This past summer, the NFF sponsored a blog contest to celebrate local community connections the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument outside of Los Angeles. Special thanks to REI and Southwest Airlines for helping to sponsor the contest and providing prizes for the winning entries. Read Phillip's second place entry here.

Growing up in the San Gabriel Valley, whenever someone asked me which direction was north, I could always look to the mountains and know I was home. I had always admired the beauty of the mountains from afar, not knowing much about them except that they were north of Arcadia, my hometown. I was in high school when I first hiked in the San Gabriel Mountains. I can only remember thinking how far I was from home, feeling both a little excited and a little scared. Above all, I suddenly felt more connected to the land, to the mountains, and to the earth.

Soon after, I moved north to Davis, California, where everything was relatively flat, except for the humble hills near Lake Berryessa. I had a new appreciation for the San Gabriel Mountains and I missed seeing them. I was studying environmental policy and economics in college and knew I wanted to make a difference protecting the environment.

My journey north also took me to new places like Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Rocky Mountain National Parks. These mountains were taller, the landscape was greener, and the air was cleaner. Some of the new friends I made lived far from natural green spaces where they couldn’t connect with the earth in the way I was able to. It wasn’t until then that I realized how lucky I was to have grown up so close to the mountains. All the places I traveled to were all so amazing, but they made me realize how special the San Gabriel Mountains really are.

My favorite thing to do in the San Gabriel Mountains is to visit the same trail month after month or sometimes week after week, because I can see the transformation of the mountains right before my eyes. The trees start out rather bare after a cold winter, but slowly begin to show signs of life. Little by little, they begin to bloom until the Chaparral forest is covered in wildflowers and shrubbery everywhere you look. Deer start to roam the forest as birds begin to sing; all while I sit in silence feeling the energy return to my soul.

I love catching the sunset on top of Half Dome or watching the stars under the night sky in Joshua Tree, but watching the miracle of life in my own backyard is one of my favorite things in the world.

I now start my days at 4:30 am and work six days a week, so life can be a little stressful and tiring at times. But when I get the chance, I always run to the mountains.

Every time I return, whether it’s been years since I moved away or the second time in the same week, the mountains always seem familiar yet new at the same time. No two experiences ever feel the same, because while the trails are the same, the plants and streams are always moving. The forces of nature constantly shaping the place I love into something new. Today on the trails, I educate those I meet about how they can be better stewards of the land by making sure they practice Leave No Trace principles. Off the trails, I work with organizations to better protect the land I love and learn how it can better serve the local communities it supports.

It’s on these San Gabriel mountain trails where I run into people from near and far, young and old, rich and poor, from all walks of life. It’s on these trails that I find peace in my day, sitting alone on a rock next to a stream listening to the water flow down into the San Gabriel Valley. The trails remind me that I am connected to nature, to the land, and to the earth. It’s here where I catch up with old friends and meet new ones too. It’s here in the San Gabriel Mountains that I know I am home.

About the Author

Phillip lives in Southern California and wants to help L.A. become a world class leader in sustainability. He hopes for big changes, but finds it in the little things like every time he sees someone commuting to work by bike or driving an electric car.

National Forest Foundation