Kentucky’s Red River Gorge – Indian Staircase

01_IndianStaircaseDistant_IMG_4172Featured Image: View of Indian Staircase from across the valley.

Located about 45 minutes southeast of Lexington, Kentucky, and an easy two to two-and-a-half hour drive from Cincinnati, Ohio, Red River Gorge is a popular hiking and rock climbing destination in the western foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Officially known as the Red River Gorge Geological Area, it is part of the much larger Daniel Boone National Forest.

Red River Gorge boasts some of the most unique and rugged scenery in the region and is also home to over 100 natural rock arches from the small but interesting, to large and magnificent. Spectacular views like the header photo of Indian Staircase taken from across the valley are common throughout the gorge.

Hiking in Red River Gorge

There are numerous official trails in the gorge and sticking to these marked trails is a good idea if you are new to the area, an inexperienced hiker, or are hiking with young children. Even the official trails can be rugged and difficult. There are numerous high cliffs with no guard rails throughout the area, so no matter how experienced you are or what trail you are on, exercise great caution. Steep drop-offs are often unseen until you are right on top of them; and if you are hiking with children keep them close by your side at all times! My blog’s “Kentucky’s Red River Gorge” page provides more information on the gorge and also highlights several of our favorite hikes ranging from easy to difficult.

For more experienced, knowledgeable, and confident hikers the gorge offers great opportunities to explore challenging, spectacular, unofficial trails like those around Indian Staircase. Many of these trails are not suitable for children, and climbing Indian Staircase is at the top of that list in my book. Some adults may also be intimidated trying to climb the staircase. Fortunately, those who do not feel adventurous can still explore the area above Indian Staircase, you just have to hike a little farther and double back on the return trip unless you somehow gain the confidence along the way to attempt the downward climb.

Hiking Indian Staircase

Red River Gorge - Indian Staircase (Trail Map)Figure 1. Map of Indian Arch and vicinity.

Good topographic maps are a must if you are venturing off the official, marked trails in the gorge. I am a big fan of the map set offered by OutrageGIS, though the 2009 edition I use does not cover the trails around Indian Staircase. I do not know if the 2013 edition has been updated to include this area. For this hike I relied on the US Forest Service’s 2012 topographic map of the gorge (note: this is a 20 MB .pdf file and is a slow download). This is a good map, but it does not show any of the unofficial trails, though I have sketched in the relevant trails on the modified map section shown in Figure 1. The best source of information for this hike was Jerrell Goodpaster’s book, “Hinterlands,” which describes over 100 unofficial trails in the gorge.

02_BisonWayTrailhead_IMG_4098Bison Way Trailhead.

There are several ways to access Indian Staircase if you know the unofficial trails. We chose to park at the Bison Way trailhead along KY-715, near the Gladie Learning Center. We hiked the Bison Way Trail (#210) to the Sheltowee Trace (#100) and followed that west to the unofficial, unmarked approach trail to Indian Staircase. The approach trail is well traveled so it is not too difficult to find the cutoff or follow the trail itself.

03_IndianStaircaseTrail_IMG_4213Start of the Indian Staircase Trail. On the day we were there someone had scratched out an arrow in the dirt indicating the way to Indian Staircase.

04_IndianStaircaseApproach_IMG_410705_IndianStaircaseApproach_IMG_4108Two views of the rock scramble approaching Indian Staircase.

The approach trail climbs rapidly, heading northwest off the main trail. After a bit of uphill hiking you reach a rugged dry wash area that requires a scramble up the rocks. After completing this scramble there are several short sections that require a bit of searching in order to find the best way up to the next level. In my opinion the most intimidating part of climbing the staircase for the first time is that your sight range is often limited and you cannot see what lies ahead.

06_IndianStaircase_IMG_4111Carved footholds in the smooth sandstone face of Indian Staircase.

