When Alexander and I first started developing a “more-than-just-friends” relationship, we quickly discovered that we shared a passion for camping and hiking in God’s great outdoors, especially in the Rocky Mountains. As we progressed in our long-distance relationship, many of our days together were spent on some sort of hiking adventure — last May we visited one of his friends and explored near the Tetons, in the summer we meandered amongst wildflowers and camped out for the Needtobreathe concert at Red Rocks in Colorado, that fall I took him up to a lake in the forests near my college, in November he proposed after a short hike in his Michigan woods, and this May our honeymoon road trip to the Oregon coast involved numerous outdoor adventures in all different sorts of country.
Moving into marriage, we hoped that we’d be one of those couples always off on another camping adventure. Our home in Casper, Wyoming, locates us near enough to plenty of mountains for weekend getaways, or so we rationalized. But I don’t know if either of us really thought our grand dream of frequent camping and hiking would ever come true. I was certainly hesitant to think so.
But God, who works in ways far beyond our human comprehension, has completely demolished any of our doubts.
Twice in the past few months, God has opened doors in our fairly hectic newly-wed schedules for us to just get away and do something we love. First, an opportunity for a book-signing for Mounting Up opened up to take place in mid-July in Aberdeen, South Dakota. While I was skeptical and hesitant at first because of the travel time and distance to the event, we soon decided that taking a road trip sounded like an amazing idea. And it was.
Granted, not a lot of hiking was involved because we were fairly short on time – we left Casper after Alexander got off work on Friday, drove that evening until we reached our campsite after dark, drove the rest of the way to Aberdeen Saturday morning, did the book signing and visited with family in the afternoon and evening, camped that night at Wylie Park in Aberdeen, and drove home on Sunday by way of the Black Hills. Fast? Yes. Relaxing? Eh…not so much. Worth it? Yes…every single mile and hour of those long drives was worth seeing old friends again, camping in the outdoors, spending time with my hubby, and viewing some pretty awesome scenery along the way.
And then there was this past weekend….
Some weeks ago, one of Alexander’s highschool friends asked if we’d be interested in meeting up for a visit in the Jackson, Wyoming, area since his family was traveling through and he hadn’t seen Alexander in a few years. We considered the offer for a while before agreeing to meet up as well as do some camping and hiking of our own in the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
Something you probably ought to know about us is that, more than almost any other place we’ve visited, the Tetons hold a special place in our hearts. Ever since he moved to Wyoming from Michigan, Alexander has been fascinated with the Tetons because of their grandeur and majesty. For both of us, these craggy peaks took on a more personal significance when we explored them for the first time together last May and our relationship grew from “friends” to “more-than-friends.” About a year after that first visit, we returned on our honeymoon to revisit the sites we’d seen previously and venture farther into the mountains than we had before.
Something so wild and free and surreal and God-breathed lies in the heart of the Tetons…something so boundless and awe-inspiring that I don’t believe we’ll ever tire of it.
Last weekend, we once again left Casper after Alexander finished work on Friday, planning to stay at one of the campsites between Dubois and Moran Junction. Since we didn’t leave until after six, the sun had set by the time we reached Dubois and we were hunting campground signs in the dark.
Ultimately, we found several campgrounds but they were all either full or didn’t allow tent camping. However, Alexander remembered a turn-off we’d taken during our honeymoon to look at some elk – it was a dirt road that ran a little way off the highway, just out of sight of the main road, and dead-ended against a pasture fence. We pulled in there for the evening and set up camp by the headlights of the truck, snuggling in for the night and falling asleep to the sound of rain drops sprinkling the tent.
One of the best aspects of camping in the dark, especially when you’re near the Tetons, is that your morning view is always a surprise. And waking up with the Tetons peeking through your tent window is pretty spectacular.
Not having to meet Alexander’s friends until nine, we enjoyed a peaceful morning in the tent, packed everything up, and made the fifteen-minute drive down to a turn-out on the valley floor that looks directly out at the Tetons. After Alexander’s friends arrived and we talked for a while, the friends headed north to Yellowstone and we continued south in search of new hiking areas.
One of the difficult aspects of hiking in the Tetons is that, because of the abundance of bears in the area (of which, by the way, I am terrified), dogs are not allowed on any of the trails or biking/walking paths within the Teton Park itself or on the National Elk Refuge because dogs can attract rather than deter bears and other wildlife. However, once you’re outside of the park or refuge, you can take dogs into the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
Finding such an area, we took a short but quite intense hike up a series of steep hills, climbing ever higher and higher for broader views of the Tetons and the surrounding valley. Besides the fact that dogs are allowed, one of the truly wonderful things about hiking in the National Forest is that few tourists venture that far away from the more popular areas, and thus we had the trail – and the incredible view – all to ourselves!
And it was a challenging hike…in the picture below, you can kind of see the trail following the hilltops down to the road.
That afternoon, Alexander biked on the path by highway while I stayed at the truck with our dog, Zip. I spent most of the time researching different insect bites because Zip had several bright red, ringed bites along his belly; fortunately they didn’t seem to bother him at all and I was able to give him some allergy medication (advised by the veterinarian) to lessen the skin reaction. A quick dip in the river also seemed to help cool off the heat of the bites. (We later decided that he had been bitten numerous times by a tick.)
Once Alexander returned, we drove into Jackson – which is crazy with tourists this time of year – and through the Elk Refuge back onto some more National Forest roads that led into the mountains opposing the Tetons. Here is where we discovered another characteristic of national forests that is absolutely fantastic: dispersed camping. Basically, what it means is that instead of staying in and paying for a campsite at an actual campground, you can find an established campsite anywhere along the road and set up there for the night. No fees and no neighbors! We drove up and down the rutted dirt roads for a while, looking for the perfect place to pitch a tent for the night. God must have saved this one just for us…
We set up camp and then just relaxed for the evening, sitting on the edge of the ridge to gaze at the Tetons, listening to hawks shrilling and circling in the air, ducking inside our tent to eat dinner and hide from the thunderstorm rolling through the mountains, stretching out on the sleeping bag to read and chat….
I will admit that, come nightfall, my fear of bears almost made me want to scurry back the mountain. Also, hearing Zip growl at something – or nothing – outside the tent in the middle of the night didn’t help much either….
But those fears seemed to vanish with the 6:30 morning light, especially when I looked out the tent window and saw what has to be one of God’s most glorious masterpieces.
Alexander was still trying to catch up on a little more sleep, so I quietly gazed at the view for a while, marveling at the creation of an incredibly artistic Creator. The colors quickly changed, losing their ethereal haze but none of their mighty grandeur. So solid and unchanging, and yet seen in so many different hues – perhaps as a reflection of their Maker Himself.
We were packed and heading down the mountain before noon, starting the five hour drive back home to Casper with coffee in hand (at least for me). The weekend was nearly over, but it had been one filled with blessings, beauty, refreshment, and awakening. God knew exactly what we needed and I eagerly await whatever future surprises He holds in store for us.
What dreams has God brought to fulfillment in your life?
Where is your favorite weekend getaway?
How did God bless you this past weekend?