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Finding Inspiration in the American Southwest

I didn’t expect to cry when I saw the Grand Canyon, but then again, my Inspiration Trip was full of surprises and bucked expectations. While exploring the American Southwest with my younger brother this Spring, I made several discoveries – about my surroundings, about working at a marketing agency, and about myself.

Adventure 1 – Grand Canyon Village

As our path through the trees cleared and the ground fell away beneath us into an enormous crevasse, I let out a gasp. Then my eyes began to water. Meanwhile, my brother Scott took the Origin Agency camera and started snapping panoramas.

After taking a few moments to regain my composure, we began walking along the canyon rim. We alternated between people-watching and admiring vast geologic forms.

As the sun lowered in the sky, we observed more and more travelers engaged in bizarre stunts. An inflatable dinosaur costume billowed precipitously from one ledge. A bride in heels changed outfits in the sparse brush alongside the trail. She posed for her photographer, incredible sunset view and cliff at her back. Day 1 at the Grand Canyon (and watching the antics of others) put me in the mindset to slow down and make sure not miss the view along this Inspiration Trip.

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Instead of trying to take the perfect photo for Instagram, we sat and observed in awe. I was inspired by the indescribable vastness, the age and history of the canyon, and the power of the calm river that flowed steadily at its base. Sunset at the Grand Canyon reminded me that personal experiences matter more than online engagement, and the lack of cell service in the park got me in the habit of putting down my phone in order to admire the scenery as our trip progressed.

Adventure 2 – Grand Canyon South Rim

For our second day of adventuring, Scott and I rose before the sun. Bundled in winter coats and hats, we hopped aboard the first bus of the day to a canyon overlook, three miles west of the main camp. As the sun (and temperatures) climbed, we trekked back to our cabin. Once there, we stocked up on water, beef jerky and sunscreen – so we could tackle six more miles even further west along the bus route, during the heat of the day.

We chose to stay on the Rim Trail rather than venturing into the canyon because hiking flats at 8000 feet of elevation was challenging enough for me, coming from Missouri’s sea-level air. By recognizing our limits and tackling a large project in smaller chunks (three miles in jackets, followed by six miles in shorts) we were able to accomplish more and stay comfortable as we did it.

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At Origin, we use a similar approach to brainstorming and program planning – short, daily check-ins as a group, followed by individual research and writing. Instead of attempting to produce a full strategic plan in one sitting, we let ideas “marinate” and develop over time. Often, what one person says in a brainstorm session will lead to tangential thoughts and new innovations by someone else. And burnout rate is much lower. It’s a good technique for hikes and for marketing.

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Adventure 3 – Horseshoe Bend

That afternoon, we drove to Page, Arizona to see Horseshoe Bend – one of the places I’d been most excited to visit, based on the beautiful photos I’d seen on Instagram and Pinterest. We crested a sandy hill, sweat dripping into our eyes, expecting to glimpse the lush, dramatic curve of the Colorado River near where it meets Lake Powell – instead our sight-lines were filled with dozens of tourists.

As we approached the cliff overlook, I had a series of mini panic attacks. People were clamoring over one another, selfie sticks, American flags and flowy dresses crossing paths willy-nilly, while heads remained buried in phones, swiping through filters and tapping out hashtags. Limbs stretched over the precipice, in pursuit of the perfect shot. To get within six feet of the edge, I needed to be crawling on all fours. Of anywhere on our trip, I realized that this was probably the most heavily photoshopped.

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As much as I love beautiful, dramatic images, I also place a high value on honesty and keeping things realistic, and I know many consumers do too. The more expectations can align with outcomes, the happier humans are. For the brands that the Origin team promotes, it is important that we do not deceive others. If we make a promise or claim, we need to follow through. In the choice between flashy or real, I choose solid ground.

