Saturday, May 27, 2006

Surprise, Surprise

It was Easter weekend, 1985. It was a time in my life when I was struggling with my faith. I had taken offense at an incident that happened in the Spring of 1983, which then caused me to go into a state of rebellion. I had slacked off in my church attendance and activity.

I had taken a job as a police dispatcher in the Fall of 1983. In that job I found myself in a completely different environment than I had ever been before. I was dealing with people who were at their worst. The underbelly of society. Every call I took was another problem, another casualty. I began to be hardened, as some of the long-time police officers were. I suppose you have to harden yourself to a certain extent, or you could never endure the endless string of sadness and hurt of those who were victimized. It was hard to comprehend how perpetrators could be so thoughtless and unfeeling toward their victims. They seemingly were without conscience in their actions. They only thought of themselves, and satisfying their own wants and desires.

After dealing with these kinds of situations for a while, I became somewhat jaded. I began to think, in the insular world of the law-enforcement community that nearly everyone was as deplorable as the people I dealt with day in, and day out. They were the people I dealt with the most. It was us (Law Enforcement) against them (the bad guys).

True, I could have done better to protect myself from these influences. In my state of rebellion, I wasn’t attending church, I wasn’t reading my scriptures, I wasn’t praying regularly, and I wasn’t associating with the Saints. I paid a price for neglecting to feed my spirit. My spirituality, and testimony shrank. I wasn’t sure what was true anymore. I could remember that I had a testimony of the Gospel, but I couldn’t feel it anymore. Because of my neglect, I didn’t feel the Spirit of the Lord very often.

One thing I learned about myself, and perhaps this will apply to others as well: When you are not living your life so that you feel the Spirit of the Lord on a regular basis, you become more susceptible to evil influences. You lose the ability to clearly distinguish right from wrong. What once, with the help of the Spirit, was a black and white issue, then becomes shades of grey, instead. The philosophies of men become more attractive, and appeal to “The Natural Man”. Without the guidance of the Spirit, we become more inclined to appease the Natural Man in ourselves, rather than seeking after spiritual things. I found myself changing political affiliations, and supporting causes and groups that I would never have been in favor of before my rebellion. I was out of tune with the Spirit, and I was striking sour chords.

Photo from Redrock

One of the local environmental groups (back in 1985) was fussing about the possibility that Garfield County (Utah) was about to pave a part of the Burr Trail. The Burr Trail runs East from Boulder, Utah, across some spectacular country including: Long Canyon, the “Circle Cliffs”, and through a portion of Capitol Reef National Park. The portion of the trail that runs through the park is a series of switchbacks that cross the Waterpocket Fold at Mulely Twist Canyon. Once through the switchbacks, the Burr Trail then turns South, leaves the National Park, and ends at Bullfrog Marina, on Lake Powell.

Sidebar note:
Incidentally, the areas along the Burr Trail that were not in Capitol Reef National park back in 1985, were later incorporated in that ill-advised land-grab back in 1996, when President Clinton created the Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument, mainly to solidify the environmental vote in the 1996 presidential election. Although the new national monument lies entirely within Utah, President Clinton bravely made his announcement of the monument from the Grand Canyon – safely within the confines of the state of Arizona. This was a surprise announcement, with no consultation with the people of Utah, or their elected representatives – over 1.7 million acres of land was now tied up in this monument. The Sierra Club actually got to draw up the boundaries of the new monument. Even Utah’s Democratic congressman, Bill Orton, was blindsided by this announcement. The people of Utah were so mad about this that they filed lawsuits to stop the creation of the park (which eventually failed). Bill Orton, in whose district the new park was drawn from, was defeated that Fall in the congressional elections, mainly due to the actions of President Clinton with regard to the Grand Staircase-Escalante national monument.
End Sidebar

I decided that I would spend Easter weekend that year (1985) exploring the Burr Trail. I loaded my camping gear, and enough food and water for a couple of days in the trunk of my car, and headed South. I arrived at Boulder, Utah in the early afternoon. I then headed east on the Burr Trail. It was stunningly beautiful. I stopped many times to take photos, and just enjoy the scenery. The road was not paved (It now is paved from Boulder, Utah until you get to the boundary with Capitol Reef national park) but was in reasonably good condition. You could easily negotiate it with a passenger car, which is what I was driving at the time.

Photo By dgans on Flickr

I crossed the Waterpocket Fold, and went down the switchbacks of Mulely Twist Canyon. Then I came to a crossroads. I could turn North, and find a camping place somewhere along what is called the Notom road – or I could turn South, and continue on the Burr Trail and proceed to Bullfrog Marina.

It was getting late in the day, and it was clouding up and looked like rain would be falling soon. I decided to go North, and find either a campground or a suitable place along the way to camp. (The road goes in and out of the park boundaries several times along its path. Once you leave the park, and are on BLM land, you can camp just about anywhere you would like. Inside the park, you are allowed to camp only in designated campgrounds.)

