Rocky Mountain High

“Beauty may be the most powerful thing on earth.”
–Stasi Eldredge

Recently my nineteen-year-old son and I took a trip to Colorado. While my youngest attended summer school and my husband worked, Seth and I set off for five days of adventure in the Rocky Mountains. Seth had just finished his freshman year in college, so it was a gift to have this time to rest and reconnect.

To conclude our week in epic style, we decided to drive across Rocky Mountain National Park on Trail Ridge Road. We’d attempted this stretch of highway years ago on a family vacation; however, snow drifts taller than our sons blocked the road midway. This time the mounds of snow had melted and the meandering roads were clear.

Trail Ridge Road climbs, winds, and wows across the 48 miles between Estes Park and Grand Lake and reaches the park’s alpine tundra at 12,183 feet elevation. Then, as Seth and I quipped, what goes up must come down. To some, this might sound like fun; to me, it sounded terrifying.

It’s not that I’m afraid of heights; it’s more a condition of “spatial disorientation.” I’m not sure if this is an actual thing, but it feels like being seized with the sensation that I will plummet off the mountainside. I tense my entire body and clutch the door. I gasp audibly and occasionally cry. It’s even worse when I’m behind the wheel, so I gave Seth the honor of driving.

One might wonder, “Why go?” Seth and I discussed this as we drove to the west entrance of the park. We likened it to a fear of flying. Would we let fear keep us from visiting the places we’ve dreamed of going? Would we forsake the chance of standing in the Sistine Chapel, looking up at Michelangelo’s iconic ceiling? Or the hope of walking the Via Dolorosa? Or the opportunity to visit “Hobbiton” in New Zealand?

No! Think of all the beauty we would miss!

Seth and I recently listened to a talk by pastor Brian Zahnd entitled, “Beauty Will Save the World,” in which he discusses how the Western Church has focused on truth and goodness while neglecting the “surprising allure” of beauty. In an essay by the same title, he writes, “Beauty also belongs to the Christian faith. And beauty has a way of sneaking past our defenses and speaking to us in unique ways.” His words struck us deeply and have continued to resonate.

Beauty was inviting us on an adventure, so I buckled up for the ride.

Wouldn’t you know? Before our drive officially began, we encountered our first breathtaking moment of beauty. Seth pulled over for a requisite photo with the Rocky Mountain National Park sign, and as we stepped out of car, movement in the field to our right arrested our attention. There, munching on some leaves, stood a moose. On this, my fifteenth trip to Colorado, I glimpsed my first moose! After watching him for a few minutes, we snapped our selfie and turned for the car. Then I noticed that he had been joined by a friend: two moose! I gasped!

Finally, I tore myself away from moose watching, and we began our drive through the park. I would like to say that I sat fearless in the passenger seat as we wound along the rising road. In truth, I gasped, cried, and clutched the door. My sweet son alternated between marveling at the scenery and soothing his panicked mother, all while driving like a pro.

We stopped at many overlooks, took a hike to a mountain lake, and enjoyed a picnic lunch at the Alluvial Fan. Beauty, beauty, and more beauty. At the apex of the journey, we stopped at Fall River Pass, elevation 11,796 feet, to absorb stunning views of the tundra. We looked toward the trail climbing the mountain to our left and were stunned to see a herd of elk grazing alongside the path.

E0D36425-43B6-443A-809C-0544204DD8D0 (1)

We smiled broad grins and moved toward the trail. Thankfully the elk were only midway up the trail, as the mountain air was thin for these sea-level lungs, but after minutes of slowly climbing, Seth and I were only feet away from the majestic herd. Though nearly breathless from the climb, we both gasped in awe.

Seth stood behind me, put his hands on my shoulders, and said, “Thanks for being brave, Mom.”

If you only knew that it was worth it, would you be brave? I am so glad that I was.

Susan Tucker spends her days mothering her two teenage sons, teaching middle school English, and savoring rare moments of quiet and solitude. She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with her sons and her husband of 21 years. Susan finds life in a beautiful story, an authentic conversation, worship music, and ultimately, in Jesus, the giver of all good gifts.