To celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary Bud and I drove from Georgia, our home state, to Colorado and Wyoming.
We wanted our five-week round-trip spring journey to be less of a predictable comfortable vacation and more of a sacred spirit-renewing pilgrimage.
Since we believe God is in all creation, life is sacred and the earth is a temple we felt our travels across America qualified as a journey through a holy place.
With little planning we left a lot of space for serendipity. Our goal was to be prepared and to let go of expectations.
Barreling westward in our Nissan truck we finally, after four days on the road, saw Colorado’s white rugged Rocky Mountains through the windows. Although we’d skied in the Rockies at Keystone and Arapahoe in the past we were once again awed by their immenseness and majesty.
Behind the mountains was a big blue sky much bluer than we’ve ever seen in Georgia. We opened our windows to breathe the crisp mountain air. Teary-eyed I thanked God for this good earth and the nourishment it provides our minds, bodies and souls.
We were headed to Denver, the “Mile-High City” that sits up against the Front Range of the Rockies. Fifty-four peaks top 14,000 feet and several roadways wined over 11,000-foot passes.
The Rocky Mountains are especially sacred as they form the backbone of Colorado and the United States. The Continental Divide, that snakes through the Rockies, marks the source and division point of North America’s precious waterways. Without our water we’d not survive.
The night was already descending when we arrived at my sister and brother-in-law’s home in Littleton. After warm greetings and hugs we sat around laughing and talking while sipping tea. Being with them brought back fond memories of our living and traveling together in earlier times. But this reunion was a miracle as my sister and I were estranged for over eight years. We began making amends awhile back but drew closer when our father died early last year and my mother was diagnosed with dementia.
We spent a some time with my sister in Littleton and at their beautiful cabin on Indian Mountain near Fairplay. Their north facing cabin has a spectacular 180 degree view of the Rockies.
When my sister and her husband went back to work we camped at Chalk Creek Campground and explored the Buena Vista area. The town lies at the confluence of Cottonwood Creek and the Arkansas River. Since my eyes kept returning to the awesome 14,000-foot-plus snow-capped peaks of Mts. Yale and Princeton in the west they became my shrine.
After viewing herds of elk and mule deer at a wildlife sanctuary we soaked in Mt. Princeton’s rock-lined hot springs on Chalk Creek. Lying in the clear water among white capped mountains was both electrifying and soothing.
We were stunned at Colorado’s diversity from forested mountains to desert like plains, rivers, forests, lakes, cliffs and grasslands.
For us Rocky Mountain National Park’s towering mountain peaks, rolling alpine meadows, pristine lakes, dense forests of aspen, fir and pine and abundant wildlife made it the holiest of shrines and one of the most beautiful places on the planet.
We spent three nights at Moraine Park campground which overlooks the Big Thompson River. We were fortunate to get a campsite that overlooked herds of elk grazing in a beautiful valley below. Some of the elk even wandered among the tents at night.
While hiking towards Cub Lake the following morning we gazed with wonder and delight at golden brown wooly marmots lazing in the sun and black and white magpie birds squawking near their twiggy nests.
Since the free bus shuttle was not yet in service we drove to Bear Lake and Glacier Gorge the next day. Once there we hiked a short distance with other excited tourists to view the amazing frozen Bear Lake which is over 9,000 feet high.
We only drove partway up the 12,000-foot plus 48-mile Trail Ridge Road to the west side of the park as it was closed due to heavy snow. The mountain road had stunning views as it meandered past the tree line along the ridge tops through meadows of alpine tundra. Standing on top of the snow covered world felt like looking through the eyes of God. Our lives were not diminished but widened.
In the presence of Colorado and Wyoming’s beauty we not only felt closer to our Creator but the ordinary became extraordinary and the everyday became sacred. We felt we’d touched the soul of the land.
The trip showed us how every journey can be sacred, soulful and transformative if it is undertaken with a desire for spiritual renewal.
True pilgrimages change lives, whether we go halfway round the world or out to our own back yard. Martin Palmer