So I started heading North on the Notom road, and down came the rain. It just poured, and thoroughly soaked the road. Up until now, the road I had been driving on was mostly gravely in nature, so even with the rain, it was still easily passable. However, as I proceeded North, the gravel turned into clay, which becomes very slippery when it becomes saturated with rain.

I have had a lot of experience in driving in mud and adverse conditions, so I was able to negotiate the road pretty well. My car had front-wheel drive, and handled the mud quite easily. After a while, I came to a gully in the road that went downhill, perhaps 100 feet or more, with a wash at the bottom, and then it turned a corner as it went uphill on the other side of the embankment. As I approached the drop-off point, a fellow stepped out onto the road and flagged me down. There were 3 or 4 other vehicles stopped there as well.

The fellow who flagged me down told me that the road was impassable from this point on. In the distance I could hear a jeep (all decked out with fat tires and a lift kit) that was trying to get up the other side of the embankment, to no avail. He would get to the bottom of the wash, then have to slow down to turn the corner, which caused him to lose all of his momentum. He would get partway up the other side, and spin out. Then he would back down the hill, and try again. He did this for a couple of hours, until finally he was able to get up the hill.

Those of us with mere mortal vehicles knew better than to even try it. The rain had finally stopped, and the sun was nearly down. We had two options, stay there and make a night of it, or retrace our steps back the way we had come, and either return to Boulder, or go on to Bullfrog Marina – either of which would take at least a couple of hours. We decided to stay there for the night.

For me, this was no big deal. I had all my camping gear, and plenty of food and water with me. I just found a spot off the road a little way, and set up my tent. I was all set. My goal had been to just find a spot along the road to spend the night anyway. This place was as good as any for me.

However others were not nearly as well prepared. One couple were driving a Jeep – a topless Jeep at that! They were wearing shorts and short-sleeved shirts. They had no food, and very little water with them. Naturally they were cold and hungry. Another vehicle had a young family with them. Another had an older couple. We all got together and shared our food. I shared a couple of blankets, a coat, and my lantern, along with some of my food and water. We built a campfire, and huddled around together. It was one of the most unique experiences of my life. Forced to spend the night with a group of perfect strangers.

The next morning (Easter Morning) the sun was out. The roads were wet, but not so wet and sloppy as they were the night before. With the sun out, the road would dry out soon. We shared breakfast together, and each went our separate ways.

I opted to turn back and go South, rather than try to get up that muddy embankment. I wanted to see Bullfrog Marina anyway. So I headed South and retraced the road I had come on previously. I passed the junction in the road that lead back to Boulder, Utah, and kept going South. Now I was seeing new territory for the first time. While still inside Capitol Reef National Park, I came upon a sign

Photo from

for a trailhead called “Surprise Canyon”. I was in no particular hurry, so I stopped and got out of the car. It was a beautiful spot. I got my canteen, and my camera, and started hiking the trail toward the canyon.

I got about half-way to the canyon, when I stopped to take a break along the way. I found a fallen juniper tree to sit on. Then I just looked at, and took in the beautiful scenery around me.

As I mentioned earlier, this was a time in my life when I was struggling in my faith. As I looked at the beauty around me, I felt certain that this all just didn’t happen by accident. I saw the intricate rock formations. I thought of the animals in the ecosystem. Beauty like this doesn’t happen as a result of random acts of chance as the worldly philosophies and theories teach. There had to be a creator behind it. And if there was a creator, then there must be a purpose for that creation? But that was as far as I could get at that time, in my state of rebellion. I couldn’t get on to the next step in that line of thought – “What is the purpose for the creation?” Deep down, somewhere, I already knew the answer to this question. Still I was grateful for the beautiful place in which I found myself. It awakened spiritual feelings in me for the first time in ages. For me, the surprise in “Surprise Canyon” was not the canyon itself, but rather that I would have a spiritual experience on that Easter morn.

I know now that the Lord was looking after me. He was trying to gently remind me of who I was, and His desire to have me return to the fold. He had not given up on me, even though, at the time, I had given up on myself. This was the first of several experiences I had, which eventually would lead me back the to pathway of truth, and full participation in the Church and Kingdom of God. In the future, I hope to share some of those other experiences as well.


Maren said...

This is a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing it. We've all had our rebellious periods and needing to truly be converted ourselves. For years I had more of an intellectual conversion versus a change of heart. My illness has been my biggest teacher and has brought me to learn of faith through experience of it. It has brought about more personal growth than I'd managed through several years of seeking and searching.

I'm glad that you are recovering and getting back into your life. I hope that surgery will not be necessary. Best wishes for a complete healing and wholeness.

Téa said...

David, this was a beautiful surprise! What an inspiring story... Looking forward for your future installments, as I think there will be many like me who will draw strength from them.

s'mee said...

awesome testimony, thanks.