Last Saturday I was blessed to join my friend David hiking in McKittrick Canyon. The canyon trail is famous for two things: (1) it’s the only easy hike in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and (2) it’s surprisingly, brilliantly colorful this time of year.
In general, nature couldn’t care less if we enjoy the view and it makes very little effort to carve an easy path for us. But McKittrick Canyon is an exception, a gift from God.
The hike is about seven miles round trip and is easy enough for young families. There were plenty of youngsters on the trail last Saturday, and even a few hikers older than either David or me, if you can believe that.
This was meant to be a larger hiking group. I had twenty on my list last Monday, for a sixteen-passenger church bus. But what I knew would happen happened, family life took its toll, and one by one people dropped off the list, all with good reasons – weddings to attend, soccer games rescheduled, illness, tickets to a (losing) football game. My list had deteriorated down to two hikers by Friday, and that included me.
Life is all about choices, and we’re continually choosing between good options. As adults, and as parents, we have to consider the whole family when choosing how to spend our Saturdays, so I wasn’t disappointed. But I had a choice to make, too. Should we go with only two people, or cancel the trip? The canyon is 3-1/2 hours’ drive from Midland, a 7-hour roundtrip, and we all have plenty to do on a Saturday.
However, I didn’t want to cancel. I’ve already bailed on one hike this year for the same reason and I didn’t want to do it again. I also knew David had been planning for this for a long time. Besides being a great friend and fellow Bible teacher, David is in long recovery from a near-fatal heart attack … so severe his medical records say he “recovered from sudden death.” Back in the old days, before his attack, David joined us on much more difficult hikes to the summit of Guadalupe Peak. I wanted to be part of his return to the trails.
All About the Colors
The best time for hiking McKittrick Canyon is actually a small window in time – the end of October and early November. That’s when the changing leaves offer the most vivid and striking colors. In the middle of the arid desert mountains, the canyon surprises hikers with oak trees, ash trees, and bigtooth maples. It’s a pretty place to be any time of the year, but in the fall when the leaves change colors, it’s stunning. The bright yellow and dark maroon leaves stand out against the gray-brown landscape, and it’s beautiful.
At one of the water crossings (there were two and we crossed them both twice) we waited in line for the one set of stepping stones. A hiker was struggling to hold her balance as she tiptoed across the rocks, swaying from side-to-side like a beginning tightrope walker. Fortunately, she made it across. She didn’t fall in. She didn’t get wet. The curious thing was she had a trekking pole in her hand which she held aloft for balance. If she had planted the pole on the bottom of the stream with each step, used it as it was designed, her journey would have been much quicker, safer, and less frightening. I considered hollering to her about using her pole, but no one wants unsolicited advice while working their way across a stream.
I wondered how many of us struggle through life trying not to lose our balance and topple into the water, when we’re holding in our hands the very thing we need to make the trip stable and safe.
The same situation appears in the movie, A Walk in the Woods, when the two senior-in-age-but-not-in-experience hikers, Bryson and Katz try to cross a wild river. They both end up losing their balance and falling into the water, backpacks and all. Every time I see that scene it’s all I can do to keep from yelling at the screen (Cyndi would say I occasionally do yell), “Use the trekking poles you have strapped to your backpacks, you fools! Why carry them all along the Appalachian Trail if you don’t use them when crossing a river?” The two hikers could have stayed dry had they used the tools they were carrying.
We’ve been given everything we need to navigate the rocky streams of life. The Bible says, in 2 Peter 1:3. “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”
God doesn’t promise we won’t slip into the water, or slide off one of the rocks, or sneeze just as we are stretching for a long step to the bank and lose our balance, but he promises us everything we need to live a godly life. It’s up to us to use what he’s given, live out his calling, rely on his mercy and grace, believe his promises, and stop leaving them in our backpacks for another day.
Last Saturday I enjoyed two of God’s greatest gifts, both of which I need for a godly life. One was time on the trail surrounded by wild beauty, and the other was extended time with my friend David. I tell Cyndi often, “Too many men go through life without one single quality friend, and I have dozens … more than my share.” The hike in McKittrick Canyon was fun, but more than that, it was an honor to share it with David.
I hope you can join us next year.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32