Trudging through the terrain of rough, dusty stones, crunching leaves, fine sand and large rocks, I make my way along the trail with the goal of reaching the outlook over Cedar Brakes National Monument. I pull my jacket closer to me, as the cool mountain air only drops in temperature as the climb continues. Tugging my zipper higher and shoving my hands into my pockets, I carry on.
To either side of me, branches threaten to scrape my face if I am not careful. Pine, aspen, spruce and fir trees form a winding path that sways in the breeze as the wind whistles through the leaves and needles. Soft whites and dark browns paint the trunks, with vibrant greens popping out with the leaves of August.
As I hike on, the incline is getting steeper, and taking a breath becomes more difficult. With a combination of the air becoming thinner and the trail turning to straight uphill and having to take long strides, my chest is rising and falling quickly, and my breaths feel pinched and shallow.
A gust of fresh air blows my hair around and fills my lungs with coolness.
I spot wildlife all along the trail, out for their morning exploration. A small chipmunk scurries by at my feet into a patch of wildflowers and begins to dig in the loose dirt, forming a burrow. Another one close by peers at me as I pass, standing on its hind legs. Its fur looks soft and fluffy, with dark stripes decorating its coat. Farther along I find three yellow-bellied marmots out on a ledge, soaking up the early morning summer sun while napping. Their gray and white faces look up at me as I cross, their furry brown tail perking.
It’s now that I am beginning to see the lush reds and oranges of the canyon walls and hoodoo formations peeking through the trees. The tall spires rising from the badland seem to defy gravity with enormous, oblong rocks sitting atop thin, soft towers.
Before I can look out over the entire canyon, I come to an opening. The ground is loose, white gravel with wildflowers and grass poking through here and there. There are trees spotting the view, and above them, you can see lushly covered mountain peaks in the background. The trees are mangled, their trunks split, bark pointing in every direction. Some have fallen over and branches are sprawled about the ground. The exterior of some has turned from brown to grey. To some this may be a group of drying plants, but in actuality, I am looking at some of the oldest trees on planet Earth; Bristlecones. Gazing down at my feet, there are pinecones that have been dropped, clearly just as old. I pick one up, and it leaves a powder behind on my hands. It is an ashen color as if it had been burned. Time has worn it.
Coming to my final stop on the hike is the view I’ve been waiting for. The vast expanse of canyon before me, the red-rock contrasting against the bright blue sky looks like a painting. There are jagged edges of rock, pieces jutting out, rough and unforgiving. There are also smooth faces wear weather has word in away, and divots running down the sides wear water has flowed and made its path. The hoodoo columns rise from the unseeable bottom in every size and shape. The overall picture looks many red, rough castles were built together in a hole in the earth. Sitting at 10,000 feet looking down into a half-mile deep masterpiece, I enjoy God’s creation.