The final element of intimidation, though, is the fully exposed scramble up the smooth sandstone rock face with only the shallow carved footholds to assist you. This, of course, is the section of the trail that gives the rock formation its name. As legend has it these indentations were carved by the Adena people over a thousand years ago, though their true age and origin is likely lost to the annals of history. The slope is not as steep as it first seems, and the climb does not take ropes or climbing gear, but the completely exposed face adds a major intimidation factor. No matter how comfortable you might feel on exposed rock slopes, I would not recommend this climb if it is wet or icy!

07_CouncilChamber_IMG_4153Council Chamber rock shelter.

08_FrogsHead_IMG_4137Frog’s Head Rock, sadly defaced by budding sculptors over the years.

Even if you do not climb the staircase itself, it is still worth taking the long way around to get to the top by following the Sheltowee Trace and coming in from the west. There are a number of great features to explore in the area above the staircase including a spectacular, large rock shelter known as the Council Chamber, and an interesting little rock formation called the Frog’s Head. Regardless of which route you follow, I also recommend taking the unofficial side trail (one mile round trip) out to Adena Arch which boasts some spectacular views of its own.

09_AdenaArch_IMG_4190Adena Arch.

10_IndianArch_IMG_4202Indian Arch, on the return hike along the Sheltowee Trace.

There are more areas we did not have time to explore on this hike, including the area on top and to the east of the staircase, as well as some interesting sounding features a friend told me about that are beyond the point we turned back near the Council Chamber rock shelter. I look forward to another hike on this route, not only to venture into these unexplored areas, but also to give the staircase a better assessment without the first-time intimidation factor, and to take more photographs documenting the climb. For now, I hope this gives you enough information to find your way on this adventurous hike and that my photographs will inspire you to make the trip to explore this spectacular little corner of Red River Gorge!

© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2015.

Note: This article was also published as a guest post on the Rocky® S2V™ Blog on February 18, 2015.

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Glacier National Park: Vast, Wild, and Wonderful

01_SwiftcurrentLake_IMG_8173Morning mountain reflection on the still waters of Swiftcurrent Lake in the Many Glacier area of Glacier National Park.

The vastness of Glacier National Park is incredible! Its beauty is impossible to capture in mere words, and photographs only partially convey the wonders we discovered in this amazing corner of God’s great creation. It really needs to be experienced in person to be fully comprehended!

Traveling to Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is located in northwestern Montana and borders Waterton Lakes National Park (Canada) in the southwestern corner of the province of Alberta. If you plan to visit Canada bring your passport and do some research, so you know what items you are allowed to bring with you going into Canada, as well as returning to the US.

The closest airport is the aptly named Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell, Montana, about 30 miles from the western entrance of the park. Kalispell is also large enough that you can find any gear and supplies you might need for your adventure, at competitive prices. The tables and chart below will help orient you with the area, and also provide drive times and distances between major areas around the park, as well as to other airports in the region.

02_GNP_TravelTimesDistancesWhen to Visit

While you can visit Glacier any time of year, keep in mind much of the park is inaccessible in the winter, and the season when all the roads are open is relatively short. Going-to-the-Sun Road, the only road that fully spans the interior of the park from east to west, typically opens in early July and closes in late October; but, I strongly urge you to check the NPS website regardless of when you plan to visit as construction and weather can influence that timing; for example, a portion of Going-to-the-Sun Road will be closed earlier than normal (late September) in 2015 due to construction.

Where to Stay

Whether you plan to stay in one of the grand old lodges, a rustic cabin, a front country campground, or do some backcountry camping, there are plenty of options available. The one common element, regardless of your choice, is the need to plan well in advance of your trip. The lodges book early; and, while there is a mix of reserved, as well as first-come-first-serve campsites, you want to know what to expect. Rather than going into great detail here I suggest starting your research at the following pages on the NPS website:

Camping: There are 13 campgrounds with over 1000 sites, which should keep my fellow Campstake users busy for many years posting photos and reviews!

Backcountry Camping: As with any national park, if you plan to go backpacking and backcountry camping many regulations apply and permits are required, so do your homework.

