Grand Canyon

Sometimes I just have brilliant ideas; at least they seem extraordinarily bright as they develop in my head. These gems on occasion lose their luster as reality unfolds when the idea is implemented. As a disclaimer it was a collectively poor plan devised by my friends and me for one of my college Christmas breaks.

Being self styled adventuresome people we decided we would hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I had done a bit of camping and outdoors stuff before but Jeff and Bob were city boys through and through. Their idea of adventure was ordering something new at the Wong Palace Chinese restaurant down the street. As brilliant as my ideas are sometimes including those two in the planning was not one of my best. But plan we did. We made reservations for one night at the Indian Gardens camp site in the canyon well in advance, read the brochures of dos and don’ts in preparation for our trip. We were going to get there bright and early on December 26, walk to the bottom and back up about half way to the camp site where we would overnight and hike it back out the next day. It was go time!

Here was the plan. We would pack what we needed in my car and drive it to the airport on Christmas day, park and catch a plane to Los Angeles. In LA a former roommate that graduated the year before would be flying home to visit his parents in Indiana and would leave his car at LAX. We would swap cars, he would enjoy Christmas in dreary Indiana and we would drive to Arizona and enjoy the warm sunshine and invigorating experience of hiking the Grand Canyon. Brilliant!

It was hard to sleep on Christmas Eve for a reason other than seeing what Santa Claus left under the tree. I was going to hike the Grand Canyon – a real dream of mine was coming true! Before the alarm even went off we were out the door heading to the local Denny’s to enjoy a Grand Slam breakfast en route to the airport. Not yet having the cynicism concerning airline efficiency that I now possess we bounded into the airport riding that adrenaline wave of excitement called “going on vacation”.  (I think the airlines must hire people who plan like Bob, Jeff and I). By the time we landed in LA, having spent considerable extra down time at the scenic St. Louis airport we arrived in the evening to collect our bags. At least two of us did – poor Bob. Being college guys we told him to suck it up and deal with it – we are heading to the canyon and we were already late! With the plan for him to borrow our clothes we found the car and headed toward Arizona driving through the night. I say toward. One part of the plan should have been to not let the country horticulture major navigate when you have two city born engineers in the car. What were they thinking? But we made it, it was one in the afternoon – only 6 hours late and no sleep for 32 hours but we made it! As we approached the park ranger and gave him our reservations he looked at us skeptically and asked to see our gear. Jeff and I produced our rolled up sleeping bags while Bob was having great epiphany, his bag was in his suitcase. “Why did you put it in there, Bob?” we politely and asked. He said defensively “I used it to wrap around and protect the food.” The park ranger seemed unimpressed. I think the ranger wanted to teach us a lesson – he let us go on down.

Down we went – the three of us with two sleeping bags, light clothes (It was Arizona, the land of desert and cactus, who knew that it was snowing at the Grand Canyon?) a canteen of water and pop tarts for food scavenged from our carry on bags. When we got to the camp site after dark another ranger graciously offered to help set up our tent. We were to bring a tent? I think he wanted to teach us a lesson – he let us stay. Wearing every stitch of clothing available we unzipped the bags lying on one with the other over us as a blanket. Huddled up together we slept little as we stared in to the sky watching snow blow over the crest of the canyon above floating down to blanket Indian Gardens. I would have taken a picture for Christmas cards but Jeff was wearing my backpack on his feet and I did not want to rummage in there for my camera. To make a long story short we started very early in the morning to the canyon bottom and back out that day – fifteen miles down and back up on switch back trails, dodging mules and snacking on nutritious filling pop tarts. Incredibly tired from hiking straight down then up, no sleep in over two days, hungry and cold late on December 27th I crested out over the rim of with exhaustion and an incredible joy.

I had an experience I did not expect at the canyon bottom, God was there. Not physically, but in that amazing creation of colorfully hued canyon walls, roaring Colorado river, rugged rock formations and landscape I felt God’s presence. I did not look for Him I just could not help but see His work everywhere I looked. I was overwhelmed. As I moved away by myself and sat on a huge boulder overlooking a bend of the river there was no one in sight but God and me. I had been going to church all of my life with many a moving experience. Never though had God been so real. When reading the Bible back then I never did “get” the Psalms, so I usually skipped them to get to the “real” stories of the Bible. I always thought maybe David was amazed at God because He had a special connection to Him being the chosen king and all.  I figured sitting in his palace writing the Psalms it was easy to be enamored with all things God. In that canyon base I learned something that I had not planned for on this trip – how to worship. I was shown how to be loved and experienced God by being in His presence. I could not help giving praise and understanding David’s heart, now I love the Psalms.

On that Christmas I experienced what I think the shepherds experienced, worshipping in the presence of Jesus. They were so excited they told everyone! When you get right down to it Christmas is about worship. Jesus came to restore our relationship back to God so that we can sit in God’s presence for all eternity. Make this Christmas special and worship. Spend time alone thanking God that He sent His Son. Look for God everywhere you go and enjoy His creation. Settle your heart and just listen sometime letting Jesus’ love envelope you. On my dream vacation to the bottom of the Grand Canyon I had a remarkable gift that Christmas experiencing far more than I was able to plan for. I think God wanted to teach me a lesson – he let me see Him!

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This daily devotion is written by John Key

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