The hike more traveled

When was the last time you went on a really great hike? Not a hike that was great because of the workout, or because of the time spent outdoors. I’m talking about a hike that challenged you physically while astounding your senses. What did you see, hear, touch, smell, and maybe even taste that was so incredible? Maybe you’re not really into hiking. That’s ok; maybe this post will change your mind!

It’s possible that I’m finally coming near the end of my blog series on our amazing summer vacation. If you’ve joined the series late, please do go back and check out my preview post, the first installment, and the follow up episode.

Today, I want to talk about my favorite hike of the whole three week trip. Ok, so my two favorite hikes. We visited eleven parks, so I hope you’ll forgive me for need to do two favorites instead of one.

The Water Hike

I must confess that one of my favorite hikes occurred in one of my not-so-favorite parks. Zion National Park in Utah is an amazing park.

hike zion 1

The mountains and mesas are majestic and awe-inspiring. Some of the hikes are among the most dangerous and thrilling of any of the parks we visited. And there is a beautiful river that flows through the whole canyon, a refreshing burst of coolness and refreshment in the midst of the otherwise harsh landscape. I don’t want to discount any of that beauty.

But it was hot. So hot. The temperatures hovered around 100 degrees fahrenheit every day. And it was windy. We had wind gusts approaching 30 – 40 mph. We were tent camping. The dust was red. Everything I owned became covered in red dust. I would visit Zion again, but I would not stay in a tent or come in June.

With all those disclaimers, let me say that hiking The Narrows was an adventure like none other we experienced on our trip. Zion is a canyon based park, and the river that helped form that canyon provides the setting for this most popular hike.

hiking zion 2

I should also mention that the trail had opened only two weeks before our arrival. The river was cold, high, and swift, due to massive snow melt at higher elevations. If the river is too high, the park service will close the trail. I am grateful it was open when we came.

The girls were excited and we tried to get an early start, given the high temperatures of the day.

zion hike 3

The trail was crowded (it really is the most popular hike in the park and the reason many people come to Zion), but easy going in the beginning. It was a fairly level and paved trail. Gradually, the path became more narrow and the pavement stopped. We were hiking alongside the Virgin River as it winds its way through the canyon.

zion hike 4

But the highlight of the hike is when the canyon begins to narrow further, so much so that the trail becomes nothing more than a footpath. Eventually, even the footpath ends and the trail becomes the river itself. My girls thought it was fantastic! We waded right in and continued the hike. The water was a frigid 52 degrees, but in 100 degree heat, it was a welcome change.

zion hike 5

I held tight to my oldest daughter while my husband grabbed on to our six year old. We followed the river for only about 3/4 of a mile (the trails continues for some ten miles). At that point, the water was up to my little one’s shorts and the current was so strong it was a battle to take each step. For safety reasons, we knew it was wise to turn back. We were wet and tired, but it was oh so worth it. How often do you get the chance to hike in a river?! The Narrows is definitely on my list for favorites!

The Wall Hike

I think in terms of sheer grandeur, my favorite hike was Wall Street in Bryce Canyon.

bryce hike 1

We may not have made it to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, but Bryce is considerably smaller, the weather was amazing, and we were ready to give it a go. Some portions of the trails in Bryce were closed due to excessive snow melt that had caused some avalanches, so we were rerouted from our original plan. We started off full of energy and excitement and we were not disappointed. Almost immediately upon descending the rim of the canyon, we found ourselves along an intricate serious of steep switchbacks rapidly descending the canyon.

bryce hike 2

As we hiked lower, the canyon walls rose higher and straighter around us. We were completely surrounded by red and orange rock walls hundreds of feet above us.

bryce hike 4

When we reached the bottom, we were astounded to see a regal Douglas fir growing straight and tall in a crevice at the bottom.

bryce hike 3

The canyon walls split apart enough to allow both sunshine and rain or snow to easily reach the tree, and so it had grown higher and higher through the years. The bottom of the hike was cool and sheltered. There were quite a few people hiking through, but it still felt isolated from the larger canyon. I don’t think I’ve ever seen rock walls quite that color before. I know I’ve never hiked amidst rock walls quite that high before. My pictures simply fail to capture the exquisite artistry of that place.

