Nature’s Uplifting Power: How a Hike Lifted my Spirits

A Bumpy Start…

It started out with a stressful drive to the canyon that made me grumpy. The traffic was “challenging” and a rock had hit and marked my newly replaced windshield. Additionally, I felt like the weather report that had promised me a nice overcast morning had lied as I watched the sun burn off the clouds.

I parked my car and began my hike up the canyon and saw a park ranger roll his truck down the bank of the river that flows through the canyon. This was troubling as well. Fortunately he was ok, and had lots of people to help him out of the upside down truck.

Nature Works it’s Magic

They say that “nature soothes the soul”, well nature had a task on its hands that day as I dragged my grunchy ass up the trail.

The river gurgled, hummingbirds whirred through the air, and song birds defined their territories with melodious aplomb. New green growth was beginning to poke above the dormant winter grasses. Spring’s charm was on display in the canyon.

As I walked deeper into the canyon, the beauty of early spring on the Platte river began working its magic on my mood.

A view of the Platte river in early spring flowing through Waterton Canyon. Copyright 2023 Heather Valey

One of the first animals to catch my attention that morning was a lone canada goose that swam along unaware that he looked lovely with the sun backlighting him on the water. I stopped to make a couple photographs and then moved on, feeling somewhat lighter.

A lone canada goose swims on the Platte river in Waterton Canyon. Copyright 2023 Heather Valey

I got lost in my thoughts as I continued my trek up the canyon. I passed a woman in a ranger uniform and she stopped me and pointed to a ledge behind me. “Are you looking for them?” She asked. I looked back and up and laughed. A group of young male big horn sheep were camped out on a rocky ledge basking in the sun. “I guess so! Teach me to think too much while I’m hiking” I answered and went back to take a closer look. I hadn’t seen this behavior before and it was cool to see them look so relaxed.

I had completely forgot what I was brooding about that caused me to almost miss them.

A group of young big horn rams take bask in the sun in Waterton Canyon. Copyright 2023 Heather Valey

I ambled another mile up and I noticed another group of big horn rams. These guys had larger horns and were older than the first group. Unlike the lazy crew, these guys were busy eating.

I stood and watched them wander from grass patch to grass patch. I was completely absorbed in the moment and I imagine I probably even had a smile on my face at that point.

A group of mature big horn rams eat grass near the road at Waterton Canyon. Copyright 2023 Heather Valey

I decided to turn back at mile 3. I was feeling much better and decided that I could take on the rest of the day. I quietly thanked nature for the gifts of the canyon I experienced that morning.

But she wasn’t done giving… a few minutes later I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye and I stopped to discern the source. It was a lizard! The first one I had seen that spring… a gorgeous prairie lizard with an orange mask-like marking on its face. It even posed for me on a nearby rock for a few moments before scrambling up the rocky canyon wall.

A prairie lizard poses for a quick moment on a rock before scrambling up the rocks. Copyright 2023 Heather Valey

As I continued on my way back to my car, robins, black-capped chickadees and spotted towhees manned the early budding trees. A male spotted towhee flew to a nearby tree to defend his territory with intense singing and caught my attention. His vigor was affable and a perfect metaphor for the natural forces that enact the changing of the seasons. I grinned at his serious effort.

A male spotted towhee defends his nesting territory in Waterton Canyon. Copyright 2023 Heather Valey

This seemed to me, the perfect ending to my hike as I looked forward and could see the parking lot coming into view.

Open Spaces Are Important for Animals & People

All towns should have access to open spaces for a multitude of reasons. But the two highlighted in the above story are the ones I want to touch on briefly.

One, Open space nature parks provide habitat for animals and plants that would be displaced in an urban setting. This also allows people to have a chance to experience and learn about the local flora and fauna.

Two, Open space nature parks give humans a place to hike, trail run, bike, watch wildlife and just unwind. There are plenty studies that document the link between spending time in nature and well being.

I have lived in many states in the US. Some have ample access to open space and green belts, and some do not. My hope is that people will come to realize how important these places are to humanity and our wildlife friends and that one day there will be green spaces available to everyone no matter where they live.

Interested in Learning More?

Nature: How Connecting with Nature Benefits our Mental Health

Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes us Happier, Healthier & More Creative

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Heather Valey is an award winning conservation photographer, writer and passionate naturalist. For information on licensing images please reach out to Heather via email- Heather's photography site is:

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