Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Judd Falls

 My An Arkie's Faith column from the August 2, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

I had been looking forward to spending some time in the Colorado Rocky Mountains for several months. Now I was finally there. After spending a day in Frisco and staying at the wonderful Frisco Inn on Galena, we headed to Crested Butte, where we would meet with family and stay for a few days.

The drive from Frisco to Buena Vista was beautiful, but as we headed west out of Buena Vista on the winding road to Cottonwood Pass, the scenery took my breath away. From Buena Vista, the road quickly climbs to its summit of 12,126 feet, 500 feet above the tree line. Cottonwood Pass is the highest paved mountain pass over the Continental Divide.

We had 360-degree views of two distinct watersheds from the top as we walked up the trail, trying to breathe in the thin mountain air. After taking many photos of the spectacular views, we returned to the truck to head down the pass. The road wound down through the Taylor Canyon along the river to the massive Taylor Park Reservoir.

The following day, we took Gothic Road to Emerald Lake. There we saw the beautiful green mountain lake nestled in a meadow surrounded by a spectacular display of blooming flowers. The meadows were alive with colorful wildflowers showing off their vibrant yellows, whites, purples, and reds. After exploring the Emerald Lake area and taking many photos, we drove to the Judd Falls trailhead. 

We hiked the half-mile trail to the falls through fields of wildflowers and towering Aspen. There were terrific views of the surrounding mountains, including Gothic Mountain, Mt. Baldy, and Mt. Crested Butte. The trail was well-defined, and it was necessary to stay on the path because all the surrounding land is under study by the Rocky Mountain Biological Research Laboratory. 

In 1928, Western Colorado College professor Dr. John Johnson founded the biological research laboratory at the abandoned mining town of Gothic. Recognizing the rich diversity of the local ecosystems, he began bringing students to study amid Gothic’s ruins. Since then, thousands of students and scientists have followed in Dr. Johnson’s footsteps, making the ecosystems around Gothic some of the most intensively studied in the world and making Rocky Mountain Biological Research Laboratory an internationally renowned center for scientific research and education.

While hiking through a large stand of aspen trees, I looked up to see a rainbow in the sky. But it was different than any rainbow I had ever seen. Among the clouds were perfectly horizontal and brightly colored bands. I snapped a quick photo before the colors disappeared. The sight made such an impression that I researched the phenomenon later that evening. 

 I learned that what I had witnessed is referred to colloquially as a “Fire Rainbow.” But it was neither fire nor a rainbow. Technically they are known as circumhorizontal arcs - an ice halo formed by hexagonal, plate-shaped ice crystals in high-level cirrus clouds. The halo is so large that the arc appears parallel to the horizon. 

For a fire rainbow to occur, the conditions must be exact. Three things must align perfectly. The sun must be at an elevation of 58 degrees or greater. High-altitude cirrus or cirrostratus clouds must be present with ice crystals. Sunlight must enter the ice crystals at a specific angle to refract the light. This is why circumhorizontal arcs or fire rainbows are rare phenomena.

As I carefully made my way down the rocky trail to the falls, I could hear the roar of rushing water. But it was not until the last minute that the trail ended with a view of the falls from a cliff. Warning signs told of the danger of getting too close to the edge. I rested on a bench at the viewing area and took in the beauty of the falls.

While talking with a representative of the Rocky Mountain Biological Research Laboratory there, I learned the story of the drama that had occurred the day before. A hiker decided to go down the extremely steep hillside to view the falls from ground level. As he made his way down, holding on to a small tree for support, the tree came up by the roots, and he crashed headlong down the mountainside, finally ending up in the water below.

Fortunately, he was with friends who could contact the authorities to rescue him. It took four hours for the Crested Butte Mountain Rescue Team to get to him and bring him safely back up the mountainside. His injuries were not life-threatening, but he will never forget his experience.

The representative of the Rocky Mountain Biological Research Laboratory told us the story of the unfortunate hiker to keep us from trying to make our way down to the falls. She wanted us to know the danger and warn us about the possible consequences of trying to reach the bottom of the falls.

As I thought about the warnings given to us at the overlook of Judd Falls, I realized there was a parallel between those warnings and God’s law. Every law that God has given us reflects His desire for the joy and well-being of His people. Each rule protects His people as they live in a sinful world.

Often, we look at God's law as repressive. It creates uncomfortable restrictions. But we need to look at His laws as protection. In his book, “The Purity Principle,” Randy Alcorn uses an analogy about driving along a mountain pass when it’s dark and foggy, and your car runs off the road, and you hit the guardrail. You slam on the brakes and get out of the car with a flashlight. What do you do? Do you look at the fender of your car and say, “Oh no. That rotten guardrail! Why did somebody put that guardrail there? Now I’ve got a dented fender!”? No, you thank God for that guardrail. It’s there for your benefit. That guardrail saved your life!

Gentle Reader, instead of seeing God’s laws as a burden, we need to ask God to help us see his commandments as guardrails to keep us from danger. “Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome.” 1 John 5:3 (NLT)

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