For most people, the benches sitting throughout White Tank Mountain Regional Park are there for them to take a rest from hiking or to relax and enjoy the beautiful view.
But for some, like Laurel Taylor, one bench in particular means so much more.
On July 13, 2012, her daughter Brianna was stillborn. And while baby Brianna’s body was laid to rest at a cemetery in California, it wasn’t an ideal spot for her family to visit or remember her, as it was by a busy road and not surrounded by much nature.
Still, leaving her behind when the Taylors moved away was difficult. To Laurel, it was like leaving a part of her heart behind.
“I wanted a way to remember her here, in Arizona,” she said.
The solution would present itself in a way that seemed truly meant to be. The solution was a way to remember Brianna that was close to the Taylor’s new home, and somewhere Laurel was already passing by several times a week: a memorial bench at White Tank Mountain Regional Park.
As a trail runner, Laurel had quickly fell in love with the White Tanks after moving here. For one thing, the location of the White Tanks was convenient—only a few miles from her house. For another thing, it’s full of trails that range in distance and difficultly—perfect for her to train for races.
Plus, being in the surrounding nature absolutely helped her heal.
“You just feel better when you go outside,” she said. Which is a big reason she prefers trail running to trekking down a busy sidewalk or on a treadmill.
Spending so much time in the White Tanks also led Laurel to meeting with park ranger Justin, plus employees Andy, Dove, and LJ, to name a few. They helped her learn about the desert she now called home and appreciate it more.
And there’s absolutely no doubt that the people who frequent the White Tanks made her feel more connected.
“I’m so grateful for the White Tanks and all the people there,” she said.
When she found out that she could pay to memorialize her daughter on a bench at the White Tank Mountain Regional Park, Laurel jumped at the chance and got one, thankfully before they were all taken.
Her family picked these words to be inscribed on Brianna’s bench: “If I could hike to you, I’d hike forever.”
Brianna’s bench, located in Area 4, is a place where Laurel passes frequently; and she and her husband and daughter Sarah can gather to remember baby Brianna. There is a ramada close by, and Laurel felt especially lucky to have the bench in that spot because she celebrated Mother’s Day there.
“I feel closer than ever to her and so grateful for the view and serenity we all feel when we visit her bench. It’s comforting. I feel peace and calm.”
But really, it’s not only the bench that makes her feel Brianna’s presence, but the entire White Tanks themselves. The trees, the cacti, the desert flowers, the birds, the rabbits.
It’s no wonder the Taylor family feels this sense of peace and calm when they’re out at the White Tanks—they’re surrounded by nature, which has been shown to have healing powers. In a 2015 published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, people who walked in a natural setting—like the White Tanks—were less likely to suffer from anxiety and depression than those who walked in urban areas.
As Laurel visits the White Tanks, she’s also been learning about the desert plants and animals. She saw her first snake on a bike ride. One day she hopes to see a Gila monster on a trail run. Maybe even a javelina. The longer she’s here, and the longer Brianna’s bench is here, it’s just like it was always meant to be.
“The White Tank Mountains now feel like home.”