The Narrow Road in the Wilderness

The social trail across the top of UN12812 near Independence Pass, Colorado

The social trail across the top of UN12812

I tend to lump wilderness trails into two categories: 1) The trails that are wide and crowded, and 2) The nearly deserted trails that are narrow and sometimes hardly exist.  There’s plenty of gray area between these two extremes, but most trails fall into one category or the other.

Third Beach Trail in Olympic National Park, Washington

Third Beach Trail in Olympic National Park, Washington

In life, there are also two types of roads: 1) Wide roads with plenty of other people on them, and 2) Narrow roads that are lonely and often nearly deserted.  In life and in the wilderness, the wider, more-traveled trails and roads tend to be easier – the obstacles have been removed to make it a pleasanter walking experience.

Walking to the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, Oregon

Walking to the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, Oregon

Whether by nurture or nature, the narrow road has long been more appealing to me.  A bit of a challenge, doing what few have done before, going where few people have gone – it’s preferable in my mind than being “normal” and “going with the flow”.  Certainly, it means you don’t fit in.  But honestly, just what is “normal” and why is being “normal” so much preferable to being “not normal”?

It’s even so Biblical.  Jesus said, “Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

Climbing Gnarl Ridge, Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon

Climbing Gnarl Ridge, Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon

So I wasn’t thrilled when God started calling me to some of the wider paths known as the national parks.  Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Glacier, Yellowstone, Grand Teton – I did them because God told me to more than because I wanted to go where everyone else was going and see what everyone else was seeing.  At times it felt as though I was swimming through the crowds.  Parking was impossible unless we arrived before 8am.  If the wilderness was supposed to be peaceful, these kinds of crowds made it anything but peaceful.

Crowds on the trail to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Crowds on the trail to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

But God was with us, and I reveled in the scenery.  Somehow I learned to (mostly) deal with the crowds that the year before would have made me feel as though I was suffocating.  I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with other photographers and took photos I knew had been taken a million or more times before.

Hidden Lake Overlook, Glacier National Park, Montana

How many photos have been taken from the Hidden Lake Overlook?

You see, more than walking a lonely, narrow trail all the time, God wants us to walk the path that He is currently walking with us.  I loved it when those trails were more or less unknown, narrow, challenging, and beautiful.  But I’ve had to come to love walking trails that are wide, smooth, crowded, and beautiful.

Telescope Peak Trail, Death Valley National Park, California

Telescope Peak Trail, Death Valley National Park, California

The size of the path may change with the season – even to get to wilderness places we often drive wide, smooth highways until we come to the narrower, more winding, roads.  And I am learning that it’s not the size or popularity of the path that makes a trail worth taking.  What matters most is whether that path is the one God has called us to – be it wider or narrower, straight or winding, snowy or sandy, hot or cold, paved or scree, mountainous or on the plains, popular or unknown.