Lodging: There is a variety of lodging options in and around the park, though the prime months of July and August book up quickly, so make reservations as early as possible. We booked in January for a mid-August trip and could only find openings in the East Motel of the St. Mary Lodge & Resort. The room was quite expensive. It was clean and adequate, but very small with no frills! Remember you are paying for the location, and hopefully you haven’t traveled all this way just to sit around in your hotel room! The food and service were good and the stores appeared to have everything you might need at fairly reasonable prices, though we had stocked up in Kalispell before heading to the park, just in case.

Be Prepared

Glacier National Park is a vast wilderness and, depending on which trails you hike, the number of people you encounter can vary significantly. Even on the busiest trails we sometimes went a while without encountering other hikers. Also, do not expect to be able to use your cell phone to call for help as service fades quickly once you enter the park.

As with any mountain wilderness outing, you need to be equipped with proper clothing, gear, and supplies, including extra warm layers, raingear, a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen, some form of makeshift shelter, sufficient water and/or a way to purify water, food, first aid kit, flashlight or headlamp, whistle, emergency fire starting materials, and, finally, a good map and compass.

03_GrizzlyBear_IMG_8271Grizzly bear eating berries along the Iceberg Lake Trail.

This is also bear country, home to both grizzly and black bears. We saw several of both during our visit, most from the safety of our vehicle, though we did encounter one grizzly, about 30 yards away, while hiking the Iceberg Lake Trail. Read up on bear safety and heed the recommendations to not hike alone and have every adult carry bear spray. Also, if you are traveling by air, you cannot transport bear spray in either your carry-on or checked luggage, so you will need to purchase it upon arrival. I did some research when we took our trip and found a used sporting goods store in Kalispell, Replay Sports, where we were able to purchase bear spray for $25 a canister and return it for a $10 refund (2012 rates), assuming the canister was not discharged. Considering a canister of bear spray currently costs around $50, this is a good option to explore to save a bit of money.

Hiking

There are six major areas of the park including, Logan Pass, St. Mary Valley, Many Glacier, Two Medicine, Lake McDonald Valley, and Goat Haunt which is in the remote, northern end of the park. We did not do any hiking in the Lake McDonald Valley, though we did drive through on Going-to-the-Sun Road, but never even came close to Goat Haunt.

There is a great shuttle system with numerous stops along Going-to-the-Sun Road that is available at no extra cost. This is a convenient way to do some point-to-point hikes along Going-to-the-Sun Road. It is also a great way to get to Logan Pass without the concern of finding a parking spot; plus, you get to watch the scenery along the way rather than the road and other vehicles. Pay close attention to the shuttle times, though, especially later in the day, as you do not want to get stranded at the end of a long hike without a way back to your vehicle, except a long walk in the dark.

In all, we hiked about 45 miles over seven days and barely scratched the surface of the 740 miles of trails Glacier has to offer. As I said earlier mere words cannot do justice to this magnificent place, so I will provide only brief technical information about each hike and let the my photographs do the rest. All the trails we hiked were well marked so navigation was not difficult, though having good topographic maps does provide an added measure of confidence.

Highline Trail to Haystack Butte from the Logan Pass Visitor Center; 7.2 miles out-and-back; some ups and downs along the way with a sizeable climb at Haystack Butte.

04_Highline1_IMG_7836Bighorn sheep ram charging down the narrow Highline Trail and frightening hikers near Logan Pass.

05_Highline2_IMG_7879Indian paintbrushes with Haystack Butte in the background.

St. Mary Falls & Virginia Falls from the St. Mary Falls trailhead (St. Mary Valley); 2.9 miles out-and-back; some minor ups and downs along the way with a moderate climb to get up to Virginia Falls.

06_StMaryFalls_IMG_7913St. Mary Falls.

07_VirginiaFalls_IMG_7972Posing in front of Virginia Falls.

Siyeh Bend to St. Mary Falls from the Siyeh Bend/Piegan Pass trailhead on Going-to-the-Sun Road just east of Logan Pass; 5.0 miles one-way with a return trip via the park shuttle. There is about a mile of uphill hiking at the beginning of this route, but then it is all downhill except a brief, easy climb to the St. Mary Falls trailhead and shuttle stop at the end.

