The last embers of my campfire glowed and flickered, and I could feel the warmth across my whole body. Darkness was gathering around me, stars beginning to appear in the sky. The quiet of the night felt comforting and serene. For the first time in weeks I felt truly at peace.

I was camping in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest - a trip I had planned many times but had always been rained out. This weekend the weather was perfect: bluebird skies, sunshine, and daytime temps in the low 70’s. Even the low 40’s nighttime temps were perfect for tent camping, cozied up in my down sleeping bag.

I had driven earlier that day from Phoenix, taking the long route through the Salt River Canyon, a beautiful deep gorge cut by the river, reminiscent of the Grand Canyon though on a smaller scale. After passing through I began to see Ponderosa Pines, green grassy meadows, and entire fields of blossoming wild purple iris from the recent rains.

Arriving at the campground (on ancestral land of the Ndee/Nnee Western Apache tribe), I took a deep breath of the crisp mountain air. I checked my phone, noticing I had no service, and smiled. My phone was in airplane mode, and I was in forest mode. I could do nothing but live in the present moment.

So, I set up my hammock, grabbed my book, and lazily swung in the afternoon breeze. In the evening I cooked dinner on my camp stove, then lit a fire. For hours I sat next to it, fully present in the moment.

In the morning I rose with the sun, the ponderosa pines lending dappled shade to my breakfast routine. Later I found myself at a trail paralleling the Little Colorado River, which was rushing fervently past, pausing for nothing. All around me, nature burst forth - pines, wildflowers, animals. It was invigorating - nature was alive, and I was alive right there with it.

This experience is sadly too rare for me, and I’d guess the same for you. Our daily lives are filled with hectic chores, many of them digital. Sometimes, life feels like an endless to-do list, something you have to “get through” instead of something to enjoy. We are rarely living in the present moment.

But people are a part of nature. And nature has a power that nothing else in our modern world does. It teaches lessons, it grounds us. It brings peace.

Public lands are here for all of us. I urge you to find a quiet moment to be fully present in the outdoors. If it’s just five minutes in your backyard or a strip of grass outside your work building, sit quietly and observe what’s happening around you. If you have more time, visit a National Forest near where you live. Learn the land’s history. Put away your phone. I promise you, you’ll find treasures. You’ll find forest mode.

Ginny is originally from northern Minnesota, where she developed a deep love for nature at a young age. Her favorite activities are camping, hiking, and sitting around a campfire. She currently lives in Phoenix, AZ, where she enjoys exploring the desert and learning about the history of the Southwest and its native peoples. Find Ginny on Instagram @ginny.m.mueller

All photos by Ginny Mueller.


We hope you agree that getting outdoors with family, friends, or solo is a huge benefit of healthy and welcoming National Forests. Our work on campgrounds, trails, docks, overlooks, signs, and more ensures millions can enjoy the great outdoors each year. But it requires generosity from people like you to keep our work going. Your unrestricted gift allows us to direct funds to the greatest need. Please consider giving today. Thank you!

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