The sun was just peeking over the horizon as I crossed the final stretch of slickrock. The morning light was casting the landscape in a soft, orange glow, slowly warming the tips of my sunburned fingers, making the red sandstone fins rising from the desert look almost unreal.
After 30 minutes of slogging uphill on my already sore legs, I had reached my destination: Delicate Arch, the crown jewel of Arches National Park and the very arch that adorns Utahâ€™s license plate.
More than 20 other people were gathered around, watching the sunrise and barely saying a word to one another.
At that very moment, 2,000 miles away in Washington D.C., the debt talks were still raging, and even for those of us lucky enough to be watching the sunrise at Delicate Arch, the heated debate and uncertainty that characterized those long days couldnâ€™t have been far from anyoneâ€™s mind.
That night, after visiting nearby Canyonlands National Park, as I was driving back down to Moab listening to politicians go at it on NPR, I realized something.
Places like Canyonlands and Arches are places that I want our government to protect, and given the state of Congress, at least right now, I donâ€™t think that our government would be remotely capable of creating and protecting these places.
Earlier this year, Congress agreed to further reduce funding for national parks, which are already underfunded by nearly $600 million, according to the National Parks Conservation Association. National parks funding only accounts for less than one tenth of one percent of the overall federal budget.
And, maybe this is just me in all of my idealistic, hippie, liberal elitist glory, but I think itâ€™s a shame, because places like this are worth preserving, and I think preserving them is one of the things that Congress has been put into place to do.
When I think of government, I think of something that looks out for our collective, long-term interests. I think of Congress as an elected entity that more than anything makes sure that future generations are better off than we are through policies that we, collectively, are too short-sighted to think of and make a priority ourselves.
Obviously, this is almost painfully idealistic, because as we saw from the debt talk debates, this is far from the case. If we had a forward-thinking government, there would have been no mortgage crisis, we would not be in two dead-end wars right now and we would all be enjoying our entirely perfect system of universal healthcare.
And rather than spending weeks not budging on specific ideological points, Congress would have just compromised and done what it takes to save our credit score.
What can I say, Iâ€™m a naÃ¯ve, liberal elitist.
Imagine what would happen if the option of preserving more than 75,000 acres of land for Arches National Park were put on the table today. If I were to bet on it, I would say that it wouldnâ€™t go through.
After all, the Republicans would say, what purpose does just a pretty landscape and some holes in the rock really do for our national well-being? Outside of tourist revenue for the nearby towns and the $10 entrance fees, they arenâ€™t necessarily revenue generating. And the deficit is number one right now. If people really want to protect a patch of land, they can start a corporation to do it.
The Tea Party would say the National Park Service is just another useless government bureaucracy. Itâ€™s sort of socialism if you think about it. Thatâ€™s a prime piece of real estate, and our wasteful government isnâ€™t using it to its full potential. It could be a serious moneymaker that could reduce our deficit. But it really is a fine piece of Godâ€™s glory.
And the Democrats wouldnâ€™t really say anything. They would just grumble in a corner and cry, talking about the spiritual and emotional wellbeing that comes from looking at Americaâ€™s landscape, or some other form of hippie bulls***.
Then, rather than preserving Arches National Park, it would probably just become an IKEA.
Itâ€™s true. Standing in a national park doesnâ€™t reduce the deficit. It doesnâ€™t put food on the table for people who donâ€™t have jobs and it doesnâ€™t do much to help with national security.
But as anyone who has hiked up to Delicate Arch can attest, thereâ€™s something absolutely unforgettable about it, and though it isnâ€™t tangible, it definitely contributes to our national well-being.
Sixty years from now, I want my grandchildren to be able to see Delicate Arch. And I think if they still can, and if the National Park Service still exists, it will show that the government actually did something right.
Content Managing Editor Allison Sylte is a junior journalism major. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.