It’s only the end of June and my summer has already been an unforgettable one. For the first time in my adult life, I visited one of the national parks of the United States, and I won’t be the same again.
On a trip to Colorado to escape the heat, I was re-awed by the beauty of creation and the majesty of its Creator. Let me construct a bridge for you with the words I know to bring you with me across the surges, under the mountains, atop the dunes.
North of Alamosa, the Colorado mountains delineate a valley that is uncharacteristically flat for this region. In the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, time and wind have crushed crumbs fallen from the mountains and relocated dried lake beds from the valley into vast acres of sand dunes. Here peaks and ridges have built up over the centuries and cover roughly thirty square miles. The presence of the sand is surprising, set in paradoxical juxtaposition to the green and snow-peaked mountains.
The dusty gold of the dunes roll and roll on, like a visage of Aladdin’s world. We hiked until our legs gave way, climbing sheer cliffs of soft sand that gave way under our hands and feet. I’d never seen so much sand in my life, not on all the beaches I’ve seen combined, and never like this in packed into gigantic wavelike structures, as if the ocean had roared and been turned to sand in mid-protest.
In order to climb the dunes, we first had to ford an icy stream of sand “surges”, a seasonal phenomenon where water sinks under sand and reappears in random patterns. It never got more than a foot deep where we crossed barefoot, but the water itself grew more and more frigid as the sun sank.
We hiked four miles that felt like thirty and climbed a total of twelve hundred meandering feet (according to my smart watch). The steepest parts I only scaled by using all four limbs, creeping like a desert cat to the summits. (If I’m a desert cat, I’m sure I’d be the runt of the litter after this experience.) My heart beat like it never has before; my lungs gulped air in desperate struggle. We were trying to reach that summit before sunset, no, maybe that summit. We would crest a peak and realize that clear view of the sun was even further up. Over and over, I fell into the sand on my knees, racing against the sun and the elevation to be as high as possible by nightfall.
We were utterly unprepared for the wind, which was nonexistent at the bottom, but became more and more biting the higher we climbed. Multiple times, I spoke the words that I would turn around and go back while I crouched, back to the wind, elbows stacked over my face, literally sandblasted on every exposed surface. I buried my feet in the sand to keep the grit from burning them and wrapped my fingers around the back of my neck to keep the sand from stinging. In the course of a normal evening on the sand dune, the currents of air picked up so much sand that my visibility shot down to zero, I couldn’t hear my husband shouting from even just a few feet away, and I lost my sense of direction during the onslaught. It was one of the most miserable things I had experienced, partly because I had no forewarning.
The marriage of variegated mountains and uniform waves of desert was breathtaking. Never have I seen such beauty, such diverse majesty sown together, kissing at the Medano stream, the meeting point of these two opposites of nature. Like a zipper, the flat bed of wet sand and sprouting waves joined together the yin and yang of earth. Of Adonai I have no doubt. Of saving grace, I harbor no uncertainty. In the infinite grains of sand between my toes, I met the infinity of YHWH. In the shadow of mountains kissing sky, I knew the inescapable steadfastness of the Creator. In the vulnerable smallness of my figure on the engulfing landscape, I blessed the Lord for caring about the speck in the stream of time that I am. My God is the God of beauty, of grandeur, of reckless compassion. I find my God in the city often, but on the mountains I cannot escape Him.