08_Siyeh_IMG_1977Todd the Hiker at the Siyeh Bend trailhead. (Photo credit: Leah Nystrom)

09_DeadwoodFalls_IMG_8028Deadwood Falls on Reynolds Creek in the St. Mary Valley.

Upper Two Medicine Lake from the Boat Landing on the west end of Two Medicine Lake; 4.6 miles out-and-back; this is a moderate uphill hike on the way to Upper Two Medicine Lake and downhill on the return. We chose to ride the boat out to the trailhead (for a fee); this is not required, though it is almost triple the distance if you choose to hike the whole route starting near the Two Medicine Visitor Center.

10_Upper2Medicine_IMG_8140The windblown waters of Upper Two Medicine Lake.

11_RunningEagleFalls_IMG_7975I recommend a stop to see Running Eagle Falls on the way up to Two Medicine.

Iceberg Lake from the Many Glacier Visitor Center; 10 miles out-and-back; there is about a two thousand foot elevation gain on this hike, all uphill on the way out and all downhill on the way back. This is a tough hike so give yourself plenty of time, with margin built in to rest and take in the scenery at the top.

12_IcebergLake1_IMG_8190Beargrass and the incredible mountain views along the Iceberg Lake Trail.

13_IcebergLake2_IMG_8205Mountain meadow wildflowers with Iceberg Lake in the distance.

Grinnell Glacier from the Swiftcurrent trailhead (Many Glacier); 9.6 miles out-and-back; this is pretty much the same configuration as the Iceberg Lake hike, with about a two thousand foot elevation gain, all uphill on the way out and all downhill on the way back. This is another tough hike so, again, give yourself plenty of time to rest and take in the scenery at the top.

14_GrinnellLake_IMG_8316Fireweed accents the view overlooking the sparkling blue waters of Grinnell Lake.

15_GrinnellGlacier_IMG_8346Spectacular view from above Grinnell Glacier.

Hidden Lake Overlook from the Logan Pass Visitor Center; 2.6 miles out-and-back; this is a short and fairly easy hike, though it is all uphill on the way out and downhill on the way back.

16_HiddenLake_IMG_8417Enjoying the view from the Hidden Lake Overlook.

17_MountainGoats_IMG_8477Mountain goats in the snow above the Logan Pass Visitor Center.

Our time in Glacier National Park was an amazing experience! The most difficult task I faced in writing this post was deciding which of the over 1000 photographs to include. I hope the ones I chose provide you with the inspiration to take a trip there yourself, you won’t regret it!

18_StMaryLake_IMG_8369No visit to Glacier National Park would be complete without a stop to snap a shot of the iconic St. Mary Lake and Wild Goose Island from the scenic overlook along Going-to-the-Sun Road.

© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2015.

Note:  This has also been published as a Campstake Field Guide, under the title, “Campstake Guide: Glacier National Park,” as well as on Sportoddy.com, under the original title, “Glacier National Park: Vast, Wild, and Wonderful.”  It can also be found under the original title “Glacier National Park: Vast, Wild and Wonderful” on the RockyS2V Blog along with other great articles from my fellow RockyS2V Ambassadors (#TeamS2V) and guest bloggers.

Meet Campstake

Today marks my second featured blog post, “Highlights from Big Bend,” on the Campstake Journal over at Campstake.com. Take some time to give it a read and check out some of the other articles while you are there.

By way of introduction, back in December I was approached by Brandon Painter from Campstake who asked me if they could feature my Red River Gorge – Off-Trail page on their blog. At the time I knew little to nothing about Campstake, other than they were one of the many outdoor oriented acquaintances I have made on Twitter.

