Early that morning, just before the first rays of sun light broke over the horizon, I woke up, got dressed and took off to see what I had hoped to be the most beautiful sunrise I had ever witnessed. I did not tell anyone where I was going or even the fact that I was leaving at all that cold crisp Colorado morning. It was still pretty dark out but I had enough light to see where the trail began and if I just stayed on the trail it would take me to the fire lookout tower we had visited yesterday.
For the previous two years, I had been traveling around the country with a singing group that promoted Missions and Liberty University. On this day we were in Colorado. I loved my time traveling with this group. Coming from a small town in Northwest Ohio, I was lucky enough to be able to travel and see things that I may never had the chance if I stayed in safe confines of Oak Harbor, Ohio. Not only had I the opportunity to see things all over the United States but also places around the world. I had been to Brazil and traveled through out Central America and before my time would end I would be going to Africa. These places I went to were just dreams that I had a few short years ago but now they were becoming reality.
On this particular morning was to be no different, I was going to take every opportunity to see something I may never have the chance to see again. Catching a chance to see the sunrise come up over a Colorado morning was one I was not going to miss.
This adventure actually started out the previous day. Having the day off and taking the opportunity to get some much-needed “rest”, the group and I decided to go on a hike in the Pike National Forest in Douglas County, Colorado. This is located between Denver and Colorado Springs. We hiked and just had a wonderful time of friendship and sharing the beautiful sights and sounds of Devil’s Head Lookout. Devil’s Head Lookout is a U.S. Forest Service fire lookout tower. The view from the tower extends at least 100 miles in every direction on clear days. To see the view, I would have to hike a two-mile trail with a 950-foot elevation gain. At the end of the hike, I would then climb 143 stairs to the top of the lookout tower. The views were spectacular and breathtaking. It was then I decided to myself that I would hike up here in the morning and see a once in a lifetime sunrise.
I would like to have had some pictures of this beautiful day but this was long before the day of the digital camera and my Instamatic Kodak Camera was not functioning right so the images of this wonderful day are burned in my memory with only one exceptional, blurry picture of the group at the Devil’s Head Lookout.
The next morning was cold and the trail was rough, rocky, uneven, but the quiet and the view was worth the effort. I estimated about 40 minutes of hiking to get to the tower. I had hoped to see an elk, a deer or maybe a bear, but I saw none. The morning was great. Crisp, cool, actually a little cold, but wonderful. I had to watch my steps, there were rocks everywhere. The path was not smooth. I had to be real careful not to turn an ankle. In fact, the climb was steeper than I had remembered from yesterday. My pauses to catch my breath, to rest my legs grew more and more frequent. Air at 10,000 feet is thinner than what I’m used to. It made the trek seem even more daunting. Around each corner of the trail another stretch of path upward…another challenge, but I couldn’t stop. I had to get back to my destination.
Then I arrived.
A beautiful sunrise in the middle of Colorado. It was amazing. It was quiet. I don’t think many people in this world saw a sunrise like I witnessed that morning. The sun rose majestically and for the moment, I paused to enjoy the scene, the cool air, the sounds of birds and the breeze in the trees. All around were mountains, but here in this spot, in this moment there was a calm, a peace that I can’t explain. It was a confirmation of all that is good in this world and it was presented just for me that morning by God. It was worth the walk.
But then…as I began my walk back I realized that I had lost track of time. I was exhausted from my morning climb and now I was going to be missing from the group. Our group was going to be leaving soon and I was not at the cabin and nobody knew I was gone. I started walking downhill on the trail to get back to the group. The entire trip back was DOWNHILL! Now that sounds easy, but this is Colorado. Everything is steep. That includes going downhill. Stopping here, on the path, only part way back was not an option. So, onward I walked, more frequent stops, longer stops, more air needed.
It is then I see a path that veers off the main trail. Now there are signs everywhere encouraging hikers to stay on the trail but a kid from a small Northwest Ohio town knows better right? I took the path and hoped it would be a short cut to the cabin.
I hurried along this path, trying to make up time so that I could get back and not get into trouble. The path was clear and it was heading in the right direction and as I came around a turn in the path, I could see our cabin in the distance. Seeing this I stepped up my pace. I was breaking into a run when the trail suddenly wasn’t as clear as it had been before and now it was hard to see where the path was headed. I had to stop and I had to put my hands on my knees to catch my breath. Looking down and gasping for breath, I realize that I am mere foot or so from a cliff that dropped off the side of that path. I was inches from dropping over 100 ft to a sure death. Now besides gasping to catch my breath, I was shaking in fear of how close I had come to falling off that cliff.
Realizing what a terrible mistake it was to leave the main trail, I started heading back to where I left it. Each step back the growing anxiety started to build in my heart. I knew that I had come real close to falling off that cliff and I knew that it was the Lord that kept me from falling as well. This had been one example of a few experiences in my life where I was spared for reasons I did not know.
I made my way back to main trail and I stayed on it until I got back to the cabin. As I walked up to the group that was now loading the bus, no one said a word. No one asked where I was and I did not tell them. I thought I was going to be in trouble and no one was even asking me anything. So I did not tell anyone about this incident. As a matter of fact, I haven’t told anyone this story until now, almost 30 years later.
As these years have passed, I have often thought about that fateful morning. I have thought that my Christian walk has been just like that morning. In the midst of a beautiful sunrise there can be moments that stir your soul for all the good that there is in it. You believe that you are safely in the arms of God and then a mere few moments later you can be on the edge and totally on the brink of disaster. It is only then that you realize that it is at that point when you are inches from falling off the cliff that you find out that it is then you are truly and safely in the arms of God. My walk with God has been just like that walk in the mountains.
I read about this same theme all through David’s words in book of Psalms, this idea of a journey, a walk through difficult places. Always, as David made these treks he would pray, “Lord, help me through this part of my journey. There’s no one to help but you.”
For You have delivered my soul from death, Indeed my feet from stumbling, So that I may walk before God in the light of the living. Psa 56:13
In the midst of the upward climb of the Christian life there are rocks to avoid, there is the need for a time of rest, there’s the ongoing need to keep going…..because you have to get home, you can’t stop. Around every turn the trail seems to climb even more, the rocks are still in the way and you have to watch for them. Cliffs are mere inches from your path that could spell disaster. But, just as I finished my walk that fateful morning, there is a day when we will each finish the course laid out for us, we will each finish the race God has us on. It’s a walk with a wonderful home ahead, but it’s not always easy.
That’s the nature of the Christian life, isn’t it? The one great thing about this walk is that all along the way God is with you to help you, guide you, encourage you, protect you and in the end the truth is that all trails that God places us on lead home.
Let me hear Your lovingkindness in the morning; For I trust in You; Teach me the way in which I should walk; For to You I lift up my soul. Psa 143:8
This is a random You Tube video that shows the same place as referenced in this story. Not much has changed in the 30 years since I was there.