I will spare you the details of our much lengthier ascent of the canyon. No, we didn’t have to return via the steep switchbacks. But our long, slow ascent was hampered by the altitude and little legs of tired children. We did make it back to the top eventually, and I consider that to be one of our biggest accomplishments of the trip. And we even managed to have some fun along the way.

bryce hike 5

When was the last time you went on a hike? What natural areas are there in your neighborhood or within a short drive that you could explore? Challenge yourself; do something you’ve not done before. See what beauty is yet to be discovered and experienced. Then share a of photo of you in the midst of it!

Go ahead...share the encouragement
Share on FacebookPin on PinterestShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone

The Vacation of a Lifetime (part two) – Barren and Beautiful

As I continue to look through the pictures and remember all the beautiful sites we visited on our vacation, I am still struggling for a way to collect all my thoughts. I could easily do a post on each park we visited. But I don’t want to bore you with all the details. Of course, if you want all the info, I’m more than happy to oblige!

You can check out my preview post and my first installment if you’d like.

barren and beautiful capitol reef

So for Part Two of this series of undetermined length, I decided to group together a few parks that are still rolling around in my brain. On any given day, I’m not sure if I loved these parks, was intrigued by these parks, or was happy to move on from these parks. It’s not that I didn’t like the time we spent there, or that they weren’t beautiful. The parks were…well…different.

barren and beautiful canyonlands

Capitol Reef and Canyonlands are not generally on the top of anyone’s list of national parks. Particularly when you are looking at parks in the southwest. We all know the Grand Canyon, and most folks are familiar with Zion, Bryce and Arches as well. But we didn’t meet many people on our trip who were planning to visit Capitol Reef or Canyonlands. In my opinion, they missed out on some incredibly beautiful landscapes.

barren and beautiful capitol reef 2

Beautiful in the midst of barren

Capitol Reef was a study in contrasts. As soon as we entered the park, we were awestruck with the barren nature of the landscape. Towering red cliffs, expansive red vistas, deep crevices through the unforgiving rock – these were the sites by which we were greeted. We even joked that it looked like the setting of the movie The Martian.

barren and beautiful capitol reef 3

Yet, running through the middle of the park is the Fremont River and oh what a difference that makes. Instead of the wild and rocky landscape, you see green fields, lush orchards, and tall shade trees. In fact, in the early 1900s, a thriving agrarian community was nestled along the banks of the river and became known as Fruita, because of all the fruit trees that were grown there.

barren and beautiful capitol reef 4

Our campground was nestled in the middle of what used to be Fruita and it felt sometimes as if we were in a different world than the world in which we went hiking. My favorite time was at sunset when it seemed as if the mountains were on fire from within as they reflected the glow of the waning sun. Capitol Reef was definitely a study in contrasts.

barren and beautiful capitol reef 5

 

Barren becoming beautiful

Canyonlands is one big park that is subdivided into three sections – Island in the Sky, the Needles, and the Maze. We did not visit the Maze, since it is fairly inhospitable to family camping and hiking, being accessible only by 4 wheel drive on unpaved roads. Island in the Sky and the Needles are separated by the Green and Colorado Rivers. There are no roads connecting the three districts. We are tent campers, but not back country campers, so we did not camp in the park, but we did drive in to do some hiking in both Island in the Sky and the Needles.

barren and beautiful canyonlands 3

The rock formations were intimidating, the views stunning. Despite the high overlooks, we were barely able to see the rivers down below. On one day, it was so windy (upwards of 50 mph) that we found it difficult to walk and our small one was being pelted by sand. We didn’t do much hiking that day, but we were able to drive through the park and take some pictures of the wildness.

There is plenty of hiking to be done in the Needles, and the weather was much more amenable that day. However, because of the remote nature of the park, most of the hikes are in excess of five miles, which is pretty far to go when you’re six. So we kept to the few shorter trails.

barren and beautiful canyonlands 2

In many portions of the park, there is no soil in which is stick a trail marker post, so the rocky trail is marked by small piles of stones called cairns. Our girls had a delightful time running from cairn to cairn. On one such hike, we learned about “potholes.” No, not the ones you hate driving over! These potholes are small indentations in the rocks that fill with water when it rains. We visited in the dry season, so all the potholes were dormant. But in the monsoon season, these same holes team with life. There are species of shrimp who lay their eggs in the water, buried in the silt at the bottom of the potholes. The eggs lie dormant during the dry season, but when the rain comes, they tiny shrimp hatch and come to life.

barren and beautiful canyonlands 5

What I found fascinating was the black topped soil that was often found alongside the trails. This soil, called biological soil crust, is actually living dirt. It is filled with micro bacteria, algae, fungi, lichens and moss. The living soil helps prevent erosion and dust storms. When enough of the biological matter builds up, this seemingly barren landscape can support beautiful plants, shrubs, and flowering cacti.

