Monday, October 9, 2017

Mountains (and Fall Colors)

I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from?

As we all witnessed in Las Vegas recently, there is real evil in this world.  We all feel the weight of what transpired and grieve for the families that lost loved ones.  What’s more difficult to see, at times (especially after events like Las Vegas), is to look for the good that happened - those who were not struck by bullets and were in a position to overcome evil with good.  Those heroic citizens who drove pickup trucks into the firefight and loaded wounded people to get them to a hospital, those who prayed for the wounded on site, strangers who used fingers to plug bullet holes to stop the bleeding or tied a tourniquet, people stopping to prevent trampling of another when a hail of bullets was overhead, the emergency responders who went into harm’s way to help get people to safety.  There were so many small and large miracles going on all around.  While we may never know the reason why tragedy occurs, it really is true that in our deepest, darkest moments a small action taken by just one individual can shine a light so brightly.

It’s not hard to find darkness.  Just read the news and it’s all around us.  Not only darkness, but distractions abound more than any generation before us (i.e., social media, 24/7 news cycle, instant internet access to all kinds of unhealthy content… you get it… we’ve all been there.) Can I really Be A Light in an often times dark world, when I’m so distracted?  Can I really be used on this earth to impact others in a meaningful way when I can barely see past my own problems, which can be many at times?  Why is it so hard to walk by faith and not by sight?

This is what I was thinking about last week on my way up the mountain, both the good and the bad, both the anxiety and stresses of life, and attempting to see the potential good despite tragic circumstances.  I had business in Globe and then Pinetop, Arizona – the White Mountains.  Staying in a hotel in Pinetop, if you know me, was not even remotely an option. If I’m going to be up in God’s Country, I’m going to go deep and remote and it will probably involve a tent.  And, by the way, at 8,500 to 11,500 feet elevation, there was an explosion of fall colors.  I’ll let the photos paint the picture.

After experiencing some of the most amazing color and wildlife I’ve ever seen, I made camp just before nightfall at 9,000 feet elevation at Reservation Lake on the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation.  I could barely sleep with the harvest moon illuminating my tent all night and, besides, I was so excited for the next day to begin.  At 5:30 am, I made my way down to the lake to catch the full moon setting behind the trees and to watch the sunrise over the cloud enshrined 11,500+ foot Mt. Baldy while elk were bugling everywhere.  I remember chewing on the beginning of Psalm 23 “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures.  He leads me beside the still waters.  He restores my soul.  He guides me in paths of righteousness, for His names sake.” 

It was just me, the wilderness and time with my Maker.  It was solid, uninterrupted time that had been escaping me for weeks back in the big city, which is probably why I was feeling so exasperated on my way up.  I grabbed my daily devotion and opened it for the day’s message… October 6th.  Have you ever had a God moment?  I’ve had a few but it has been a while – too long really.  This one hit me when I needed it most.  Here’s what it said:

There’s something about climbing mountains and being in the wilderness that can replenish, restore and bring fresh perspective.  After all, Jesus retreated to the wilderness frequently… to be alone after the miracle of feeding 5,000…to pray on the Mount of Olives… sometimes to hang out with a few friends and/or family…sometimes to preach like the famous Sermon on the Mount… to escape those that wanted to kill him prematurely... you get the picture.  After performing miracles and being surrounded by thousands, which he welcomed, he generally retreated to the wilderness and climbed mountains.  Upon his return from the wilderness, he re-entered the community To Be A Light (and, to walk on water.)  In my opinion, that’s all the example we need. 

There are times when we can’t get away from it all.  Surprisingly, in the Valley of the Sun in Phoenix, Arizona, we are surrounded by beautiful desert mountains (Camelback, Piestewa, South Mountain, McDowell Mountains, White Tanks, etc.)  On a hard day and a dark time, sometimes walking by faith and not by sight takes as little as looking at one of those peaks and proclaiming “I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from?  My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2)” It’s amazing how quickly the distractions and darkness flees.

I believe this message is for everyone.  Lets not neglect the biggest part of our Journey on this earth.  We all need to get away at times or find a quiet place of respite, even if that means finding a dark closet and getting on our knees.

Be A Light!

Blaze A Trail

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Chiricahua National Monument

I had business in southern Arizona and after a few meetings was heading to my hotel in Willcox.  Instead of checking in, I elected to drive the extra 40 miles to Chiricahua National Monument to witness this stunning landscape just before sunset.  I was the only car on the entire highway up the mountain at this time of day.  In a race against darkness, I made it to the Echo Canyon Trailhead and after parking, had just enough time to hike about a 3/4 mile to the heart of this hoodoo filled valley.  As the sun set behind the mountain, the hoodoos came alive in vibrant colors.  My gamble to make it here before sunset paid a great reward.

