From the windows of the rec room, there is a panoramic view of the mists still rising off of Yellowstone Lake. (Okay, not in this picture.) Mass is about to begin and the young celebrant is scurrying around, arranging the altar, consulting with the pianist and greeting tourists – some in their Sunday best, some in hiking apparel.
It is interesting to note that the murmur of voices is at a far lower level than in many Catholic churches these days. Is it because we naturally respect the sacred ground we are visiting? I know that my own awe and humility are greatly increased by the wonders of Yellowstone.
The altar is a card table, the lectern a music stand, but somehow it feels as if we are in an ancient cathedral. We are. Sometimes it is difficult to find Mass while traveling. Many National Parks, through the diligent efforts of the local Catholic communities, and even sometimes through the efforts of the local diocese, will have Sunday Mass scheduled. This may not be posted in the guide books or newsletters, but a query at one of the lodges in the park is likely to turn up a schedule of Sunday services for several denominations. Even if a regularly scheduled Mass is not available, I have found that sometimes a visiting priest is kind enough to ask for a place to celebrate Mass and pass the word as to location and time.
Yellowstone Lake Lodge is such an ethereal setting for Mass. I have to wonder if this might not be a little taste of heaven.
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Colorado. Rocky Mountains. Forests. Farms. Water. The tallest sand dunes in North America. What? No kidding! Sprawling over 330 square miles, sand and sediment from the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo Mountain ranges blew and washed into what was once a huge lake. As the lake filled in, the gusty, year round wind piled the sand into dunes and continues to feed and shift the dunes today. The park contains nearly half the Dunes, while most of the rest are part of a National Preserve in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness.
Another anomaly of the park is that it contains 7 life zones and the many animals and plants that inhabit them. Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep can be found in Alpine Tundra; black bear roam Subalpine Forests; bobcats prowl among the pinon and juniper of Montane Forests; brightly colored tiger beetles liven up the Dunefields; elk wander the Grasslands; sandhill cranes patrol the Plains; finally, there are Streams and Wetlands, where beaver can sometimes be found. So this is Colorado after all.
I find the Dunes to be particularly striking during Lent. The stark barrenness of the dunefield summoned us into its emptiness. The mysterious undulations teased us into pursuing their secrets. Were there hidden spaces, or just endless drifts? Daddy couldn’t resist removing his shoes to sink his feet into the soft, silky sand. I left my boots on. The wind was icy and the dunes were not reflecting the sun’s warmth on this day.
As Yak crested a steep mound, the merciless wind stole his cowboy hat and deposited it playfully on the even steeper backside. Despite my dislike of vertical slopes, I judged that even if I rolled down to the bottom, the worst I would get would be sand in my hair, so I went after the headpiece. Halfway there I was creeping on all fours. Just as I was within reach of my goal, daddy clambered over the ridge and stopped right in front of the topper, laughing at me. Refusing to admit defeat, I pounced upon the hat and we all sat down on the backside of the dune, out of the sandstorm, for a much needed rest and a good laugh.
The wind was in our faces on the way back to the truck. I held securely to Yak’s hat, not wishing to repeat my recent heroics. Any trace of our hike in was already blown away. The lenten journey is all here in the dunes. The emptying of myself. The overcoming of fear to serve another. Laughing at my shortcomings. Struggling uphill in the sand one way and against the wind the other. Reaching the truck never felt so good. Closing the door on the tempest. Turning on the heater. Making hot chocolate with the thermos of hot water I brought. The journey is difficult, we screw up along the way. The destination is worth it.
I just spent the most awesome day at the Grand Canyon with my daughter and her friends. It was kind of a last minute thing, they were camping up there for the weekend, would I like to meet them? Hmm…how much gas is in the car? Yup, I’ll be there. I really needed a day off from my worries and anxieties and I can’t think of a better therapy than a day in one of the National Parks. Of course the fact that I live only 90 minutes away helps, also.
Our adventure started in Tusayan, with a visit to the Indian PowWow Swap Meet. While the younguns shopped for beads and baubles I chatted up some of the Navajo vendors and even found one with whom I shared a mutual friend. I wished I had some spending money, because the silver, turquoise and beading was authentic Navajo, exquisite, and inexpensive. Next stop, the IMAX Theater for a showing of Grand Canyon: The Movie. I enjoyed the film for its reenactment of the Anasazi occupation and Major John Wesley Powell’s river exploration of the Canyon. Afterward we took in the Condor Encounter in the courtyard. Hoping to see actual California Condors up close, we were disappointed to find out that only injured and non-flying California Condors were allowed and none were currently available. However, we were entertained and delighted by the “smart” raven who took a dollar bill from an audience member and dropped it in the donation box; and the dancing crane.
Finally we proceeded to the park. Prepaid passes are the only way to go during peak season. Our cars were ushered straight into the prepaid lane and our entry into the park expedited. The first stop, as usual was Mather Point and the main Visitor’s Center. Boy, have there been alot of changes in the six months since I was last there! Extra parking, more bathrooms, and a complete remodel in progress on the visitor center. I walked in and back out, making a beeline for the bookstore. At least everything is still familiar there. The boy and I picked up our summer visitors guides and stamped them with the commemorative stamps (free). We browsed the new offerings, and played with the raven puppets, then regrouped with our peeps and went for a 2 mile stroll down the paved, safety-railed Rim Trail.
Several times we noted tourists trying to feed the squirrels. Bigtime no-no! Those cute little friendly furballs have fleas and ticks which will jump onto humans just as happily and transmit lovely souveniers such as bubonic plague, lyme disease and if little furball decides to bite, he could be transmitting rabies as well. Not to mention that feeding them does them no favors, as they become reliant upon human handouts and will not survive the winter on their own. Best to enjoy the wildlife with your eyes, not your hands! Okay, rest now, my rant’s over.
Though I much prefer to visit the Canyon mid-week in the off season, this particular Saturday was glorious. There were crowds, but they were friendly and not overwhelming. I think the presence of extra park rangers on the trails greatly contributed to the relaxed, genial atmosphere. Our recent rains seem to have given the sky a more sparkling blueness, and made the air more fresh and sweet. The view from the Rim Trail is dramatic. Some spots drop straight down over 5,000 feet. Others are deceptively inviting, yet treacherous and slippery. You can walk the trail a hundred times and get a different perspective every time.
It was such a refreshing day, and totally occupied my mind, relieving anxiety, and relaxing tension. Once back in my car at the IMAX, with a cup of coffee, I was ready to get back to reality, though perfectly willing to stay at the canyon if that had been an option. I know that God, who made such a glorious wonder as the Grand Canyon, also cares about me and my seemingly insignificant troubles. In getting my mind off of them for a day, I found some solutions and rediscovered gratitude.