“If someone told me I could live in Botswana forever, but on the one condition that the only place I could ever overland was the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, I would say, ‘Where do I sign?’”
I mentioned this to my wife Julie one day out of the blue in 2018 when we were still living in Africa. Botswana's Central Kalahari Game Reserve – the size of Switzerland – is not necessarily the most outwardly interesting place in southern Africa, or chock full of wildlife, or even particularly difficult as an off-road challenge.
A CKGR campsite near the western gates of the Reserve.
There are endless miles of monotonous and tiring tracks riven with deep, soft sand. They are often hemmed in by impenetrable thorn bushes, offering little to see beyond the end of your hood. Many of the campsites are barely there at all, or have little shade. They are usually indifferently maintained, sometimes hounded relentlessly by bees (on one visit there the bees literally tried to colonize our Land Cruiser) or saddled with overflowing pit toilets. We had to abandon one remote campsite because the moment we stepped out of our truck, uncountable waves of ticks emerged from the sand, crawling up the tires and our legs.
It’s hot. There are snakes.
But during our travels in Botswana and around the rest of Africa, we visited the CKGR half a dozen times. Why did we keep going back? Why go back over and over in the face of the hardships, and when there was so much more to discover on that amazing continent that remained new and unknown to us?
Western entrance to the CKGR. "Do not ride on the roof of the vehicle"
To be honest, we sometimes struggled with those questions, but surprisingly little.
The answer is easy, really.
In a world crammed with everything, the sheer nothingness of the deserts and wide open spaces of the CKGR reoriented us, reset the compass, revealed new realities every time we went. It’s the same reason we are drawn eight-hundred miles to the Utah deserts year after year, even with all of Montana right out our front door. There is no one and nothing in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, and yet weirdly that nothingness is more than enough.
Oh. And the occasional elephant. No elephants in Utah.
Chatting with the locals, Central Kalahari Game Reserve.
Safe to say, it's been a challenging couple of years for adventure travel - both close to home and around the globe. Hopefully with a little down time around these holidays, we can all have a chance to reflect on past adventures, and get inspired to plan new ones in 2022.
Like with the CKGR, Julie and I try often to escape the relentless drive to see something far away and undiscovered in favor of revisiting the familiar. The landscapes you think you might know the best - especially the wild places - are forever changing, just as we are. The traveler is the never the same as time moves on, why should the places stay the same?
Our borrowed Land Cruiser in the NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namibia. Another of our favorite familiar places.
Just this year during a wilderness field education course I introduced Yellowstone National Park to two groups of college students who had never been. Growing up in Wyoming, my grandparents lived near Yellowstone and I had been going there since before I was even conscious. I had let it become rote and old hat - nothing new to see for me.
But in July I backpacked a trail in the Park I had never even heard of, let alone visited, communed with a grizzly bear and forded clear, rushing streams. We swam in the frigid waters of Yellowstone Lake while tourists in buses gawked. Again in early October, I drove into Yellowstone through a blizzard with my students, wandered by the geysers and hot springs in the crunchy snow drifts, saw two dozen wolves, pronking pronghorn, and rutting bison. I witnessed it through the students' eyes and through new eyes of my own. How could it possibly get old?
Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park
You may have a place like Yellowstone or the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in your life. It doesn't need to be exotic or far away. In fact, it's almost better if it's not. It could be your favorite trails just down the road, or a cherished childhood camping spot that holds special memories.
In the new year Julie and I intend to return to many of our favorite haunts here in the American west. I encourage you to do the same in your neck of the woods. Leave your mind, your heart, and your traveling soul open to the fresh possibilities of the familiar.
Where are you headed next year? What are your travel goals? Remember that how you travel is just as important as where you travel. Practice the Tread Lightly! principles wherever you go so when you return you can make new memories as special as the last.
May your holiday season be full of joy, good health, and inspiration for new adventures. We can't wait to see where you go next.
Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda just a few days before the New Year in 2018 - another place we would love to return.
Photos: Stephan and Julie Edwards
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