of my dignity and soul on that trail.
After a fresh piece of gum and some adrenaline, I was ready to go and killed the first mile. At mile two, with the high from the hilarious moment behind me (serious apologies to anyone who had to pass my vomit on their way starting the hike), I realized my stomach and body were going to have to slow it down a bit. Aside from lots of nausea and several stops to settle my stomach, we made excellent time hiking to the summit and I felt much better after having a little bite to eat.
Most of the hike is relatively easy, aside from being rocky. The first mile is mostly flat and you meet some local cows along the way. Mile 2 consists of a slight inline then a series of switchbacks to the 3-mile marker. The 3-mile marker is in the midst of a heavier inline (and rocky) but goes up for about a quarter of a mile until you are on top of Black Mesa. You have a slight incline for just over a mile until you get to the summit. The views are incredible and well worth the hike. Most of the hike is not strenuous at all but you need to have the ability to do the actual climb up the plateau, as it is steep for about a mile and very rocky. Hiking boots are preferred! We decided we started our hike at the perfect time, 7:30 am, and would have preferred to begin earlier. We got back to our car around 11:30 am and would not have been able to handle the dessert-like heat much later than that. Start early! The total time was four hours but we did stop several times for water and to hydrate the world's best hiking dog! We spent a good chunk of times resting, eating, and exploring on top of Black Mesa.
Overall, Black Mesa was a wonderful hike, and if I can do it having puked two times at the very beginning, then there is the motivation for you to do it!
Fun fact: at the mile 2 bench, if you look under the tree, you will find a weather-resistant box containing notes and trinkets from hikers. We added a note and a granola bar to help the next lucky hiker!
Now, this might sound weird, but our wellness is affected and influenced by so many things, including our environment. Environmental wellness is about both the Earth and your physical environment. We must take care of the Earth because it gives us life. Likewise, your physical environment, where you exist, needs to be healthy and sustainable. Being surrounded by a healthy environment can help us thrive.
Think about it this way, when we go on vacation and get out of the city we always come back feeling better and refreshed. That’s because we are breathing in cleaner air, we typically get more exercise, we ignore things in our physical world that may be harming us (think sitting on your computer working all day), and we can connect again with the earth. When I go hiking or on vacation I almost always sing “Below My Feet” by Mumford and Sons in my head because it truly embodies what I’m feeling.
But what if we could have more of those “being in the mountains on vacation” feelings more often? Living in an apartment, I can’t completely recreate that but there are things I can do to create a similar wellness experience.
Here are my tips for physical environment wellness:
Likewise, there are things I can do to promote the wellness of the earth.
As an environmentalist, environmental wellness has made a rather large impact on my life. However, the physical environment wellness is more of a new concept for me. I am excited to continue to find new and healthy ways to help keep our planet healthy and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
An elementary school educator by day, grad student by night. And I somehow manage to live life to the fullest in-between.