One of the highlights of our spring break travels to Arizona and Utah was an unplanned trip to a lesser known canyon. Away from the lines and well worn trails of the national parks we visited, we were able to explore at our own pace. My nephew enjoyed the freedom to discover “hidey holes” in the rock. We all enjoyed the experience of solitude which comes from getting off the beaten path. On our two-hour wander we only saw a few other hikers.
This canyon was suggested to us by an excellent guide who led us through Antelope Falls in Page, AZ. “To find the canyon,” he said, “look for a few cars parked by a bridge on the side of the road. Then, follow the rocks to find the way down to the bottom.” We found the parking area fairly easily. Once out of the car, it took a minute for our eyes to adjust to the rocky landscape. When focused, we could just make out a few rocks placed in a line too straight to be accidental. As we followed the trail of rocks we noticed a few cairns, stacks of stones which marked the path. Searching for the cairns was like a treasure hunt which led us traversing down the side slope of the cavern.
Having to find our own way was a much different experience than being shuttled on a crowded bus to the well-worn hiking trails lined with people at the National Parks we visited. Zion and the Grand Canyon are not to be missed. However, it is a strange thing to be staring at a vast, uninhabited landscape while standing in a throng of tourists jockeying for the best photo-op against the guardrails. It is the difference between observing the wilderness and entering the wilderness.
On hike back from the lesser known canyon, I righted some of the toppled cairns. I couldn’t help but add another stone here and there to make the markers a bit more visible. Later on in the trip we spent a leisurely hour balancing rocks by a river. There is something primal and holy about creating markers with stones.
As we challenged ourselves to stack more creatively and to use bigger rocks, I reflected upon the ways that my ministry is a ministry of cairn building through the wilderness. Few of our faith journeys follow a well-worn path. Instead, we find ourselves adjusting our eyes, searching for markers that indicate we are on the right path. We are explorers, not tourists, as we discover our own way toward God. My role is to place markers along the path. But not too many. There is joy in finding our way, being allowed to travel at our own pace, and in discovering the interesting features and hidey-holes on our own. There is humility in knowing that my path is not everyone’s path. Other’s will erect cairns along alternate routes. Each of us is able to offer a unique witness to our own experience of God on the journey of life. We can all be travelers and cairn makers through the wilderness.