My first camping trip was with my family alongside the road leading into Grand Canyon National Park nearly 50 years ago. Without a tent, proper sleeping bags, padding or even a stove, we lacked many of the amenities common to our more recent camping outings. A Styrofoam cooler was purchased specifically for this trip, and its sole purpose: keeping our food cold during this hastily planned vacation from everyday life. Years later, the memories of waking up during the night to find out that there were some unhappy ants underneath the sheet we slept on, watching the sunrise, illuminating the vastness of the Grand Canyon and pieces of that cooler endure through the years.
Milky Way over the Grand Canyon. Getty Images
The experience of seeing the Grand Canyon had a lasting impact that I could not comprehend at the time. Our trip began on a Friday night at dusk when we left Los Angeles. Speeding across the emptiness of the desert until fatigue prevailed, we pulled over and off the road. Looking up at the sky, I was puzzled by all the “clouds” that did not seem to move. Some years later, it dawned on me that we were seeing the Milky Way. Facing a sky full of stars and then a deep canyon that extended from one side of the horizon to the other, the world I lived in became bigger and more amazing at the same time. I eventually learned the importance of safeguarding these spaces.
Keeping America Beautiful
In my lifetime, our attitudes towards litter have come a long way. It was not uncommon for travelers to open the window of their vehicle and discard what they no longer wanted. The Highway Beautification Act of 1965 — spearheaded by Lady Bird Johnson — began the slow process of changing minds about litter on our public lands. Those of a certain age may remember the Keep America Beautiful commercial showing a Native American paddling a canoe in a dirty river, suffering the indignity of trash thrown at his feet and shedding a tear.
A lake in the Sierra National Forest. Photo: George Sherman