Climbing Mountains

Mountains tell us what we’re made of.

Mountains have served as a source of spiritual revelation throughout history. The ancients believed their gods lived on Mt. Olympus. Moses met with Jehovah on Mt. Sinai. Mt. Tabor in Galilee was the site of the transfiguration of Jesus. Mountains lift our gaze upward and beyond our mortality.

Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of his trip to the mountaintop the night before his death. From the mountaintop God enabled him to see the Promised Land of equality for all people. Mountaintops provide a bird’s eye view of our surroundings. From there we can gain new vision and direction.

“The mountains are calling and I must go.”—John Muir

Like John Muir, I’m intrigued by mountains. The first time I saw a snow covered peak in Colorado, I was hooked. Since then, most of our family vacations include hiking in mountainous regions. I hear them speak. “Come on, come up here. You know you’re not satisfied where you are.” Unlike the ocean, which always changes, mountains remain constant.

Jon Krakauer describes the dangerous world of mountaineering in his book, Into Thin Air. Those who decide to reach the summit of Mt. Everest, must be prepared to sacrifice their bank account, and their life. People were simply not meant to breathe at a height of 29,000 feet. Mountains not only inspire us, they challenge us. Putting it another way, mountains tell us about ourselves. They reveal our physical and emotional weaknesses.

My most frightening experience in a high place occurred at Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. Angel’s Landing is a unique fin-like formation that juts out from the canyon walls. The landing’s elevation of 1500 feet might not seem very high until look down.

In order to access Angel’s Landing, hikers follow the West Rim Trail from the base of the canyon for 2.4 miles one way. (mostly up). I’ve hiked the West Rim twice. Both times I came to the same conclusion. I’m a weenie. When the trail levels out at the main rest stop I freeze up.

The path upward for the final viewpoint of Angel’s Landing.

The final viewpoint can only be reached by traversing a narrow rocky path bordered on both sides by steep drop offs. There is a chain “guard rail” to hold on to, but if your hands are already wet with sweat from fear, it doesn’t seem safe. In fact, as recently as last week a hiker fell to his death from the final viewpoint. This trail is very dangerous when wet. Two way traffic also complicates everyone’s progress.

Like I said, a mountain can tell us what we’re made of. I’m proud of my husband, Herb, for making it all the way to the top. Kuddos!

Herb’s feet dangling over the side of Angel’s Landing.

It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out, it’s the pebble in your shoe. —Mohammed Ali

Angel’s Landing taught me about myself. My dreams are often bigger than what I’m capable of. Even so, I’m happy to enjoy the mountains just the same. I’ve let go of my desire to conquer them.

Enjoying the view of Zion Canyon from the “resting place.”

Have you come to know yourself better through outdoor experiences? Leave a comment.

Inspiration from a Sand Dune

I’ll never forget our visit to Great Sand Dunes National Park in southeast Colorado. Let me begin by saying I didn’t know this park existed until My hubby and I planned a trip to Pike’s Peak last year. When I visited the park website I became intrigued. How in the world did the tallest sand dunes in North America come to be in Colorado? As is the case with many geologic formations, the answer involves water and wind.

Water is the lifeblood of the Great Sand Dunes. Located in a valley between two mountain ranges, particles of sand were deposited by stream runoff. The sand washed into a huge lake covering the valley floor. Eventually the lake dried up, and the wind gradually moved the sand to the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Strong winds funnel through three surrounding mountain passes from opposing directions, making the dunes grow vertically. Star Dune, the tallest, stands at 750 feet.

I experienced the power of the wind on our first night in the park. During our first dune walk, blowing sand blasted our faces and we had to turn back after twenty minutes. In hindsight, I realized how dangerous it is to walk out on the dunes at night. A person could fall into a deep pit without a good flashlight.

The next day the wind died down and we determined to hike to High Dune, a distance of 1.25 miles. We were told that on summer afternoons, the sand heats to a surface temperature of 150 degrees F. We started early, but the the walk was extremely difficult due to shifting sand. It seemed like we moved one step backward for every two steps forward.

Half way up, stopping to rest after every twenty steps.

