Nature Therapy: Lessons from the Desert

Landscape photo of a desert canyon in the distance and small green plants in foreground

Recently I spent the weekend in the desert, walking through sagebrush, across slickrock, and past prickly pear cacti, listening to the wind and the silence. I watched the sun set over a fragmented, ever-changing landscape that has seen a million sunsets. The lack of urgency and the desert’s steady existence calmed me.

The trip had been planned last minute. I left on a Friday afternoon, driving down to Moab with a friend. Our glorious, 48-hour trip was filled with juniper and sunsets, red rock and puffy coats, and not a single news article or radio rant. We didn’t even have cell service half the time.

And after a rough November –  filled with election drama, overwhelming social media posts, and protests in the streets – it was so healing.

Sunset at Murphy Point, Island in the Sky district, Canyonlands National Park (Photo: Sarah Kichas)

It can be easy to forget how crucial nature is when life is busy, you’re feeling down and sitting on the couch feels easier than going outside. That’s exactly when you need to do it anyway. Being outside has been proven to reduce anxiety and rumination while increasing mental clarity and self-compassion.

Don’t believe me? Maybe National Geographic can convince you.

While being able to visit national parks on a whim is a luxury (and one I’m constantly grateful to have), you don’t even need access to wilderness to reap the benefits. While I very much recommend getting in the car and heading to the nearest trailhead, even spending 20 minutes at a nearby park has been proven to help.

Get outside, use those lungs, let your eyes wander. Be curious. Don’t think of anything in particular, except maybe to remark on the odd angle of that tree branch, or how the air feels cold on your cheeks, or notice it’s actually quiet for the first time all day. Don’t check your phone. I repeat: stay away from your phone. Seriously.

Exploring a wash near Park Avenue trail in Arches National Park

Even moments of silence can teach the greatest of lessons. As I walked along Neck Spring trail that weekend, I thought about change and time and how small actions can produce massive results.

Narrow rivers can carve deep canyons through dense rock, simply by continuing to flow forward. Constant wind smooths even the roughest of stone. A million, tiny actions can, over time, create new pathways, transform landscapes, even send tall, sturdy walls crashing down.

Noticeable change doesn’t always happen overnight, but don’t let that fool you. Change is happening all around us, constantly. Be the river, the wind, the tiny grain of sand. Alone, you may feel powerless, but together, we have the power to move the earth.

Overlook at Dead Horse Point State Park (Photo: Sarah Kichas)
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