Claustrophobic cities.

Interminable commutes.

The rat race.

A home like a human file cabinet.

Chasing trends.

And always being #Instaperfect.

Urban luxury was everything in my twenties and thirties.  Suddenly I hit my limit, grew up, and I was over it.

I want to breathe.  I want my commute to have saguaros, not subway tiles.  I want my days inspired by passion and purpose instead of a paycheck.  I want a home I can stretch out in.  I want to feel free to age, let my hair go wild, and get my boots get dusty.

And I don’t want to be perfect.

 

Sunset at Monument Valley

Sunset at Monument Valley

 

An EPA study once found that the average American spends 80-90% of life indoors.  While human evolution occurred over millions of years in a natural environment, it seems we’ve traded forests and fields for factory work, corporate towers, and smart phones.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not anti-capitalist, anti-progress, or a Luddite.  But if 80-90% of my life is spent indoors, I have to wonder:  Is it a life well-spent?   If our physiological functions evolved for natural settings and physical activity, but we now inhabit artificial settings and are largely sedentary, could this be the cause of at least some of our modern angst?

This very question has prompted scholarly research on a Japanese concept called shinrin-yoku.  Sometimes translated as nature therapy or “green bathing,” it refers visiting forests and other natural environments to promote physical and mental health.  Over thirty years of international research has provided strong evidence that the “green bath” can reduce stress, and has a positive impact on immune function, inflammation, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and more.

And the concept is catching on.  If you Google “shinrin-yoku” you’ll get over 700,000 search results.  Urbanites are beginning to redefine what success means, make bold changes that support a work/life balance, and disassociate themselves from modern stressors to go off-grid, relax, and reconnect with the natural world.

So what has any of this got to do with the American Southwest?  Well, I just happen to prefer my green baths to be in Red Rock Country.

 

Monument Valley

Monument Valley

 

When I realized my soul craved simplicity, peace, and a sense of wonder, I was fortunate to stumble upon them in desert sunsets, majestic starry skies, and spectacular red rock vistas.

The grandeur of the Southwest should be experienced to be fully understood.  And no one should leave life without, at least once, experiencing the awe-inspiring beauty of Monument Valley.

Located on the Navajo Nation near the border of Arizona and Utah, Monument Valley is possibly the most iconic of all Southwestern destinations.  Surrounded by deep red sand dunes, the majestic sandstone towers, pinnacles, mesas and buttes soar to a height of 1,000 feet.  The reflected sun bathes everything in a rose-gold light that is nothing short of mesmerizing.

 

Wild Horses at Monument Valley

Wild Horses at Monument Valley

 

There are several ways to see Monument Valley.  The majority of visitors opt for the most effortless method which is simply driving north or south on U.S. 163, stopping at the various pull-outs to take in the views and snap the perfect wide-angle pics.  With a little extra effort, you can drive the 17-mile dirt road that begins at the Monument Valley Visitor’s Center and proceeds through the park.  This route will give you closer views of important sites like Mitten Buttes, Yei-bi-Chai, and the Totem Pole.

But why stop there?

You can either visit Monument Valley, or you can experience Monument Valley and really get your shinrin-yoku on.  The 4-mile Wildcat Trail loop hike is a start, presenting spectacular close-up views and photo-ops.

The Navajo Tourism Department offers horseback tours through Monument Valley.  These Navajo-guided tours offer the history of this sacred valley from those who actually call it home.   If you’re interested in supporting Native American business, please stay at Navajo-owned The View Hotel, close to the Monument Valley Visitor’s Center.

For fans of filmmaker John Ford and The Duke, “Great American Adventures” offers John Wayne’s Monument Valley Horseback Tour.  If you’d like to dress up cowboy-style (not obligatory but – hey – where else will you get the chance?) this is definitely the way to go!  This multi-day tour for riders of all levels returns each night to the historic Goulding’s Lodge and Trading Post, where John Ford’s film company was housed decades ago.

Still feeling the need for a bit more shinrin-yoku?  Located south-west of Monument Valley, not far from Flagstaff, Arizona is a brand new concept in nature therapy and self-care.  Restival-Arizona is reaction against the frantic, large-scale and self-absorbed music festivals that blight the world.  Restival is a chance for the over-connected and overwhelmed to leave the rat race for a few days and become physically and spiritually immersed in some of the most spectacular natural scenery Northern Arizona has to offer.  While the precise location is undisclosed, your hosts will place you in “a land where nature envelopes you in a vortex of magnetic energy and purifies your system leaving all the cellular baggage you’ve been carrying around behind” so that, unburdened, you may reconsider your choices and make a plan to realign your life with purpose and balance.

No matter which opportunity you seize, the majestic scenery of Monument Valley and Northern Arizona will leave you with a sense of wonder and peace that will change your view of city life back home.