With a quick bit of checking I learned they are a start-up company with plans to release a web application (Spring 2015) that will allow campers and backpackers to ask for and make recommendations about camping destinations around the nation. What is intriguing about Campstake’s approach is the ability to get recommendations as broad or narrow as you desire, down to specific campsites! Their ultimate vision is much bigger, but rather than try to explain the details here, I’ll let you read about in their own Journal post, “On the Horizon.”

I like what I see over at Campstake and am honored to be counted among the group of great outdoor bloggers who have been featured on Campstake Journal, many of whom I know from time spent on the #HikerChat Twitter chat. I see this as a great opportunity to develop relationships, broaden my audience, and, at the same time, help someone else who is also trying to encourage people to get outdoors where they can enjoy the beauty of God’s magnificent creation!

In the past week, they released the Campstake Recommendations portion of the web application that allows you to ask for and receive recommendations from friends. I spent some time working with a fellow blogger, Jonathan Roberts, trading recommendations to test out the app and provided Campstake with feedback that I hope was helpful.

Bottom line, this app is very easy to use from the perspective of both the “asker” and the “recommender;” requiring you to do nothing more than fill out a couple of simple forms. The app takes care of notifying your friends of the request, and then emails you when they respond, which they also do by filling out a simple form. One more great part of using Campstake is that whenever someone submits a fully completed recommendation they will donate $1 to outdoor conservation funds!

I can’t wait to see what comes next and am excited to work with Campstake as we both encourage others to #getoutside and #exploremore!

©Todd D. Nystrom and Todd_the_Hiker, 2015.

Highlights from Big Bend National Park, Texas

00_IMG_2106Desert Sunrise in Big Bend National Park, Texas

With only 316,953 visitors in 2013, Big Bend National Park ranks 42nd out of 59 national parks. When compared to parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone which both get over 3 million visitors a year, or Grand Canyon with over 4 million, you may begin to understand some of its appeal. (Source: complete visitor statistics for the national parks can be found at https://irma.nps.gov/App/)

The lack of visitors is certainly no reflection on the beauty of this desert gem. In its harsh and rugged way, Big Bend is no less spectacular than any of the other national parks we have visited; and, I am quite certain the primary reason there are so few visitors is the park’s remote location. This is not a place you just “stop by” on your way through, unless of course your final destination is The-Middle-of-Nowhere.

Traveling to Big Bend National Park

Even if you are taking a cross country drive on I-10 (the nearest interstate highway) and head south on US-385 at Fort Stockton, Texas, it is 100 miles to the park’s northern entrance and another 26 miles beyond that to park headquarters at Panther Junction. Driving times (distances) to the north entrance of Big Bend National Park from some of the major south Texas airports are as follow:

Midland International Airport: 3 hours (195 miles)
Del Rio International Airport: 3.5 hours (214 miles)
San Angelo Regional Airport: 4.5 hours (266 miles)
El Paso International Airport: 4.5 hours (288 miles)
San Antonio International Airport: 6 hours (409 miles)

01_IMG_2099The road leading into the Chisos Mountains, Big Bend National Park, Texas.

Traveling between major areas within Big Bend is no walk in the park either! Driving times (distances) from Panther Junction to other major areas of the park are as follow:

Chisos Basin Visitor Center & Chisos Mountain Lodge (central): 30 min. (10 mi.)
Santa Elena Canyon via Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive (western): 1.25 hrs. (43 mi.)
Boquillas Canyon (eastern): 45 min. (23 mi.)

Be Prepared

Big Bend National Park is a serious, desert wilderness! This is not the place to cut your teeth when it comes to hiking. It is very remote, with harsh terrain and extreme weather. When we visited in late May of 2014 temperatures reached as high as 116 °F during the day and cooled so much at night that we needed a fleece jacket to stay warm. While these conditions are not surprising to anyone who has lived or traveled in the desert, to someone unfamiliar with this environment it is easy to come unprepared.

