How an overlook eased my stress, by doing nothing.


The featured picture was the overlook that did it for me. That gave me an emotion that I’ve never felt before, that I didn’t even know I was looking for. But let me tell you how I got there.

Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah
Exploring the outskirts of Salt Lake City, Utah, driving down the Big Cottonwood Canyon.

I was born and raised in the Houston area. Pasadena, TX, to be exact. I spent the first 18 years of my life, running up and down the streets of that Houston outskirt town. Pasadena is known for mostly a couple of things: the police, and the smell from the chemical refineries and plants which employ about 70% of the town. (I totally just made up that statistic, but if you’re from Pasadena, it’s being generously low for a guess.) “Stink-a-dena” is the appropriate nickname it’s been giving by the people who don’t live there.

The typical thing to do, in my town, after graduating high school, is to try to make the most money, and get you a very nice car, after getting a manual labor job at one of the refineries. You will most likely be working 7 days a week, 12 hour shifts, and will have a very bad tan line on your face, from the safety glasses you wear all day.

Big Cottonwood Creek, Utah
The Big Cottonwood Creek runs down the canyon, this was taken at one of the hiking trail parking spots in the area.

That was not my life plan, so at the age of 17, I enlisted in the delayed entry program for the United States Marine Corps, and a week after graduating high school, I was in Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, CA, stepping on those famous yellow foot steps. I was then promptly taken on naval cruises, to far off destinations, courtesy of the U.S. Navy via deployments for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. We stopped at a couple places on the way there and back. But as for travelling in the U.S., other than driving to and from my permanent duty station and my hometown, I didn’t linger anywhere else. And if I did, it was to visit family and friends in major cities. I am a “city guy.” I have no clue about anything nature wise, other than the things the Marine Corps taught me during my training phase. I can’t start a fire on my own, I need one of those flicker things to start one. I’m not even sure what they’re called. I am the definition of a city person. I have no business in nature, and I know that. True story: because of an alligator feeding tour in Australia, and this 1 night where I somehow ended up watching multiple animals attack humans in open bodies of water on YouTube, I no longer enter any form of water that isn’t a swimming pool or jacuzzi. Maybe sometime later in my life, I will. But, you know what? As a domestic human being, I have no business out in the wild and terrifying… ocean and rivers. I can swim just fine. That’s not the issue. I’m just saying, I’ve seen all the “anaconda” movies, those things are real. I’m not chancing it. That’s not how I’m going out. Why even give them the opportunity? Nope. Swimming pools for this human please. Free of sharks and crocodiles.

Donut Falls Trailhead area, Utah
The Big Cottonwood Creek outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, Donut Falls trail hiking area.

So, through the coincidences of life, I find myself in Salt Lake City, Utah about a year ago. A friend that I hadn’t talked to, in a couple of years, saw me check into the airports, on social media, while travelling, and sent me an email saying he was also in Utah. Like I do with anybody I meet up with, in a particular region, I asked if he could show me anything scenic to take a picture of. Not touristy, but a nature location that’s photogenic. He said he saw a waterfall somewhere in the area, so we met up late, and raced against the sun and the remainder of daylight left, to find this waterfall. We never found said waterfall. We ended up driving down this canyon called Big Cottonwood Canyon, east of the city. We kept driving around looking for this nonexistent waterfall, and ended up stopping once we realized we had reached the peak of the mountain range and were now on the other side, descending down towards… whatever is away from Salt Lake City. We stopped, because, obviously, this is not where we were supposed to go, and we passed our location up. So we pull into the first turn around spot we could find, which happened to just be an overlook to this area. We stopped and parked along 3 other vehicles already there. As soon as I parked, this was my view. We got out to get a better look and take a picture, and I have never been so overwhelmed, in awe, of a place. And I got this tremendous feeling of, weirdly enough, patriotism. Let me explain.

Behind the first set of mountains across the valley, you can see the shadow of the clouds on the valley behind it. There is more land visible behind it. This is the most land I’d ever seen, with my own 2 eyes. (Location: Guardsman Pass, Utah.)