Needless to say it took us over an hour to go one mile. I definitely recommend using trekking poles to help with balance. We experienced a 450 foot elevation gain. Although we scaled the highest dune we could see from the parking lot, we were disappointed to discover the top was not the top. This was just one ridge in a sea of ridges.

I was a tiny speck upon a vast wilderness of sand.

As the sun rose higher in the sky, the sand felt hotter under our feet. Time to head back down. Along the way I admired the beautiful lines and shapes sculpted by the wind, many of them uniquely different. This was the art of God.

“Chinese Walls” created by two opposing winds.

In reflection I’m reminded of an old saying, “bloom where you are planted.” Grains of sand, trapped in a basin with no way out, are continually pressed on every side by wind. Yet they have risen to create a natural wonder of the world.

“Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.” Jeremiah 32:17. NIV

Accepting The Risks of Nature

Life is full of risks. Fortunately disaster seldom happens, or we would never travel in a car or fly in a plane. We would never eat out because restaurant food might give us salmonella. We would stay in our homes with the doors locked and the blinds pulled down.

Today I’m nursing a bad case of poison ivy… a risk I take whenever I tromp through a forest. I developed an allergy to this evil plant in my teens. My symptoms? A blistery itchy rash that drives me crazy, especially in the middle of the night!

Throughout my adult years my allergic reactions worsened, usually requiring one or two trips to a doctor for doses of steroids in order to get over it.  The only preventative advice the doctors ever give me is “stay away from poison ivy.” They always smile after they say it.  I think what they really mean is,”Good luck with that.”

According to the  American Academy of Dermatology, eighty-five percent of the U. S. population is allergic to poison ivy.  I guess I’m in good company. The above link offers more specific details about how to identify the plant.

Over the years I’ve become more adept at avoiding poison ivy by walking in the middle of any trail. I usually stay on the look-out. Remember the old saying, “Leaves of three, let it be.” However, my last adventure included scrambling over boulders in Shenandoah National Park.  Scrambling involves using your hands and feet to move vertically. When I grabbed hold of a rock to steady my balance, I touched a strange vine.

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Let’s put it this way, I was between a rock and a hard place. I wanted to keep myself from breaking a leg. Touching the weird vine was a total accident. Is that how I contracted this intensely itchy rash on my upper chest?

Although I always wear long sleeves and pants when I hike, I’ve learned that the oil (urushiol) of the plant clings to your clothes and shoes. Have you ever tried to change your clothes without touching them? It’s not an easy process.

By the way, urushiol can also cling to a dog’s fur. Buddy wasn’t with me on this trip, so I can’t blame the family dog for my irritation.

Every time I enter the woods on a hike or take a camping trip I put myself in danger. So far I haven’t decided to stop being “mother nature’s child.” The trails are too inviting, the trees too alluring.  At this point I’ve decided to accept the risks that go with my choices.

I’m thankful this is my first case of poison ivy in six years. That’s a pretty good record. If you’ve read very many of my posts you know my lifestyle. I can only offer this advice: Evaluate the risks, do what you can to avoid them, but continue to follow your passion.

Are you a member of the “I hate poison ivy club?” Leave a comment and let me know of any tips you might know to lessen my misery.

 

 

 

 

Does Fear Trap You from Pursuing Your Dreams?

Two years ago my husband asked me to join him for a two-day guided mule ride to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. At first, I hesitated to give him an answer. I have no riding skills and I’m fearful of heights. His idea seemed out of the question.

Even so, I began to entertain the thought. I’ve always wanted the experience of being inside the canyon instead of standing at the rim, so I agreed to go. Once he made our reservations and flight arrangements, there was no turning back. In the meantime, I set my heart on trying to think positive thoughts about what might await us.

Have you ever allowed fear to keep you from following your dream? A few weeks ago one of my followers commented she wants to write more, but is fearful her work will be rejected by others. She avoids spending time writing by busying herself with other activities until she no longer has time available. Her fear has become a source of self-protection.

I appreciated her honesty. Good for you, the first step to overcoming fear is acknowledging it.

Author Tosca Lee said something I will never forget. “Write like no one will see this.” Writing like no one will see it chases fear away and permits us to create. We need to banish the self-critic in order to let our thoughts flow onto the paper. Until we engage in our art, we seldom move forward.