If you visit during the hotter season, like we did, I recommend getting up early and hiking during the cooler morning hours when temperatures are below 90 °F. Evening hiking works too, but there is less margin-for-error if you underestimate the time to complete your hike, that is, unless you want to hike after dark when the mountain lions and black bears are on the prowl. We did most of our hiking early then went back for a shower and an afternoon siesta…I now truly grasp and appreciate this concept. We found late afternoons were a great time to drive around in air conditioned comfort and scout the next day’s trailhead or find a perfect vista to enjoy the spectacular evening sunsets!

02_IMG_2243Sunset on the Window View Trail in the Chisos Basin.

03_IMG_2028We also experienced a couple of pretty severe late afternoon thunderstorms and were quite glad that we were not caught out on the trail during either of them!  Thunderstorm forming over Casa Grande peak in the Chisos Mountains.

As you might expect in the desert, finding water is an unlikely prospect, so plan to carry all that you will need. Even if you happen to find water (like the Rio Grande River), it is most likely contaminated. Given the low humidity (10% or less) dehydration is a serious concern even in cooler weather, so carrying one gallon (4 liters) of water per person for a longer day hike is not unreasonable. Don’t forget the sunscreen, a hat, and proper clothing to protect you from the sun’s damaging UV rays, either.

A final note of caution that I cannot overemphasize, there is no cell service anywhere in the park and only spotty service on the main roads within 100 or more miles of the park, depending on which direction you travel. If you get lost while hiking or breakdown driving in or around the park there is no way to call for help unless you happen to have a satellite phone, which I suspect most people, myself included, do not. Traffic can also be very sparse, especially in the off-season, so your wait time for assistance from someone just passing by could be significant. Be aware, be prepared, and plan accordingly!

Where to Stay

One lesson we have learned from past trips to national parks is that staying in, or very near, the park has many benefits. Saving drive time to reach trailheads and being in close proximity to scenic spots for morning and evening photography, are two big ones. On this trip I did not even bother to research any lodging options outside the park due to the remote location.

We chose to stay at the Chisos Mountain Lodge and were very pleased with the accommodations, the staff, and the food in the restaurant. Wi-Fi service is available in the lodge, so you do have a means to communicate with family and friends. The park store in the Chisos Basin is well stocked with all the necessities and the prices seemed reasonable, though we brought everything we needed with us as we did not know what to expect.

There are also three developed frontcountry campgrounds in the park as well as backcountry camping options that will require a permit.

Hiking

The NPS website describes several day hikes of varying difficulty in three primary regions of the park, desert, mountain, and river. Our main hikes were in the mountain and river areas, though we did check out a couple of the old ranches (Sam Nail Ranch and Homer Wilson Ranch), the Hot Springs Historic Trail, and a number of the scenic overlooks in the desert area, though these did not qualify as hikes in my book as we were never more than few hundred yards from our vehicle.

04_IMG_1721Trailhead behind the Chisos Mountain Lodge for the Window Trail.

Our first hike was the Window Trail. The trailhead is directly behind the Chisos Mountain Lodge where we stayed. Out the door and onto the trail, how much better can it get? This is a moderate 5.6 mile round trip hike that is all downhill on the way out and all uphill on the way back. This configuration did make it a little more challenging at the time of year we were there as the temperatures were over 90 °F by the time we finished the hike. This is a good hike to start with and the view at the end of the trail is amazing.

05_IMG_1744Typical trail view on the Window Trail (beware of prickly pear cactus when kneeling to take photos!)

06_IMG_1770There will be no doubt when you have reached the end of the Window Trail!

07_IMG_1832Trailhead for the Lost Mine Trail (the trail is only paved for a short distance).

Our second hike was the 4.8 mile round trip Lost Mine Trail. This is another moderate hike, but is has an opposite configuration to the Window Trail as it is uphill on the way out and downhill on the way back. The trailhead is less than two miles from the Chisos Mountain Lodge, so it was easy to get an early start on this trail, as well. The views along this trail, and at the top, make it well worth the time and effort.

08_IMG_1849View of the Chisos Basin, Casa Grande, and the Window along the Lost Mine Trail.

09_IMG_1890View looking south at the end of the Lost Mine Trail.

