Contentment: In Your Own Backyard

Adam Mitchell climbing in Isolation Canyon (Photo credit Brooke Whitcher).

Adam Mitchell climbing in Isolation Canyon (Photo credit Brooke Whitcher).

I often catch myself daydreaming about locations around the U.S. where I would rather live other than my home in Phoenix, Arizona.  It goes something like this: I scroll through Instagram or Reddit and pause on a photo of someone skiing an epic line or climbing a jaw-dropping alpine route. I remind myself how I would have to drive for ten hours to ski lines like that; or that the triple digit Arizona heat waves have, at times, limited my exploration to my air conditioned apartment. My wheels start turning as I envision the perfect mountain town with cooler temperatures and easy access to all of my favorite outdoor activities. Happiness must be hidden there. But I also wonder, if contentment can be found in the beauty of my own backyard.


We are constantly bombarded with ideas about what life is supposed to look like. From advertisements to social media feeds, outside forces are constantly pulling us toward unhappiness and discontentment with where we are and what we have. We all see #vanlife accounts on Instagram and listen to stories of friends who pursue wanderlust full-time. But is the lure of constant excitement and travel going to make me happy, or is it just another ploy to fill my angst with something that is unsustainable—the perfectly curated highlight reels of someone else’s life? This is not to say that pursuing adventure is fruitless—rather, that finding adventure where you are and with those you love is perhaps a more substantive and meaningful pursuit.

I know that I fall into these traps all the time. So I ask myself: is the grass really greener in that other city? Is the climbing or the weather so much better there that it would actually positively impact my life and my happiness? Or maybe the struggle is actually an internal one. Perhaps finding gratitude and contentment in my current situation is really the crux.

It is easy to fall into an adventure rut; 115+° summers don’t help with my motivation, but adventure is always nearby. For instance, when scrolling through Mountain Project this past weekend, I got inspired when I stumbled upon a crag called Isolation Canyon, a beautiful quartzite canyon carved out by a nearby creek. Seeing the deep canyon walls and alluring terrain was motivation enough. I decided to take the short drive north and spend the weekend camping and climbing with friends.

I have had my fair share of adventures in Tonto National Forest, an area filled with a diverse array of natural splendor, ranging from cacti groves to lush coniferous forests as you travel north. My experiences in Tonto include day hikes, backpacking trips, as well as countless climbing excursions in Queen Creek Canyon—the very spot where I learned to lead climb several years back. Reading the trip report for Isolation Canyon, an entirely new-to-me crag full of enough quartzite rock to excite any climber, reminded me that there is so much to explore in my own backyard. I don't need to travel all the way to Alaska to find adventure (although I hope to one day in the future)..    

I have spent a lot of time traveling outside the country these past few years. Mountaineering expeditions in the Bolivian Andes as well as ice climbing trips in South Korea have been some of the highlights of my life. I appreciate that I can use this platform to encourage others to get out and explore. As epic as overseas travel is, my trips throughout nearby Colorado and my home state of Arizona have been just as impactful. Recreating in my own backyard has given me a deep appreciation for the natural world. I’m planning on more local adventures this upcoming year, to include climbing trips to Salt Lake City and stay-cation adventures in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest. I plan to dedicate serious time to exploring and learning from the public land I am fortunate to have local access to for the next year or so.

When I stop and think about how I have access to explore some of the country’s most beautiful natural places within a few hours, I’m filled with a sense of gratitude and contentment.  These things are essential in building happiness and finding satisfaction with where you live.

The desert has taught me a lot about myself and about finding beauty in unique places.  Surrounding my home in Central Arizona is the Sonoran desert, portions of the Mojave and Chihuahuan deserts, and even the Great Basin Desert. In between these deserts are extremely varied environments that have enough depth and wonder to capture anyone's curiosity. Simply put, there is no shortage of exploration to be had in Arizona’s natural environment. Taking the time to appreciate what I have around me has shown me that I can begin to find contentment by simply exploring my own backyard.

Some photos from my backyard