I remember the first time I visited you, as a young and naive almost 7th grader. I was miserable. My phone broke a day before the 2 week trip to come see you, a remote place with no beaches and only treacherous hikes. Turns out the day I got home from my first time seeing you, I got my first period so no wonder I was so moody the entire trip. But everyone says you aren’t really best friends if you didn’t hate each other at first, so looks like we’re really best friends now. I remember looking back on that first trip and being so mad at myself for not taking more of you in. I knew you had so much to offer but I let my young, phone-obsessed self, first period nearing self get in the way. So I knew I had to go back.
So there I was, 8 years later, in a deep rut. Depressed, anxious and looking for a way out and I found you. I told my family I was gonna go work with you to which they replied “you hated that trip”. Which yes, in the moment I did, but I knew you had so much more to offer. Oh now what I would do to watch another sunset at Lake Butte or drive around at Sunset with a canopy of trees and the mountains in the distance. When im with you, even the mundane things become so memorable. You have an effect on me that no other place has ever had. There’s wildlife at every turn and always more to explore that 2 months of living there wasn’t enough, let alone the 2 weeks I had on my first visit.
You were a safe space for me. A place I could find myself and be myself. You gave me time to reflect and realize what was important in my life. I think the most important thing was the people you brought together. From the visitors I met throughout the park, to my best friends that I got to work and live with there. You bring together a very special kind of people, who are seeking adventure and a new outlook on life that is hard to come by any place else. When I was with you I met people who are so raw and real and know me better than anyone else. Even the people who I wasn’t super “close” with, I feel like we hold such a special connection because of you and experiencing you together. There is something about being in the middle of nowhere on the brink of so much, with people you have never met before that just brings people together - and you have the power to do that.
At the end of the day, no matter what the previous day held or what was coming in the next day, when we’re with you, we could always look up at the clearest sky and see more stars than I’ve ever seen in my life - the Chicago pollution could quite literally never. And I live for the stars, there is something about looking up at them and realizing how small and insignificant we are in comparison to everything. But not in a bad way, in a way that your worries rush away and all you think about is that exact moment, or even better, nothing at all. And while there is so much to love about you, and there is always something new to experience - I think what I love most is how you make me feel. When I hear your name now, my face lights up from all the memories I hold so near to my heart, the places I saw, the animals I ran into, and the people I met. One day, I’ll bring my own almost 7th grader to visit you (I'll even pack tampons!) But she won’t understand, but all I can hope is one day she can see you for all you are and have to offer, because experiencing you is the most incredible thing and I am so glad I gave you a second chance.