barren and beautiful canon lands 4

A beautiful life

As I reflected on these two parks, I couldn’t help but see them as a picture of what my life so often resembles. I may feel barren, dry, empty. As a Christian, I have the Holy Spirit in me. Even when I can’t see Him, He is there. John 7:38 says that streams of living water will flow from me. The Holy Spirit will bring life in the midst of what seems dry  and barren. He is at work in my life. Oftentimes, He is unseen, his work too small for me to notice. Are you discouraged or in a desert season? Do you feel as though your life is barren? Take courage, pray and believe. He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it (Philippians 1:6).

I don’t often put extended Scripture quotes in my posts, but I pray this one will encourage your soul:

Isaiah 35

1The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad;

the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus;

it shall blossom abundantly

and rejoice with joy and singing.

The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,

the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.

They shall see the glory of the LORD,

the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands,

and make firm the feeble knees.

Say to those who have an anxious heart,

“Be strong; fear not!

Behold, your God

will come with vengeance,

with the recompense of God.

He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,

and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

then shall the lame man leap like a deer,

and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.

For waters break forth in the wilderness,

and streams in the desert;

the burning sand shall become a pool,

and the thirsty ground springs of water;

in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down,

the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

And a highway shall be there,

and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;

the unclean shall not pass over it.

It shall belong to those who walk on the way;

even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.

No lion shall be there,

nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;

they shall not be found there,

but the redeemed shall walk there.

10 And the ransomed of the LORD shall return

and come to Zion with singing;

everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;

they shall obtain gladness and joy,

and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

 

Go ahead...share the encouragement
Share on FacebookPin on PinterestShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone

The Vacation of a Lifetime – part one

Vacations are what summers are all about! I mentioned earlier that my family planned to take an extended camping trip vacation exploring our national parks. Today, I finally sit down to try to collect my thoughts on some of our amazing journey.

I thought about doing a post for every week we were gone, but there was just too much to cover. So, this will be the first installment of “several” posts about our summer vacation. I hope these posts will inspire you to get out and explore some of the amazing sites in your locale!

Vacation Camp #1

Our first campsite was at Mather campground inside Grand Canyon National Park, South Rim. We had done a few, shorter, camping trips with our girls to get them used to the idea of camping, but this vacation was by far our longest endeavor. Our mantra is “when camping, everybody helps.” The girls were fantastic helpers and we had camp set up, dinner made, enjoyed, and cleaned up all in two hours time. Not a bad start.

Obviously though, the highlight of our vacation was not the speed with which we set up camp, but the sites we explored. I had to laugh when our six year old commented on our first night, “are you sure there’s a canyon here? Because all I see are trees.” She would not be disappointed.

Our first glimpse of the canyon came as we rounded the bend on a hiking trail. The girls had been looking for animal tracks and filling out their junior ranger booklets and suddenly, our oldest looked up and simply said, “wow.”

vacation part one

Honestly, we took loads of pictures, and it is impossible to capture the beauty, the grandeur, the majesty of the canyon. We stayed at that overlook for some time, while our girls sketched their perspective of the vista in their junior ranger booklets. They weren’t wondering about the canyon’s existence any longer!

vacation part one

Our family spent three nights at Mather and hiked many miles during the day. We saw two spectacular sunsets, one at Yaki Point and one at Yavapai Point, and saw glimpses of the Colorado River from the canyon’s rim. We even saw some endangered California condors flying overhead. I can’t help but have an overwhelming sense of my own smallness when surrounded by such vastness.

vacation part one

Vacation Camp #2

We moved on to our second campground in the Kaibab National Forest just outside of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I am happy to declare the north rim as my favorite park of our trip. We had wanted to stay within the park itself, but it’s one campground was already full when we attempted to make reservations in late November of 2016, so we settled for the lesser known national forest campground.

The North Rim is the forgotten rim of the Grand Canyon. It is closed from October through May due to the 10-12 feet of snow they receive each winter. We arrived just two weeks after the park opened for the season. It takes 5 hours to reach it from the south rim, and it is not located near any major cities. I was already predisposed to like this park on those reasons alone. I think the north rim offers views every bit as remarkable as the south rim, despite its less touristy nature. You will just have to visit both rims yourself and make your own determination.

vacation part one

As I looked around at the Ponderosa Pine and Aspen forests, I was reminded that I was no longer in the desert. At almost 9000 feet, our campground was significantly colder than anything we’d experienced earlier in our trip. We even had frost on our final morning!

