A Place to Connect with God 
“I’d rather be in the mountains thinking of God, than in church thinking about the mountains.” 
John Muir

Fall 2021 - Rocky Mountain National Park 
When I returned from a job in South Dakota, I was excited to feel the crisp Rocky Mountain air in my lungs once again, to explore above where trees grow and be surrounded by so little, yet so much life. I wanted to share this experience with my best friend Ezra and his wife Sierra. Ezra and I had grown up together in the mountains of our little town of Conifer. We never had too many outdoor adventures despite living in the woods. Ezra wasn't ever against hiking and camping, he just didn't love it as I did, and do. He always supported me in my adventures and would join me on a few. I felt as though a trip up to Rocky Mountain National Park would give us and his new bride some time to bond in the arms of Mother Nature.
As we drove the 2 hours from home to the park, Ezra and I talked, Sierra read in the backseat. As we approached the gates of the park, I felt as if I had finally returned home, returned to my beloved Rockies. The sun was still climbing slowly into a lofty sky, painting the aggressively sloped peaks with alpenglow. I renewed my annual entrance pass at the gate and continued to the Little Horseshoe Park. Within minutes, we were able to see 5 massive, beautiful bull elk grazing and lounging in the lush valley grass. We took pictures and gawked with the rest of the visitors. This trip was during the fall. We had one of the longest falls I had experienced in Colorado that fall of 2021. Normally this would bring hordes of visitors, but with Rocky Mountain’s timed entry permit system limiting the amount of people in the park at once, it was lovely and uncrowded.
As we started our drive up the historic Trail Ridge Road, we stopped at a few overlooks, gazing at the peaks to our southeast. The 14,000 plus foot tall Longs Peak had wrapped itself in a fluffy blanket of clouds that day, just exposing its peak. We looked out to where the last year’s massive fires had torched a few drainages near the low elevation meadow of Moraine Park. We continued to drive up the road, gaining glorious elevation as we went. As we climbed, I told a few stories from my past at Rocky. This was the first National Park I visited when I was 4 years old. I had rediscovered it one day as a teen on an impromptu drive to Boulder. I had led trips with the Red Rocks Adventure Program here a couple years before. Now I was able to return with good company and appreciate this place in a new way, after falling in love with the National Park idea over the summer in South Dakota. 
We had driven above timberline and approached the Forest Canyon Overlook and parked. I knew this was a place I had been awestruck by the alpine majesty of the Rockies in years past. We walked down the quarter mile paved trail to the overlook. We passed the smallest alpine grasses and flowers. Plants that grow in some of the harshest climates imaginable, covered with 20 feet of snow for more than 9 months out of the year. They cling to life with the aid of long, deep roots in the Earth, that allow them to soak up more nutrients than lower elevation plants. This walkway is paved, so that we are not tempted to go off trail and tread on such plants. One footstep can kill ten years of growth.
As we walk along the alpine vegetation, we are awestruck by a scene that only the Rockies could produce. We look out across a deep valley, surrounded by eleven, twelve, and thirteen thousand foot tall peaks on every side. Massive slabs of rock, thrust to the surface thousands of years ago by forces much larger and ancient than us. Each peak covered by a skirt of pines, spruces, and firs at its lower elevations. Large landslides of rock called scree fields running out of each drainage, disappearing into the trees. Scattered alpine lakes and glaciers shimmer in the high noon sun and were able to pick out at least a half dozen. 
Ezra and Sierra are Christians. I debate the subject with myself. I am convinced there is a higher power and Heaven, but what else? I am not sure. I find it hard to connect with God at times. When I am in the cities man has made, surrounded by filth and greed. I don't feel any holiness. I have seen the great destruction and narrow-mindedness man can produce and live with. Even in the churches, one is told what they should feel and what they should think. That isn't the case when I am in the outdoors. I am left to decide how I feel and what presence I feel for myself. Many natural places are so artistically created, I find it hard to believe that they happened “by accident”. Glaciers and uplift of rock may have been the paintbrush of this landscape, but God had to have been the artist. I talked with Sierra and Ezra about this. They go to church every Sunday, and I support them in that. I explain to them, “This is my church. This is where I feel connected to God. Not in an uncomfortable pew, thinking about nothing other than my aching neck and tailbone. This is it. Taking in his creation firsthand and appreciating the opportunity I have been afforded to be able to experience it.” Ezra put his arm on my shoulder, and we stared into the expanse of God’s purest wilderness together. 
As we looked around to the other side of the overlook, we saw a herd of elk on the slope to our north. Many cows and a few good-sized bulls. This was around the beginning of the rut, or mating season. The bulls were sparing with each other, competing for dominance. I didn't have binoculars, but I did have my zoom camera, so Ezra and Sierra looked through that to get a better view. Such massive and pure animals in their native landscape, living just as they had for thousands of years was a sight to behold. Due to the protections this area has been placed in, they still exist in their natural habitat. A National Park would be dead, and void of any true liveliness without the wildlife that resides there. Simply a beautiful painting but lacking the emotion of a beating heart within. Even if no creatures are spotted on a trip into the wild, that landscape still feels alive, because we know there is something out there. Stalking in the trees, bedded down to beat the midday sun, or swimming in a stream. Hidden, but not non-existent. This was not the case on this day, this herd of beautiful creatures was there before our eyes, blessing us with their presence.
Our party of 3 continued up Trail Ridge, gaining more elevation, crossing the continental divide, and slowly creeping towards the highest visitor center in the NPS, the Alpine VC, which lays at just about 12,00 feet. Perched at that elevation, overlooking a grand vista, it seemed to resemble a medieval castle. We arrived and were immediately assaulted with hail. We waited for the storm to clear inside and then ate our PB&J lunch. From there, we continued down the road, now slowly losing elevation as we descended the spine of the mountain range on the opposite side of where we began, returning us to the thickly wooded areas of lower elevations. We searched for a decent hike we could do before we left the park, as I had not yet felt that I had gotten deep enough into the wild as I would have liked. 
We pulled into a parking lot for the Colorado River trailhead. The hailstorm had turned into a light mist in the air, persuading the trees to release a sweet fragrance into the air. The ground too, radiated an emboldening earthy scent that calmed the senses. As we walked, the sunbeams shone through the limbs and needles of the firs and spruces that stood alongside us, illuminating the trail and the water droplets clinging to the drooping arches of grass lining our path. We came to a meadow, and to our left, a bridge spanning a small creek. This, we would learn, was the mighty Colorado River. I was elated to learn this fact from our handy pocket map, and I shared my excitement with my friends. 
This very river, that feeds from the glaciers and snowmelt of the Rocky Mountains, will take the water it carries on a trip through National Parks and the American West. It flows down the Rockies, giving life to the many ecosystems it's created, out to the arid deserts of Utah, where it cuts and carves a beautiful landscape of canyons, mesas, and drainages in Canyonlands National Park, while also joining forces with the Green River. From there its mighty paintbrush carves the walls of what is now Lake Powell, in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Finally, it carves a mile deep into one billion-year-old rocks, into the majestic Grand Canyon. As it flows, it takes a million stories of adventure out to the Gulf of California, to rest at sea. 

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