My Crisis at Chiricahua

I was done. I didn’t want to get out of bed, or off the ground rather. Life had knocked me down and I didn’t have the energy to get back up. The sunlight woke me to numerous birds singing and chirping all around me. I was amidst a bizarre and new landscape here at Chiricahua National Monument in Southeastern Arizona on the first full day of my new adventure. Visually, it was a beautiful morning. There was much to see and explore, but life had knocked me down and here I remained.

Prior to this trip I had experienced a series of difficulties in life. There were new challenges and unwanted changes at work, drama with my living situation, and most heavy and lingering of all, a health struggle with Drug-Induced Lupus. I’m very open with the fact that apart from the Lupus I had, I have a chronic hereditary autoimmune disorder called Ulcerative Colitis. It  keeps my intestines from functioning properly and causes an array of physical challenges. I was fortunate to be on an infusion medicine which kept me at prime health for six years, but then my body negatively reacted to a final dose of the medicine, gifting me a battle with Lupus. Numerous organs in my body ceased normal function, I became extremely weak, and had a hard time standing up for more than a few minutes. During the whole course of the disease, no doctor knew what was happening. It was only revealed after the fact. This left me with lots of uncertainty and questions. My last scheduled doctor’s appointment was with a cancer specialist.

Needless to say, despite all the uncertainty, symptoms started to wear off. I started to regain my health. I worked hard to remain fit and bring myself back to life. But I had not fully recovered, and lingering inflammation was spread throughout my body, making me feel weak and unwell, and so I was tired and worn out.

I lay there in the sleeping bag in my tent thinking about the person I used to be— full of life and energy, always eager for adventure. I missed him. I missed being flooded with so much excitement and adrenaline, that I’d be up before the sunrise seeking the next new vista.

And then there were the nightmares I had, which tainted my mood. I couldn’t remember them. They were fragmented and all over the place but they also drained me. Life just left me sore inside and out. I was waiting for the next tragedy or unforeseeable event to happen. It was as if I could sense it around the corner. Deanna Favre in her book, The Cure for the Chronic Life, describes this condition of survival in which we learn to live chronically in crisis. She says “these patterns give birth to worries that permeate every corner of our lives. Soon, we become less about becoming all that God has in store and instead spend most of our time enduring what the world throws our way…When we are living in chronic crisis, we are never quite breathing in the fullness of life, but instead holding our breaths, afraid of what might come around the corner” This is where I was.

After an hour, I brought myself to resolution. I knew Chiricahua National Monument deserved my time and attention. I had done just a little exploring the previous night. The landscape was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. It was part desert, part jungle, part grassland, part temperate forest. It is a very unique location because it is where the Sonoran Desert gives way to the Chihuahua Desert at the base of the Rocky Mountain chain. This leads to a wide diversity of animals and plant life, including wild boar, fox, short-horned lizards, and sometimes, although rarely, jaguars. But most fascinating of all is the coatimundi, a relative of the raccoon which looks and behaves more like a monkey. I wanted to see one.

I got myself out of my tent and packed up. I had stayed in the one and only campground in the park, Bonita Canyon. It was a nice shaded campground with a series of small bridges. I then drove through the canyon and up the mountain to Massai Point where I would begin a hike. This park road was one constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. It begins in the dry woodlands shaded and adored with impressive hoodoos and canyon walls. The road, ascending, hugs the mountain very closely and barely evades a cliff on the other side. It seems miniature too, like not quite full two lanes. In addition there were fragments of rock strewn across the pavement which had simply eroded and fallen on the road. I strategically swerved around them, as to not damage my car nor its tires. This road was an endeavor itself.

Once parked, I began to gather my belongings for the hike. The hike would be at least 5.5 miles in a sun-exposed, rocky, dry climate. I needed to make sure I had adequate water and calories. I needed my camera, my hiking GPS, my park map, and a change of clothes. I knew when the sun rose higher into the sky, I would shed my long sleeves. Trying to pack my bag was a little hectic, because I hadn’t had time to organize my car yet. Everything was sort of just thrown haphazardly into the trunk. Somehow, in the shuffle, unbeknownst to me at the time, I dropped my keys in the trunk. Then, when I thought I had everything I needed, I closed the trunk, locking myself out of the vehicle.

I felt geared up and finally ready to go. Hiking across the parking-lot to the trailhead, I peered into my backpack to check where I put my keys and realized I did not have them. My heart began to race. This was one of my nightmares. I plopped my bag on the ground and quickly removed everything with frantic haste. There were no keys.

This can’t be happening, I thought. I raced back over to the car. I looked in the window to see if the keys were on a seat. Nope. I tried opening every door and the trunk. They were all locked. I emptied my backpack again, carelessly scratching the screen of my GPS on the jagged pavement. I did not have the keys. I looked around me on the ground. No keys.