It’s true that not all of our creative works are worthy of publication. Rejection goes with the territory, whether it be from an editor, a friend, or a spouse. My husband is my sounding board. Sometimes he proofs my work and says, “I’m not getting this.” Then I know I haven’t made myself clear. Time for another revision. Rejection can make us better writers.

Accept the reality there are people who can write better than you. Comparing ourselves to others chokes our creativity. Our current culture demands instant success. But how do people achieve success? First, they decide to start. Then they decide to continue. Most marathon runners begin by competing in a 5K. Slowly, they continue to build their stamina by participating in longer races.

We can receive encouragement from Scripture when facing fearful situations. One of my favorite verses is Proverbs 29:25. “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.”

Just like a snare traps a small animal, fear traps us from pursuing our dreams. Pray for courage to throw off fear and trust God to take you where He wants you to go.

When I descended into the Grand Canyon, I didn’t look to the right or left of the trail. I kept my focus straight ahead on Olga, my mule. Olga, you know the way. You’ve traveled this path many times. As Olga continued to steadily plod along, I began to relax and enjoy the beautiful landscape of the canyon. For more details about the trip, see my previous post entitled, Trust and Obey.

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Ask yourself what matters. Are you content to stay in your comfort zone? Is it time to stop viewing the canyon from the rim?

 

 

Gold Fever

“The desire for gold is the most universal and deeply rooted commercial instinct of the human race.” Gerald M. Loeb

As the elevator dropped one thousand feet into the Mollee Kathleen Gold Mine, I took a deep breath. What if get stuck down here?  After a two minute ride, the elevator opened and our guide welcomed us. I was inside a mountain, just like the old time miners who worked here one hundred years ago.

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What is it that drives people to mine for gold? What makes them search the deepest recesses in the black darkness of the earth?  Valued by all civilizations, gold is golden. In addition to being rare and portable, gold never corrodes.

After Bob Womack discovered gold on his property near Cripple Creek in 1891, the Colorado gold rush began. During the next nine years the population of the town grew from five hundred to 55,000. Unfortunately for Womack, he died a poor man. After squandering his money on alcohol, he never saw his fortune come to pass.

The same year Womack discovered gold, Mollie Kathleen Gortner took a walk. She sat down to rest and noticed an interesting rock formation. Using another rock, she broke off a sample. It was pure gold laced with quartz. She became the first woman in Cripple Creek to discover gold and strike a claim in her name. Her family operated the mine for over fifty years. The Mollee Kathleen Gold Mine Tour is America’s longest continually operated gold mine tour.

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Lucky for us, our tour was conducted under electric lights. The early miners pounded their way through rock by candlelight. Our guide demonstrated the evolution of mining tools throughout the 1900’s. The work was extremely dangerous for little pay. Seventy percent of the workers attempted to steal gold, but few succeeded.

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The Mollee Kathleen Mine, together with other area mines, produced over ten billion dollars of mined gold. The old timers carried out the large pieces of ore. Significant underground deposits remain which are now being surface mined by the Newmont Mining Company near Victor.

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The Newmont Cripple Creek and Victor Mine offers public tours of its’ modern mining operation. Unlike the old time miners, Newmont’s employees are geologists, engineers, and environmentalists. The ore goes through a process of being crushed then leached with cyanide. We took a tour of this operation as well, and learned the company pours anywhere from seven to twelve bars of gold a week. Each bar weighs sixty-five pounds and is worth one million dollars. The company is required to restore the land to the way it was before the surface mining began.

The Colorado gold rush of 1891 still continues on Battle Mountain. After all, “gold is money; everything else is credit.” J. P. Morgan

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Pikes Peak, America’s Mountain

Pikes Peak has inspired people for hundreds of years. I first learned about “America’s Mountain” after my mom and dad visited the summit forty years ago. I’ve always been curious about Pikes Peak, and wondered how it came to be so famous. My husband became interested as well, so we booked an excursion with Manitou Springs Adventures.