As the last rays of light splashed on the canyon, I was reminded that I had a hike to make back to my car in darkness.  Not a long hike but getting darker every minute.  I elected not to use my flashlight as that would blind any vision I had outside where the light was directed.  The trailhead sign warned of all the typical dangers in remote wilderness... inability to be found quickly, lack of water, various animals such as black bear, cougar, rattlesnakes, etc. but it failed to mention the one animal that I REALLY did not want to run into in the backcountry at night... the Jaguar.

The Arizona Republic ran a story recently about Jaguars being spotted in this mountain range and the next range over (which the big cat has to travel through this one to make it to the next.)  Knowing that it was highly unlikely to run into one of only a handful of these elusive beasts was a little comforting, but I still decided to make loud noises with a deep voice as I hiked back to my car so as not to surprise any of the various hunters that come out at night.  In addition to a backpack filled with gear any solo hiker would likely need, I also left my 5+ foot camera tripod fully extended and tucked under my arm so any animal would think I looked a little bigger and more menacing than perhaps I really was...Of course, I made it back to the car in one piece and chuckled that I was probably a little more fearful than I should have been!  It's quite amazing to know, in retrospect, that the apex predators of this area at night are not humans.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Fall Colors on Sedona's West Fork Oak Creek Trail

The kids had a short fall break and we decided to go hunting for fall colors.  We wanted not just yellows but reds.  Red colors are VERY rare in our State.  Had to go back to the trail I knew had everything to offer...

Sedona's West Fork Oak Creek Trail is located in the Call of the Canyon Recreation Area and is quite possibly the most beautiful hike in the State (at least in the top 5 for most hiking enthusiasts.)  The only problem is, everyone knows it.  Whether it's spring, summer or fall, you can generally expect to hike with at least 100+ other folks on the trail (it's still worth it so don't let that stop you.)  Parking is very limited.  There was already an 80 minute wait at 9:30 am so we improvised and parked 1/2 mile up the highway.

We were rewarded for our efforts... Inside the canyon the yellows and reds were near their peak (next week will be spectacular.)  Enjoy some fall colors in the Red Rocks of Sedona, Arizona!

Of course, if you want to check out this trail in winter you may find yourself all alone and unable to breathe... see Sedona's Snowy West Fork Trail

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Big Lake and Black River Arizona Adventure

East of Show Low/Pinetop, Sunrise Ski area and the Mt. Baldy Wilderness lies countryside so wild and pristine, you'd think you were in Yellowstone National Park. Along with the Ponderosa Pine we are all accustomed to seeing around Payson, this piece of heaven in the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest hosts vast meadows, big sky and deep forests that also include Douglas Fir, Blue Spruce and the ever so beautiful Aspen that bring fall colors to our State.

The forests are abundant in wildlife.  Black Bear, Mexican Grey Wolves, Cougar, Bighorn Sheep, Elk, Deer and Turkey (to name a few) flourish in this wilderness.  In our recent campout at the Aspen Campground along the East Fork Black River we came across this 75-100 pound black bear. 

The bighorn below were hanging out across the river from our campground along the cliff wall.

This turkey (with babies) and Heron were hanging out right along the forest road.

The fishing is great along the East Fork Black River.  The kids spent most of their time in or around the river catching rainbow trout, snakes and crawdads. 

These mountains are a great place to recharge and find solitude.  Driving the forest roads around Big Lake and the Black River wilderness yields plenty for the eye and the soul. 

These ancient paths have been used by explorers, ranchers, hunters and Native Americans for hundreds of years.  Check out that primitive wagon from 2004 below...

Anyone interested in camping in this wonderland will find plenty of designated camp sites with facilities along the East Fork Black River and the Big Lake Recreation Area.  Tent and trailer camping seemed plentiful.  We chose the Black River so the kids could play in the shallow water all day and then finished the trip with a fishing excursion (boat rental) to Big Lake on the way home.  Be prepared to drive upwards of 5+ hours from Phoenix - with that distance, 2-3 nights minimum make the most sense.  Remember half the drive is sight seeing and wildlife viewing!

Wide open spaces for some target practice with the Browning Lever Action 22 Rifle (BL-22).

For more pictures and places to explore around Arizona, visit:  Arizona Excursions @

Check out Yellowstone, Alaska, Washington and others here:  Adventure Archives @

The three maps below show the routes to Big Lake and the Black River area campgrounds.