At the far ends of the park are two incredible canyons of the Rio Grande River, Santa Elena canyon on the west end and Boquillas Canyon on the east end. While the hikes into both canyons are short and relatively easy, about a 1.5 mile round trip for each, they are iconic of Big Bend, and a must do. These destinations require drive time if you are staying in the Chisos Basin, so plan accordingly and enjoy the rugged desert scenery along the way. One other note on these two trails is to make sure you listen for the call of the canyon wrens which were a common sound on both hikes.

10_IMG_1976Standing at the entrance to Santa Elena Canyon.

11_IMG_1992Enjoying the view inside of Santa Elena Canyon.

Do not be surprised in Boquillas Canyon if you are approached by locals from the village of Boquillas, Mexico who commonly wade across the Rio Grande River to sell souvenirs in this area. You can be fined for purchasing these trinkets as they have not been properly imported. There is a legal border crossing nearby, but you will need your passport if you want to visit Mexico to do any souvenir shopping.

12_IMG_2116The village of Boquillas, Mexico in the distance and some of the local wares for sale on the rocks in the scenic overlook parking area near the Boquillas Canyon trailhead.

13_IMG_2146Boquillas Canyon.

Like any national park we have visited, there is a massive amount of information on the NPS website for Big Bend, and I recommend taking the time to do some research before you go. Also, even though it is one of the least visited parks in the park system, be sure to make reservations well in advance so you are not disappointed when you arrive, especially if you plan to travel there during the peak season between November and April.

One last thing that you cannot miss at Big Bend is to take advantage of the dark nights far from civilization to get out and see the stars. As the song says, “The stars at night are big and bright. Deep in the heart of Texas.”

14_IMG_1825Stars over the Chisos Mountain Lodge with Casa Grande silhouetted on the skyline.

© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2015.

Note:  This has also been published as a guest post on the Campstake Journal under the title “Highlights from Big Bend.”

Press On Toward the Goal

Philippians 3:7-14 (ESV) – But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

2014-12-17 - Press On Toward the Goal (1-IMG_3174)A view looking west from one of the side trails along the unofficial Star Gap Arch trail. The furthest ridge in the center of the photo is our goal on this hike.

On a backpacking trip to Kentucky’s Red River Gorge early this fall, we decided to explore a trail that was new to us, the unofficial Star Gap Arch trail. Though I knew from our outrageGIS map and the description in Jerrell Goodpaster’s book, “Hinterlands,” that there were many spectacular views along the way, and at the end of the hike, there were still a few times we considered turning back. The hike was difficult at times, involving rock scrambles and thick brush; but, having a goal in mind and some idea of what lie ahead, were key to our perseverance.

2014-12-17 - Press On Toward the Goal (2-IMG_3204)A closer view of the end point on the Star Gap Arch trail.

Even though you may not get a complete picture of what to expect when hiking in a new place, or even on a new trail in a familiar place, it is worth taking time to do some research. Studying topographic maps, reading a guide book, or finding online reviews from other hikers, can give you motivation to both start and complete a new adventure.

2014-12-17 - Press On Toward the Goal (3-IMG_3178)The final climb up the ridge at the end of the Star Gap Arch trail.

In many ways our Christian walk is like a hike in the wilderness. Fortunately, God has given us the ultimate guide book for our journey, the Bible. However, the Bible is far more than just a simple guide book it serves a much greater purpose, pointing us to the ultimate goal, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Personally knowing the author who actually wrote the guide book is our best assurance of all. We will probably never endure the trials that Paul suffered, but we still need to realize there will be good times and bad, easy days and difficult ones in our lives, but with Christ we can be certain that we will make it to the end.

2014-12-17 - Press On Toward the Goal (4-IMG_3193)One of several spectacular views that awaits you at the end of the Star Gap Arch trail.

There is a price to taking a backpacking trip, we give up modern conveniences, endure difficult terrain, and occasionally suffer cuts and bruises, but getting to experience the beauty of God’s creation along the way and the spectacular views at the end of the trail make it worth the effort. There is also a cost to following Christ, the Bible makes this clear, but how much more incredible will the end of our life’s journey be when we “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Read more about my “God is Revealed…“ category of posts

© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2014.

