­­­julia-yarbough-phil-henderson_web.jpg“Internally, we all have a connection with the natural environment, and what I mean by that is… if you spend enough time outside, you become in tune with the cycle of the moon and the sun and what time it is. Over time, you become used to being outdoors, and you become more relaxed.”

I was standing in the warm and homey Utah kitchen of friend and fellow outdoor aficionado Phil Henderson as he described his connections to the natural world.

Tall, athletic, strong and sporting a well-developed head of dreads, Phil might seem daunting at first glance. After a short conversation, though, one senses that he is caring, passionate about the outdoors and about his family.

He, his wife, Brenda, and their 2-year-old daughter, Bahati, call the small Eastern Utah community of Vernal home. It’s sometimes a challenge, he admits, living so far from family and others who look like them. But because his back yard is some of Mother Nature’s finest work, he says, living elsewhere would be difficult.

I met Phil last year at the “Breaking the Color Barrier in the Great American Outdoors” conference in Atlanta. And if anyone knows about breaking barriers, Phil is your guy.

For the past 17 years, he has been teaching outdoor skills (climbing, rafting, kayaking, hiking, ice-climbing, skiing, you name it, he’s done it) for NOLS —– The National Outdoor Leadership School.

Let’s be blunt here: How many men of color can you think of who have made their livelihood and climbed (literally and figuratively) to the top of the outdoor recreation field?

Phil has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Everest! His one frustration:

Convincing outdoor companies to reach out to more people of color, and for people of color to embrace the desire to explore outdoor pursuits.

So when Phil said, “You and your travel partner, Silva, should visit. I can take you on a rafting trip through Flaming Gorge on the Green River,” saying YES was a no-brainer!

The landscape and ancient geology of Utah is stunningly beautiful! It is heart-stopping, and makes one feel small and insignificant.

A short hike down an embankment led us to the water’s edge. Phil dropped his raft into the Green River at the base of the Flaming Gorge Dam. We climbed in.

We instantly felt the stress and the cares of the world melt away!

Phil rowed us eight miles down the river, with twists, turns and mild rapids — just enough to splash almost freezing cold water into the raft.

As we floated and took in the scenery, I couldn’t help but think about the soul-—filling reasons Phil believes we are drawn outdoors; why he teaches others his skills.

“For some people, it’s the wind blowing,” he said. “For someone else it’s the sound of a river or creek. For someone else, it could be the birds, and for others, it’s looking up at the stars.”

For more information on Phil Henderson and NOLS, go to www.nols.edu

Editor’s Note: Julia Yarbough, a former news anchor at NBC 6, is the founder of Highway to a Husband, a website that chronicles her travels throughout the country as she seeks out her soul mate. To read more of Julia’s columns, log onto SFLTimes.com. To follow more of her outdoor adventures, go to www.highwaytoahusband.com


Photo: Julia Yarbough and Phil Henderson