While in the Marines, I was stationed in North Carolina. I did not have family there, I didn’t have kids, I never tried to coordinate one of those dramatic reunions that I got to see everyone around me have. (You know, where the wife and kids run and hug their dad who just is getting off the plane, with the entire squadron is waiting cheering and the banners and stuff?) Yea, well, since I didn’t have my family waiting for me, I was the first to be “voluntold” (that’s when you are told that you are volunteering) to clean up everything after everyone left. I never got that feeling. Even when I came back home to Houston, it was just like “oh you’re back in town? Cool.. how’s the Army, again? Oh, you’re in the Marines? …there’s a difference? Hey, I know this guy from school, his names Roger, he joined. Do you know him? He’s in Arkansas, I think.” That was the extension of it. So that preemptive moment of return, where the effort you made was “all worth it” was absent in my life.

Many Marines get the gratification of deployment instantly upon return. Single Marines might get it when they return home. Some people never get it. I didn’t even know there was such a feeling. But here I am, standing before this valley, at the top of a mountain, and I realized that this is the most land I have ever seen, with my own 2 eyes. Yes, on an airplane, you can see a lot, but it’s restricted to the view point of your window seat. This was literally the most land I had ever seen, in front of me. And what I thought were clouds, right above a mountain, it was actually  another valley behind the mountains across the first valley. Once I realized that the clouds were more land, I was left in a state of speechlessness. It was beautiful. And there we were, standing in silence. I even told him, “Man, I don’t even know what to say right now, this is freaking crazy!”

And that’s when I felt the feeling. This overwhelming feeling of justification for my service. As dumb as it sounds, I never got any feelings from my family or returning to working parties in Cherry Point. Man, that does sound pretty bad. But I’m saying it, because I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. I got this feeling like “This is why I served” after a couple minutes of  just looking. It wasn’t land that I personally owned, but I hadn’t witnessed anything that made me feel proud of protecting it. And that sounds horrible, because I have a lot of family. But it’s the truth. (Sorry, siblings.) This land, before me, was so beautiful, that I felt a tremendous amount of joy, at the gesture of “protecting it” by serving my country in the military. It was an emotion that validated a bunch of bad feelings I used to hold. It was also an emotion that I had not found, through any other avenue, in my life. No PTSD counseling or talking to VA case workers because the VA psychiatrist is busy, gave me this feeling. Neither did any prescribed drugs for depression. Neither did the alcohol bottles or the drugs I’d taken before, in search of happiness. Nature did it. Nature gave me an emotion that I couldn’t find in religion, drugs, counseling, or medical help. It sounds like a stretch, but this is what did it, for me. And that’s what this website is about. Because I read about a man who did this, and I did it as well, and it helped me. It might not help everyone, but it might help some, and that’s enough to at least highlight.

Big Cottonwood Creek, Utah
The Big Cottonwood Creek in same named canyon, outside of Salt Lake City, Utah

I honestly didn’t know that landscape and places like this existed in the United States. I was excluded to the Texas-North Carolina region for most of my enlistment. And most travel to other regions where by plane and exclusively to the city. I’ve never really just wandered randomly. Houston has areas that are not recommended to wander into. So doing so, is totally against my rules on how to survive in Houston. And that’s basically what we were told repeatedly to NOT do throughout my enlistment. There is literally a list of places around military bases that we are banned from entering. So exploring new regions, just to explore new regions, is something I’ve been avoiding my entire life.
But one of the few times I did, I got to feel an emotion I hadn’t felt before. So much, that for that moment I was witness to it, a lot of the usual daily stresses, didn’t matter. I left this place, feelings happy, excited, and inspired to bring someone back to this place. But I haven’t been able to yet. So I’m here, telling you, that if you’re ever by Salt Lake City, Utah, you have to take this short little drive to Guardsman Pass, and check this overlook out. It made me feel all tingly inside. Go and tell me if you feel anything, too.

Big Cottonwood Creek and Canyon
There is an abundance of hiking trails outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, with many photographic opportunities like these in this article.

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