I was alone. There was no one up here. Besides the family camping next to me way down in the canyon, loudly speaking Chinese into the wee hours of the night, I hadn’t seen anyone else in this park. Plus, the visitor center would be a very long day’s hike away, and when I passed it, it looked closed for the season.  I wouldn’t have enough water to make it there anyway. In a panic, I ran over to the NPS sign by the trailhead, to see if there was any notice about emergencies. Nothing. I checked the park map. No emergency information.

I couldn’t call anyone either. There was no cell phone service here, and I had also left my phone in the car. My head began to feel lightheaded in the angst of the moment. With denial, I went back over to the vehicle and tried the doors again. In a retrospectively rather humorous manner, I laid my hands on the car and made my plea: “God, I don’t know what to do. I just need a miracle. Just one miracle. Please unlock the door.”

I tried.

Nope. Still locked.

My resolution: Pretend like this didn’t happen. I’ll go on this hike anyway. Maybe someone else will be here by the time I get back, and maybe I’ll find a water source during my hike.

I turned my head away from the car, to begin my hike, and there laying right on the pavement were my keys.

They looked so beautiful, like some rare prized possession. It was like I was Indiana Jones coming upon the Ark of the Covenant, or the Fountain of Youth, or something.

It was right here in this location I had searched my bag over and over again. There were no keys here just moments ago.

Now, we could say I overlooked them, but I truly believe more was at work here. After I found the keys, the voice of God spoke to my soul brief and direct to the point, “Be still. Be calm. Don’t worry.” That came over me like a wave of peace, extinguishing all my anxiety, not just in this situation, but everything I had been feeling lately from my health, to my self-complacency, and the subtle anxiety which ran in the background all day and night.

It had been a long time since I heard God’s voice in my life. During my entire recent illness, though so many questions were put on the table, God felt distant to me. I felt alone. But here He was reminding me that He has me in the palm of His hand. He is looking out for me, and He cares. Yes, He is big enough to care about the world and eternity, but He also cares about me and my keys getting locked in the car. I also find it worth pointing out that in my prayer I had an idea of how this could be resolved. In a plea to solve my dilemma, my petition was for God to open the doors. God did resolve the issue, but in an unexpected perhaps even more miraculous way. In life, in the midst of my difficulties, great and small, I often often pray with my already thought out resolutions in mind. Sometimes God is on the brink of solving our problems in unexpected ways. Keep this in mind when your plans seem hopeless.

This moment of God speaking to me would be the foundation for everything I would learn and everything that would build within me this summer. This voice and this message would comfort and guide me as I would face an amazing summer of extremely cherished unfortunate and inconvenient events. Although I would continue to  seek out the voice of God during this trip, these few words would be all He would leave me with for a long while:

“Be still. Be calm. Don’t worry.”

After this incident with my car keys, my backpack seemed to carry much lighter and my body suddenly possessed more energy. Worry had been weighing me down, but God tamed that wild beast and took it away. I was ready to explore.

DSC09476 (2)As intended I hiked Ed Riggs Trail to Mushroom Rock Trail to Inspiration Point Trail to Inspiration Point itself. The first trail began by descending into a valley of trees and shrubbery. All around me stood tall dark hoodoos, clustered together at various heights. They looked alive, almost as if they were in the process of growing. In some aspects the view was reminiscent of Bryce Canyon, but here the hoodoos took on a more stalky, weightier form, and their color was a sandy grey. Here these geological features were the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. Also, though arid, lichen adorned the rocks, and greenery was draped over the landscape. At one point I came to a window in the rocks, and could look out into the valley.

DSC09462I had never beheld a landscape like this before. To me, it looked like what I might imagine one of China’s stone forests to look like. I’ve never been to China, so this is purely out of speculation and comparison to photographs. Nowhere in the United States have I been in any environment quite like this. There was such a combination of environments that it became confusing to identify and best to consider Chiricahua its own entity.  

After venturing through the forest, I ascended to arid grasslands, and then onto rock faces where lizards scurried.  The reach of my hike ended at a peninsula looking down into the canyon. It was stunning, hoodoos climbed up and down the mountains, and in the distance the canyons spilled and became level with the desert plains, showing that Chiricahua is its own location, an island in the desert. When driving to the park, I ascended from the desert into the mountains where this secret canyon lay. This unique biome and hidden world l above the desert plains was the stronghold of the Chiricahua Apache Indians.  

Back near the trailhead was a lookout tower with a plaque stating how the Apache had a secret hideout in the mountains across from the monument on the other side of the valley. One important leader and warrior was buried there. He wanted to be buried where no white man would ever tread. No one has been able to find this secret location and grave. I love mysteries in the National Parks.

I can say, without reservation, that Chiricahua National Monument is one of the top five underrated gems of the National Park Service. It is also special to me because of what happened here. Whenever I look at my hiking GPS and see the scratches across its screen, I remember my panic and God delivering me from my situation. It reminds me of his ever-presence.

I would love to someday return to Chiricahua National Monument, reimagine its history, explore its stories, revel in its landscape, and find a coatimundi. I never did see one.

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Check back next Wednesday for the next episode in the adventure.

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