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Taking a jeep excursion is a great way to climb the mountain, especially since the Cog Railway is closed. Bear, our guide and driver, expertly maneuvered our jeep through all the twists an turns up thirty-eight miles of highway. My husband and I were free to enjoy the scenery while we sipped the complimentary bottled water and munched on trail mix. (Protein and water prevent altitude sickness.)  Throughout our drive, and during rest stops, Bear gave us plenty of time to take photos. His narration provided me with a plethora of info about Pikes Peak. For more information follow my links.

  • Pikes Peak stands at 14,115 feet. It ranks 31 among the tallest peaks of Colorado.
  • Zebulon Pike led the first American exploration to scale the mountain in 1806. Unfortunately, he never made it to the summit because he started in November. The harsh Colorado winter forced him to turn back.
  • Edwin James was the first American to reach the summit in the summer of 1820. Good planning, Ed. He called the mountain Pike’s Highest Peak out of respect for Zebulon. Eventually the name was shortened and the apostrophe dropped.
  • People can hike to the summit on the Barr Trail. It generally takes from eight to twelve hours to get to the top.

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  • The view from the summit is so spectacular it inspired Katherine Lee Bates to write the song “America the Beautiful” in 1893.
  • The Pikes Peak Hill Climb is an annual high speed car race which began in 1916. This year Romain Damas broke the record by climbing 4,720 feet in under eight minutes. He drove an electrically powered vehicle manufactured by Volkswagon.

IMG_4354Several Big Foot sightings near Pikes Peak prompted the locals to post a sign on the highway warning visitors to be on the alert. At this pull-off Bear took our picture doing what he called “The Big Foot Shuffle.”

After we arrived at the summit, Bear gave us ample time to look around, take photos, and buy souvenirs at the gift shop. He bought donuts for all of us from the Summit House. Bakers use a special high-altitude formula to overcome the challenges of creating a cake donut at 14,000 feet. Served up warm and fresh, Pikes Peak donuts are a real treat. Since Bear drives two tours a day, he’s one of their best customers.

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Thanks for everything, Bear!

 

 

 

The Bird is the Word

Yes, that’s right, bird is the word for today. I used to underestimate birds. Maybe that’s because they’re so small and numerous. Oh, there’s another bird flying by… big deal. My ambivalent attitude ended when my husband started using a Nikon Coolpix Superzoom camera. Initially he bought it to photograph larger wildlife. But he needed some practice, so he started zooming in on birds. After all, birds are all around us.

Fast forward to our recent Colorado vacation. We attended our first bird watching event in Great Sand Dunes National Park. I discovered bird watching is a relaxing way to spend an hour or two. Of course, in order to see birds one needs to be an early riser, which might leave a few people out.

The main point of birdwatching is to identify birds. In order to accomplish this goal it’s important to pay attention and listen. Wow! Those two things might leave a few more people out. But if you challenge yourself to watch and listen at the same time here are the five elements necessary to identifying birds.

  1. Size
  2. Color (which includes individual markings)
  3. Habitat
  4. Flight pattern
  5. Song (when walking in a dense forest it’s hard to see birds in tall trees)

Resources are available to help anyone get started. Our guide recommended a book,  Sibley’s Field Guide to Birds, for either the Eastern U.S. or Western U.S. depending on your location. And as you can imagine, there are iPhone apps to help you learn the songs of birds. If you are interested read this review for more more information. Our guide recommended using bird call apps responsibly when you are in the field because they can disturb whatever birds might be in the vicinity.

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During our bird walk I learned to identify the call of a chickadee.

In addition to attending a bird watching walk, anyone can set up a bird feeder in their backyard to watch birds at home. During our trip to Colorado we saw numerous hummingbird feeders at restaurants and hotels. After several encounters, we identified different varieties of  hummingbirds and discovered some are very territorial. One kind, the Ruby-throated, hid in the bushes until the Broad-tail hummingbirds settled at the feeder. The Ruby-throated bird rushed out of its hiding place. It perched on top of the shepherd’s hook, then  buzzed all the other birds until it had the feeder all to itself.

Enjoy my video of the cut-throat competition among hummingbirds.

I must say my first attempt at making this video was cut short because one aggressive hummingbird buzzed me!

Bird watching is an educational family friendly activity. Now you know why the bird is the word. If you like birds check out my previous post Cardinal Virtues.

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