“Go outside for a better inside!”

Phil Taunton, the legendary Kansas outdoor advocate, coined that phrase which has become one of my favorite maxims for life. Going outside always makes me feel better inside.

While some prefer exotic world travel as a vacation destination, my desire for the perfect vacation is always the same: tent camping in the Rockies. I echo John Muir who said, “The mountains are calling, and I must go.”

I not only enjoy going outside, I need to go outside. It turns out, everyone benefits by getting close to nature. For those who don’t, they are subject to, Nature Deficit Disorder – the idea that people, children especially, need to spend time in the outdoors. Richard Louv, author of the book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, tells the story of interviewing a child who told him that he liked playing indoors more than outdoors “’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.”

Thanks to John Muir and President Theodore Roosevelt, we have an incredible National Park System that provides access for the public to some of the most pristine and protected places on earth. While many of us in America take that for granted, the history of European feudalism, aristocracy, and land ownership, only the wealthy had access to the most beautiful places.

However, the beauty of democracy is that anyone can enjoy nature at its most glorious display.

What the National Parks don’t provide access too, the State Park System does. In Kansas, where I live, 98% of the land is privately owned and is often posted with “No Trespassing” signs. The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks provides public access to some of the most beautiful areas in Kansas.  Although a state agency, they are not funded with taxpayer dollars. Instead, they operate entirely on revenue generated from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, camping permits and other usage fees. In addition, thanks to the Pittman-Robertson Act of 1934 which sits aside the 11% excise tax on firearms and ammunition to be used for conservation programs, training programs and infrastructure such as state-of-the-art gun ranges. In fact, the resurgence and conservation of wildlife like whitetail deer, turkey and other game animals is funded almost entirely by hunters.

One positive outcome of Covid is that both the National Parks and State Parks have seen an explosive – and, at times, difficult to manage – use of their parks.  We recently spent a week in the Rocky Mountain National Park which has resorted a timed-entry system, limiting the number of vehicles allowed into the park.

But you don’t have to go to a national or state park to enjoy the physical and mental health befits of nature. There has been a surge in the last few years, driven by both health and economic benefits, for public access to trails. In Kansas, the Kansas Trails Council has received considerable support by numerous community foundations to build trails in cities, most of which can be found on this map.

While traveling, I frequently use the app, All Tails, to find a trail near me. This is a great way to break up long road trips!

Back to the tent camping: my wife and I recently spent a week in our tent in the Rockies, a tradition that we started on our honeymoon when we backpacked 9 miles up into the Indian Peaks Wilderness in Colorado. We woke up that first morning in September to snow on the ground and 21-degree temperatures. Since then, we’ve replaced the small two-person tent with a ground pad to a large, 10-person tent with an air-up queen-sized mattress. We’re not exactly “roughing it” but we breath pure mountain air 24 hours a day and endure whatever elements nature throws at us.

Here are the reasons I love tent camping:

1. Being in nature 24/7 cleanses my soul like pure mountain water cascading through my veins.

2. Hiking in the mountains and breathing pure mountain air clarifies my purpose and sharpens my “why.”

3.  God whispers to me more in nature than anywhere else.

4. I eat healthier because of slow cooking with cast iron Dutch ovens and skillets.

5.  Writing flows profusely with pen and pad.

6.  I sit at night and watch stars join hands with the moon and dance thru the sky.

7. I read voraciously.

8. I find answers to my deepest questions while gazing into a mesmerizing campfire.

9. Long, uninterrupted conversations with my wife as we put plans to our dreams, laughter to our life and meaning to our memories.

10. There are trout waiting in crystal streams to torment me while I fly fish.

The mountains are calling and I must go. – John Muir