Do you ever like to hop in the car, and go for a drive? Leaving the city far behind, just to enjoy the passing scenes of nature? Sometimes, if you travel far enough and the last remnants of civilization are no longer visible, you can gain a new perspective on life. No houses, no people, and not many cars. Only endless hills, and mountains stretching out farther than the eye can see. When you are suddenly outside of your normal environment, many things in life feel trivial. Arguments, grievances, or unpleasant matters feel so small compared to the vast expanse before you. It’s a lovely feeling, especially when society is pressing so hard on every side and clouding our vision, doing its very best to control our emotions, according to what it says matters. Sometimes you need to break away from all of that, and steep yourself in the beauty of God’s creation. It can help reorient your heart and mind. A few days ago, my family and I did just that. We piled into the car, and headed West for a bit of good old fashioned exploring.
We went to an area I’ve never visited much, so everything felt new and interesting. And after leaving the city behind, the great wide nothingness of the desert opened before us. It was a grand, beautiful nothingness, which is my favorite thing to see. After driving for nearly two hours we finally came to a town. It wasn’t a big town, just a little blip in the middle of the desert. Sadly the boarded up windows, and old crumbling architecture showed the tragic state of small towns these days. As cities grow wider and wider, the little ol’ towns that once thrived are slowly becoming extinct.
By this time, everyone was starting to feel hungry, and a little cranky (if I do say so). But in such a small town, we didn’t have many options. I’m quite a staunch McDonald’s hater, but if there is one thing I know, when you’re hungry in the Middle of Nowhere, USA, McDonald’s is pretty darn good. Needless to say, our bellies were filled, and our hearts lifted for the rest of the journey.
After a few more miles the terrain became steeper, and more foresty. We passed a sign that said, Ice Cave This Way, so of course we had to go. After turning off the highway onto a dirt road, we came to a stop outside of an old trading post, turned gift shop. Tall pine trees surrounded the grounds, and a few little cabins dotted the area. It was the perfect little forest getaway. I explored a bit, nabbed a couple of pine cones because I just couldn’t help myself, and enjoyed the mountain air before starting on the hike to the cave.
“Four-hundred yards, and seventy two steps down,” the lady at the front desk said. That sounded like a breeze, until we remembered that it was summer, and there would be no breeze. Nonetheless, we ambled along the path, strictly adhering to the rules to not leave said path at any time. Even though I desperately wanted to climb across the lava rocks. Oh, did I mention the lava? Before arriving at the cave, we drove for miles through a sea of lava rock. At one point, I had to wonder if the massive volcanic eruption was what caused the dinosaurs to go extinct all those years ago. Volcanoes are fearsome wonders to be sure, and I’m glad whichever volcano once existed there, is no longer active. (For the time being, anyway.)
After traversing some four-hundred yards, we arrived at the cave entrance. I wasn’t sure what to expect because it was allegedly an ice cave… in the middle of the desert. Pushing doubts aside, we began to descend the seventy two steps. The creaky old wood was a bit questionable, but I tried to ignore that, and seventy two steps didn’t sound terribly hard. (More on that later.)
Something strange began to happen the lower I went.
During the first few steps the sun was beating down on us, and it was very hot—but as I stepped down one peculiar, particular step…WHOOSH. We suddenly felt an arctic wind blow over us. It was so shocking, I had to step back up and come down again. As we went down the remainder of steps the temperature kept plummeting. I don’t know exactly how cold it was, but apparently the temperature in the cave never exceeds 31 degrees (Fahrenheit), thanks to the thick rock walls, and perfect shape of the cave to capture the frigid air. When we arrived at the bottom, the cave opened up before us and there was a hug slab of green ice. Yes, green! According to the information pamphlet it’s apparently caused by Arctic algae. There’s a lot of history regarding the cave. Ancient Indians once mined the ice, and made their dwellings in the caves of the other lava tubes nearby. (Did I mention the cave was actually an old lava tube?) Many years later, settlers also mined the ice until the practice was stopped to preserve the cave.
Also according to the pamphlet, the circular walls of lava rocks we noticed along the path in some of the other lava tube/caves, were remnants of the Anasazi Indians who lived in the region many hundreds of years ago. (And if you’ve never heard of the Anasazi, there are many mysteries related to the ancient tribe.) After basking in the glorious arctic air, it was time to head back to base camp. Remember when I said seventy two steps wasn’t all that bad? Well that was going down. I had forgotten that in the mountains the elevation was a bit higher than at home, and boy did I feel it. Seventy two steps never felt so far or so painful. When I reached the top, I had to take a break and remember how to breathe normally again. My poor heart was pounding out of my chest.
Back in the car and on the road again, we continued our excursion into the wilds. We came to yet another town, this one even smaller than the last. My dad said there was even a lake there. But after seeing no evidence to support that fact, I doubted that his memory was serving him correctly. We searched and hunted and followed some dilapidated signs and finally found the parking lot for this evasive lake. We parked, and still saw no sign of a lake. But I knew that it must be somewhere hidden behind all of the brush, and shrubbery, so I took it upon myself to hunt it down. This time I brought my water bottle, and again, headed out into the blazing sun.
As my steps took me deeper and deeper into the thicket, I couldn’t help but wish I was back inside that dark cave where I could be nice and frozen like the ice. But just as I began to lose all hope and call this lake search a farce, I climbed up a steep embankment, and behold! A lake! A big, shiny, glorious lake! (Reservoir, to get technical.) It truly exceeded my expectations. It was still blisteringly hot, but just the sight of the water made me feel better. It smelled very swampy and, and looked a bit gooey, but I’ll take what I can get. We took lots of pictures, explored the rocky shores, imagined what it would be like to jump in, and then decided to make the trek back to the car. I’m glad I didn’t give up on my search for this hidden place, because it was a treasure indeed.
By this time we were all pretty tired and still had a couple hours on the road to get home so we decided to head out. But alas, we took a wrong turn on a dirt road, and ended up on someone’s “private” property. The owners were none too happy about it. We apologized as best we could, then left as quickly as possible. But not before getting chewed out for allegedly running over some plants, (which looked suspiciously like weeds, if you ask me). Unfortunately, the hostile encounter left a bad taste in our mouths, but we tried not to dwell on it.
Speaking of dwelling, just when we thought we’d seen all the interesting wonders there were to see in one day, we spotted some “prehistoric Indian dwellings” high up on the cliffs. A little plaque said they were some 800 years old! (Yet more remnants of the Anasazi, a.k.a., Ancestral Puebloans.) It’s fascinating to imagine what life looked like back then. To think there were whole civilizations that once thrived in these lands, and people who lived just like you and me is amazing to consider.
Eventually we made it home, and I was grateful to have air-conditioning once again, since I don’t have the luxury of an arctic ice cave in my backyard. It was a long day, but I’m grateful for all the sights and sounds I was able to experience.
I hope you’re enjoying the last bits of summer, and spending time with your family, and maybe getting out of the city to enjoy the majesty nature has to offer you. It really is good for your soul! Blessings to you, my friend.
Have you gone on any adventures this summer? Or explored any ancient wonders lately? Leave me a comment, I’d love to hear from you.
Thanks for reading,