New Page: Red River Gorge – Off-Trail

I have added a new page to Todd the Hiker titled “Red River Gorge – Off-Trail”. If you want to explore the backcountry of Red River Gorge this page will give you some tips to get started:

Take a look:  Red River Gorge – Off-Trail.

NOTE:  This article is also featured as a guest post on Campstake.com’s Campstake Journal blog (blog.campstake.com).  After browsing for a while here at Todd the Hiker, you may want to go over and check them out!

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© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2014

Distracted

Luke 10:38-42 (ESV) – Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.  And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.  But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”  But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

IMG_1323The lights of Lebanon, Ohio shine on the horizon obscuring the stars on a clear March night at Caesar Creek Lake.  Furnas Shores, Caesar Creek State Park, Waynesville, Ohio.

If you have ever lived or traveled far from any towns or cities you know just how many more stars become visible in the night sky once you escape the lights of civilization.  In fact, if you find a place that is dark enough you will be amazed at the number of stars that fill the night sky, including the vast river of stars that make up our own little corner of the universe, called the Milky Way galaxy.  However, if you live anywhere in the United States east of the Mississippi River there are very few places where you can get away from effects of light pollution and truly see the vastness of the night sky. And if you live in or near a city, or even most large towns, your view of the stars will likely be obscured by the myriad of lights we use to illuminate the night.

In much the same way that the lights of civilization obscure the stars in the night sky, the busyness and distractions of everyday existence too often obscure the voice of God in our lives.  Even when that busyness is well intentioned and purposeful, like Martha’s, it is still distracting.

By no means do I think Christ is suggesting that we just sit around all day reading, contemplating, and discussing the Scriptures, though I suspect we are all in need of this far more than we are in need of one more task added to our daily routine.  There are plenty of passages that advocate hard work and service.  But I truly do not think most of us need prompting to stay busy, whether with useful, productive endeavors—which also include our time serving in various church functions—or time wasting trivial tasks like checking e-mail, browsing on Facebook and Twitter, or just mindlessly watching television.

What I do think Christ is telling us is that we do not spend enough time just sitting at his feet and listening to his voice.  We do not spend enough time in his Word, coming to him in prayer, and simply seeking to understand what he is telling us through these daily means of grace.  Even though I regularly avail myself of quiet devotional time early each morning, I still find that the distractions and busyness of life quickly crowd back in as soon as the rest of my day begins.

This is one of the many reasons I often find myself in need of refreshment and time away, going out into God’s amazing creation, far from civilization, to gaze up at the sky on a clear night and see what an uncluttered view of the universe looks like, both literally and figuratively.  It is during these uncluttered times away that I find myself realizing just how small I am in this universe, and just how great and amazing is our God, who created and sustains it all.  To know that this is the same God who is powerful enough to create all of this, yet he loves us so much that he chose to send his Son to live the perfect life that we cannot, and die the death we so deserve for our sins.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  John 3:16-17 (ESV)

Are you distracted?  Are you taking the time to hear the voice of God speaking to you through his Word and his creation?  Find the time.  Make it a priority.  You will be amazed at what you discover.

IMG_2681Even with the light of a half-moon the Milky Way galaxy is still visible once you are away from the distracting lights of civilization.  Red River Gorge Geological Area, Daniel Boone National Forest, Slade, Kentucky.

Read more about my “God is Revealed…“ category of posts

© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2014.

The Rock that is Higher than I

Psalm 61:1-8 (ESV)

Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer;  from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I,  for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.  Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings!  For you, O God, have heard my vows; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.   Prolong the life of the king; may his years endure to all generations!  May he be enthroned forever before God; appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him!  So will I ever sing praises to your name, as I perform my vows day after day.

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Red River Gorge, Daniel Boone National Forest, Slade, Kentucky.

© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2014.