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.

 

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