Be a traveler, not a tourist.

Chapter 4: You never know what you might discover until you open your eyes.

“Why do you want to see ‘The Wave’ so strongly?“

The question was posed to me by a nice old man who I had met in Kanab, Utah. The Wave is a beautiful sandstone formation at the border of southern Utah and northern Arizona. A natural wonder, it is one of the most photographed locations in the West, but it requires a permit to visit, accessible only by lottery.

Full of naivete, I stared at the elderly gentleman, and answered, “I have tried for a few years through the online lottery but haven’t got in. Now that I am in town, I went to the visitor center to try the walk-in lottery. I know the odds are low to win the lottery, but I don’t want to have any regrets.“

He laughed, said “The Wave in southern Utah is like the Mona Lisa or the Banks of the Seine in Paris. Everyone who visits Paris, their first thought is to go to see the Mona Lisa and take photos to prove you saw it. I have lived in southern Utah almost my whole life. I love this area, and I can tell you, southern Utah is not just about The Wave, which is actually just one rock formation. If you win the lottery, it’s good to go, but if not, maybe that means it is not meant to be. Don’t be disappointed, Stephy. Open your eyes and let them guide you. There are many hidden gems worth exploring.”

His words stay in my mind, even as I half-doubt myself, deciding to leave town instead of waiting for the lottery that day, and head to White Pocket, Arizona.

White Pocket is situated on the remote and rugged Paria Plateau in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona, close to the Utah border. But to get there, a 4WD vehicle with good ground clearance and off-road tires is a must to pass unmaintained roads of deep sand with rocky sections. When I first arrived, I felt I was on another planet. White pocket showed me nature is an amazing “artist” itself: it has twists, multi-color striations of white, yellow, red, orange and pink, pock marks and pools that sometimes fill with water, strange bulges look like human brains, polygonal fracturing and wave-like features. Unlike The Wave, White Pocket does not require a permit. Despite its wonder, this is another place people ignore as an alternative to The Wave.  

I let my eyes guide me. In this unbelievable playground, I immersed myself by walking around and standing in what looks like giant brain texture. It is as if I am on an alien world; it’s really a thrill.

When I saw this texture, pattern and color, I appreciated nature as an amazing artist.
I looked up to see the tree stands on the “brain” texture, quietly expressing beauty of Earth.
I stood on the top of a “brain,” looking so tiny in this alien landscape.
Everyone will discover a different wonder through their own eyes. I saw ice-cream cake.
Nature never ceases to amaze and inspire us.
It has its own mystery and is unique, no less impressive than The Wave. Why do we need to be so focused on The Wave?

After I explored and witnessed this fantasy landscape, I realized that the world is so big and has infinite opportunities to discover all its natural workmanship, so why do I need to only focus on seeing The Wave? Although I cannot compare both personally, I’m not sure if White Pocket is better than the wave or not. But it is not important. I believe White Pocket is no less impressive, and I enjoyed a great bond with nature there. I realize I should remain open to other ideas and ways to allow beauty to enter my life. When I returned to the town after my visit, I made a spontaneous decision: I gave up my last chance at The Wave walk-in lottery the next day. At that moment, I felt it did not matter whether or not I would win the lottery. I put it out of my mind. I had already packed my mood to go to my next destination.

I continued exploring other hidden gems near Kanab, Utah the next day: I stopped at the Toadstool while I drove on U.S-89, hiked and got to what seemed like another planet: “mushroom” sandstones and rocks. With the white color covering the rocks, from some angles they look like snowmen, and from some angles they look like ghosts. At that moment, I thought that if I were at the Kanab visitor center at that time, I would have missed these unique landscapes that I had stumbled upon randomly as I traveled.

The highway roadside has its hidden planet–Toadstool Hoodoos. I explore without regret as I get to see so many different things.
Is it a snowman? A Ghost? Let your eyes find its own answer.

I put The Wave regrets out of my mind and take an open-minded heart to continue my journey. I visited the Goblin Valley State Park, Utah, with crazy high winds and sand, but I made a connection with what seemed like Mars here again with its unique, strange hoodoos and mushroom-shaped rock pinnacles. I stood and walked around this magical land and enjoyed the brilliant light of afternoon reflected on my face.

The cute yurt lives on what seems like Mars.
Endless “mushrooms” amazed me no matter the crazy strong wind and blowing sand here.

When I drove to the Mystic Hot Springs from the Goblin Valley State Park, I experienced four seasons along the road: sunshine-rain with sun-rain-snow-sunshine, and suddenly the mountains covered in snow appeared before me. I enjoyed the fast-changing weather so much, just me and the road, deeply. This is one interesting thing when you are traveling, not just touring, because you can immerse yourself totally on the way.

I soaked in the hot spring with chilled temperature outside the tub–and saw the sunset.

I visited Sedona, Arizona, “climbed” to the Cathedral Rock to witness those endless red rocks. I also hiked to the Devils Bridge and birthing cave, experiencing big snowfall on the trails. It gave me a different feeling to experience Sedona. Maybe it is not what you picture when you think of Sedona: maybe it is Snowdona? But Snowdona has its beauty, when we are willing to open hearts to feel it.

The Earth is big, and I am so tiny, but I made a deep connection with the environment and nature.
When you travel, stay curious, ask questions, see inside yourself as much as outside.
I climbed to the birthing cave to see “Snowdona”, the grey and clouds, as it was snowing, cover all the red rocks far away. It gave me a completely different perspective of Sedona.

I also visited Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, and Joshua Tree National Park, California to surround and embrace those beautiful things in nature that speak to me and provide me solace.

I drove one of the coolest roads in the U.S. twice through the park, just wanting to enjoy all the simple things it gave me.

My perspective changed during this trip, I learned that if you focus too much on one thing, you probably will miss other things in life. In fact, life need not only be about routines or patterns; it can be a lot of different things, and give us alternatives, so we should be open to different ideas and ways of life, and embrace them in our life, and accept any possibilities. They are here to take you on a spiritual journey and turn you into a mystic who disappears from this world and reappears in another.  

Traveling is as much about seeing inside yourself as it is about seeing outside. Nature, I came to explore you, but you held a giant mirror in front of me. I absorbed the landscape, reflections of my past, thinking about the world from a new perspective, learning life lessons. I returned as a different person. I did not just tour; I traveled.

I hope the same for you, as you travel, to find more than just being a tourist and taking lots of photos. I hope you see and feel and learn the full measure of it.  

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