For many years, I have been intrigued by Bryce Canyon National Park. I had never been there, but I had thought about it often. I have visited a few of the National Parks and they all provide great experiences, but I had dreamed of visiting Bryce for two reasons.
First was the obvious reason: I had heard it was extraordinilary beautiful and unique.
And the second reason is that I have a second cousin whom I have never met who owns and manages a store just outside the park. I have wanted to meet her since we first connected about 15 years ago when two branches of my father’s family “discovered” each other. There had been a split in the family two generations ago and, thanks to a wonderful coincidence, we found each other and that led to sharing of family history stories and a better understanding of where we came from.
So, visiting Bryce had been a dream of mine for years and when our son and I were considering where we might go for a trip together during his vacation and he proposed the idea of going to Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, I realized I could make my dream come true.
Our son had been at Zion and longed to return. So, we started there, and I have to say that it is a phenomenal place. In many ways, it is the most beautiful place I have ever seen. The cliffs rising from the canyon, the beautiful trees, rock formations and the way that the same view looks totally different at different times of day were all enthralling.
While we did not ascend the famous Angels’ Landing Trail, we hiked on some of the less demanding trails (after all I’m 67, more about that later). We climbed to an overlook in Kolob Canyon and hiked up the path to what are known as the Emerald Pools. We walked along the Virgin River until it begins its course into the narrowest parts of Zion Canyon.
It was an unforgettable experience, and I could easily see why our son considers it his favorite National Park of the many he has visited.
Then, it was on to Bryce Canyon.
The experience of Bryce Canyon is different from that of Zion. Instead of looking up at the cliffs, you look down on the canyon from above and I found myself mesmerized. And I can think of no more accurate word — by the “hoodoos” — the spire-like formations of rock throughout the canyon. They are incredibly beautiful and seem to have a “personality” of their own, each different, each more exquisite and impressive than the next.
Some looked like animals. Some arranged as if forming a temple on a hill. Others, like the ones shown here, reminded me of a group of people, sentinels guarding the valley below. I have never seen anything like them in my life.
Thinking back on what I experienced in these two remarkable places, I realized that these two parks affirmed in a dramatic way something that I have always felt is one of the most important perspectives Jewish tradition offers on what it means to be a human being. These two beautiful places left me with two contrasting but complementary feelings- each critical feelings which we need to continue to balance in our lives.
Zion was awe-inspiring and overwhelming in many ways, and I felt swept up in the park, carried, as it were, up the walls of the canyon to reach for the skies. Looking up from the bottom of the canyon at the rock walls and cliffs elevated me and made me appreciate once again the glorious beauty of the world. It affirmed my thoughts on how important the role of God as creator is in my faith and my theology as seeing the beauty of the world and the intricacy of the universe inspires us to greater heights.
Bryce Canyon left me with a completely different feeling.
As a result of an unfortunate (minor) injury I suffered on a hike just before we arrived at the park — when my right knee decided it had climbed enough for one trip — I was limited to seeing Bryce from the top of the canyon instead of hiking down the trails to see the hoodoos up close. From the top, looking down at these enormous rock spires, I felt tremendously small, humbled by non-human figures which dwarfed my shadow. I could not get out of my mind the fact that these hoodoos were there millennia before I was born and would remain long after I am no longer walking this earth.
So, I was reminded again, as our tradition teaches, that we must each remember that we are created in the image of God with all that potential for rising to great heights that that implies while recognizing that we are but dust and ashes and that we are such an imperceptibly small part of our universe, dwarfed by so much of creation.
Two contrasting feelings from two incredible experiences. Two contrasting feelings that touched different places within me.
So, which was more meaningful?
In one sense, it is impossible to choose between them, nor should I. But if I’m honest, I would say that on a spiritual level, Bryce Canyon resonated with me just a shade more deeply.
Perhaps that is because of where I am in life.
I do not consider myself “old” and, God willing, have time to visit many more National Parks and experience many more milestones in my life. But I’ve reached the age (as my knee reminded me) where I am aware of limitations more than I was a few years ago. I find myself still dreaming, still grabbing onto visions of goals I haven’t yet achieved but doing so within the context of reality, the nagging aches and pains and the fears of watching the years pass by.
For me, Bryce Canyon affirmed something that we all realize as we get older: that we can and must continue to dream and continue to seek moments of elevation and grandeur, recognizing that we each comprise an irreplaceable and unique part of the universe. But we realize more clearly with each passing day that our time here is finite, and the universe will go on without us sometime in the not-too-distant future and that that is the way of the world.
So, the lesson is that as we get older, we need to act on our dreams. We need to go to the places we dream of going to and meet the people we dream of meeting. And yes, I did meet my second cousin for the first time, and we had a wonderful “reunion.”
We need to continue to find places where we remind ourselves how grand it is to be a human being and how precious each day is and places which affirm what we’re feeling inside as we watch the years go by.