Adventure 4 – Antelope Canyon

Day Three was another early morning – this time to snag the first tour of the day at Upper Antelope Canyon. Our goal was twofold: to beat the heat, and the crowds. As our tour began, I was distracted by thoughts and regrets over not booking an afternoon tour of another nearby slot canyon. I had procrastinated, and the Lower Antelope Canyon tours were all sold out for the day. Upper Antelope Canyon was beautiful (but crowded) even at 8 a.m., though you wouldn’t know it from a majority of the carefully angled photos we took.

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Adventure 5 – Hanging Garden Trail

After our slot canyon tour, we returned to the hotel room to regroup and make plans for the rest of the day. By chance, Scott had noticed a pull off with trail sign as we’d driven to dinner the previous night and he decided to investigate the “Hanging Garden Trail”. Without telling me much about it, he convinced me that this would be a nice easy hike for our afternoon. A short trek through the desert took us to my favorite surprise of the entire trip.

Out of seemingly nowhere we came upon a rock overhang full of deep, rich greenery, trickling water and delicate flowers. It was a real-life oasis, growing out of the rock wall. And no one else was around. The solitude amplified the magic of our discovery – we could imagine that we were the only people who had ever seen this place. It was hard to believe that we were less than five miles from the crowds at Horseshoe Bend.

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The hike reminded me that it’s good to take a literal (as well as figurative) departure from the “beaten path” from time to time. Following trends doesn’t lead to new discoveries. Instead, taking the risk to do things differently can lead to surprising and wonderful destinations. It inspired me to be more confident in going my own way, whether in creative for clients, in our work culture, or in my free time.

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Adventure 6 – Devil’s Garden Primitive Loop, Arches National Park

Our next stop on our Inspiration Adventure was Moab, Utah, to explore Arches National Park. As soon as we arrived, we embarked on a strenuous, poorly marked nine-mile hike. Ignoring my insights from our Grand Canyon Rim hike, I didn’t bring along enough water or snacks. I ran out of provisions with two miles left, in the heat of the day. Turns out, sometimes we learn more effectively from our mistakes than we do from our successes.

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Instead of applauding myself for my packing skills as I had on the Grand Canyon Rim Trail, this hike gave me an opportunity to reflect on areas where I can still grow and improve. Being prepared one day and unprepared another isn’t much help in the overall scheme of things. To be successful, I need to plan ahead consistently and create backup for unforeseen circumstances.

In work and in life, this means I need to be open to learning from my mistakes – something that the supportive crew at Origin has been great at fostering. When an error occurs, we don’t spend time pointing fingers. Instead, we work as a team and determine how to avoid similar pitfalls in the future by improving communication and processes. Eventually, we made it safely (albeit hungrily) back to the car and enjoyed an amazing dinner of gnocchi in Moab that evening.

Adventure 7 – Delicate Arch

For our final adventure of the trip, Scott and I woke at 5 a.m. to catch the sunrise at Delicate Arch. Our walk was quiet and cool in the pre-dawn glow. When we reached the overlook for the arch I was astonished to see several small groups of people sitting silently, taking in the view. For the first time on our trip we had found a place that was peaceful, even with others around. As the sun rose, more and more people trickled in and slowly the volume grew as well. But for at least 30 minutes we basked in the first light of the day, with just the sound of the breeze to serve as our soundtrack. It was an awesome moment.

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Though nature tends to make one desire solitude, I was actually quite eager to return to my friends at Origin and share my Inspiration Trip stories. It had been a great opportunity for self-reflection, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent wandering beautiful landscapes, lost deep in my thoughts.

However, the absolute best part of my inspiration journey to the American Southwest was the time spent with my younger brother. We discovered we have the exact same taste in audiobooks (which made the drive much more enjoyable). When I began to panic about a lack of drinking water or stress over tour reservations and vegetarian dining options, he was a calming influence and a role model of how to display composure in the face of perceived adversity. Even though he’s six years my junior, I was continually inspired by Scott. I spent a week enjoying jaw-dropping views and embarking on early morning expeditions throughout Arizona and Utah this spring, but my favorite adventure was learning more about my sibling and building our friendship.

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Many photos by Scott Parmelee.

 

About Elaine Parmelee