Our first morning there was the only time we experienced any rain on our entire vacation. So we opted for the scenic drive instead. We stopped at several overlooks to just bask in the scenery. We were even able to do some shorter hikes in the afternoon when the weather cleared.

vacation part one

One of the highlights of the north rim was our short, but challenging, hike into the canyon itself. No, we didn’t even attempt a “rim to rim” journey but we did take a tiny portion of that same trek. We descended only about 3/4 of a mile down into the canyon, but it was spectacular. Coming back up was less exciting, but we were all proud of ourselves nonetheless. And we were all reminded that we are used to living much closer to sea level!

vacation part one

The Vacation Continues

We couldn’t have asked for a better start to our vacation. Exposing the girls to the Grand Canyon was the perfect way to kick off our grand adventure. But don’t take my word for it! Add a trip to the Grand Canyon to your bucket list. And if you can only make one rim, go for the north!

I’ll be blogging more about some of the other stops on our vacation. If you want to know any of the specific hikes we did or any of the logistics of our plan, feel free to leave me a comment below!

Go ahead...share the encouragement
Share on FacebookPin on PinterestShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone

Two Ways to Visit an Art Museum

Recently, we loaded up the kids and headed to Houston for vacation, endeavoring to cram as much touristy fun into five days as was humanly possible. One of the places on our itinerary was the Museum of Fine Art. My husband and I have always enjoyed art museums, and our oldest is now a huge fan as well. But the five-year old… she’s along for the ride. It’s a lot of “Don’t touch the art” and “Don’t run” and “Shhhhhh,” but she’s learning. I tell myself that there is no other way for her to learn how to behave in and to appreciate art museums if she is not given the chance.

Houston art museum

Our experience in the morning was very different from our experience in the afternoon. In the morning, we leisurely ambled through gallery after gallery, talking quietly about our favorite pieces and exhibits that piqued our curiosity. After a break for lunch (to refuel) and a trip to the children’s museum (to placate our children), we returned in the evening to finish the galleries we had missed. Only now we were all tired, our feet were sore, more people were there, and there was really loud music playing in the lobby. So while the girls and I took a restroom break, my husband breezed through the remaining rooms to tell us where to find the big-name artists (Picasso in the first room, back wall; Monet 2nd room, left side etc.) so the girls and I could hit the highlights as we cruised through the remainder of the museum.

Houston art museum piece

That crazy day led to an interesting discussion: What is the best way to visit an art museum? I know I posted previously about the reason for benches in art museums. And truthfully, that is the way I prefer to visit — slowly, carefully, taking time to really see the art, to think about it, to be simply surrounded by beautiful works of art. 

But what if my regular, everyday existence did not regularly have room for art? What if I had never been exposed to such works of beauty? What if I had been given only one hour to walk inside the doors of an art museum? Shouldn’t I try to fill my visual cup with as much art as I could? Would it be worth it to breeze through just to have that art imprinted in my visual memory? I think so.

My brain cannot process information it does not have. My mind cannot ponder in a vacuum. It needs fuel. We live in a world that is too often ugly or sterile. We work in dull cubicles; our conversations occur all-too-often through technology instead of face-to-face. Our children play video games instead of drawing pictures or building forts. And our minds and imaginations grow dull. How many five-year olds have never even been to an art museum? Did my daughter sit and meditate on the wonderful Pissarro landscapes we saw? No, and frankly I’m not sure she could tell you much about what we saw that day. But her eyes saw much that was beautiful that day, and it will shape the way she thinks and feels. While I did appreciate the beauty of individual works, I also benefited from swimming through that vast collection of art. The world of human creativity is much bigger than I am, and not everyone looks like me, thinks like me, creates like me. To focus on a single work of art is to focus on a single drop of rain. But sometimes I need to see the immensity of the ocean.

What about you?

houston art museum Lewis Glacier

Are you a stop-and-ponder, focus-on-one-work-at-a-time sort of person? Or do you tend to breeze through and let it all flood over you? I think we all need some measure of both. What do you think? What do you do when you visit an art museum? How do you enjoy experiencing art? How do you take in the beauty of this world, both that of the Divine Artist and the human artists made in His image?

Go ahead...share the encouragement
Share on FacebookPin on PinterestShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone