The Anasazi Experience

The time I spent trekking through the desert of Arizona is a sacred time to me. It is when I learned how truly capable my body is of accomplishing great feats. But more than that, it helped me learn just how mentally and spiritually strong I could potentially be if I would only translate what I learned in nature into my daily life. Those long hot days and nights spent surrounded by my fellow walkers provided endless opportunities for spiritual experiences. A lot of the world we live in today has been changed by man. We’ve built skyscrapers, we’ve flattened land, and we’ve constructed roads and sidewalks. We can’t even truly see the stars these days because of the light pollution found in the urban areas we live in! None of these things are inherently bad and they most definitely make our lives much more convenient. But, there are few places left on this earth that have yet to be touched by the corporate hand. And if we truly want to draw closer to God, I think that the best way to do that is to go to the land that only the Creator has shaped. My five months in Arizona were spent on this untouched, sacred land.

In May of 2015, my dad and I drove 24 hours down to Mesa just two days before I would begin my time living in the wilderness. We passed right through Grants, New Mexico, my dad’s old stomping grounds when he was my age. I learned of his experiences working in the exploratory drilling industry, putting in long hard days and having little time off. The things he learned and did during his time in Grants, while different in a lot of ways, had some key similarities to the experiences I was about to partake in. Learning of his life helped me during some of my hardest times on the trail. We have a lot to learn from our elders.

Now, before I get into the nitty gritty, let me explain a little bit about Anasazi trail life. The type of backpacking we do as TrailWalkers and YoungWalkers is probably significantly different from the kind of backpacking you’ve heard of. Instead of using quality Osprey or Deuter packs, we made our backpacks out of tarps (which were actually just ponchos). We would wrap all of our stuff into a rain poncho and tie it up with string, using a bivy sack as the straps. Also, we didn’t have matches or lighters. If we wanted to start a fire we had to use our primitive bow drill fire set that we had made ourselves during our first weeks on the trail. Spoons and forks? Ha! We had no utensils. We would carve spoons out of pieces of wood so that we didn’t have to use our hands to eat our rice and lentils. We did each have a cup to cook our food in, thank goodness, and sleeping bags to keep warm at night. When I say we had the bare essentials, I literally mean that. Obviously, for safety reasons, TrailWalkers had walkie talkies and satellite phones, and of course first aid kits. But those were really the only ‘things of the world’ that we would bring onto the trail.

Wearing my homemade backpack

Due to this simpler yet more intense way of living, the beginning of my time spent at Anasazi was a major learning experience. I had no idea what I was doing because I had little to no wilderness skills. I grew up in a family of campers, but as a young girl I never joined my brothers and dad on their more serious primitive camping experiences. I had literally never even backpacked in my entire life. The most wilderness experience I had was tent camping and day hiking while I lived in Utah.

Because of my lack of experience, I was pretty convinced I was going to quit the second I began my first weekend on the trail with my fellow TrailWalker trainees. During this weekend, called my RabbitStick week, I quickly discovered that Arizona is seriously way too hot. I much prefer cold weather to hot weather, so that alone made me question why in the world I had moved to the desert to live outside. Also, contrary to my previous thoughts, backpacking is actually way different than just going on a day hike. I guess I never really realized that when you have to carry all of your belongings on your back, even just walking slowly becomes a lot more treacherous. I was starving the entire weekend because I didn’t yet have the patience to wait for anything to cook over the fire. And I was seriously not loving the whole idea of sleeping with bugs and snakes and other wildlife surrounding me all night. I preferred the comfort of an enclosed tent.

Fortunately, I somehow made it through training and (probably due to my pride) I didn’t quit. It was during my first weekend on the trail that I was gifted the name Bright Blue Stone. When I discovered what my name meant, I knew I had a lot to live up to. I wasn’t yet living as Bright Blue Stone, but I needed to become her. My leaders at Anasazi saw in me more potential than I had ever seen in myself, and that is what always kept me going. I think that is an important key to life, especially when we’re trying to help those around us. There is something very powerful about helping others to visually see their potential. It’s life changing, really. We shouldn’t be reluctant to tell people all of the good qualities we see in them.

My fellow TrailWalkers and I during our RabbitStick

After trail training, we spent about a week in the office doing logistical training and then I began my first week on the trail as a TrailWalker. It was a trial week, so there was still the potential that I wouldn’t actually make the cut. And two days into the week, I was hoping that I wouldn’t! It was infinitely harder than my RabbitStick week, and I had thought that was already hard enough! Instead of being solely focused on myself and gaining skills for myself, my focus needed to shift to the YoungWalkers (the teenagers) in my band and put aside my own needs. Being shy, I don’t exactly light up and become a talkative person when I enter into a brand new situation with people I don’t know. So on top of the emotional stress of having to constantly be social, I also had to deal with the physical stresses the trail entails. Sleep is hard to come by because as TrailWalkers we have to do night watch to ensure the safety of everyone. Food is scarce compared to what we’re used to. And days are spent physically exerting our bodies while hiking.

I survived that first week in Boys Band, thanks to the amazing people I was surrounded by whose presence carried me through. And then I found out I made the cut and I was now an official TrailWalker. Ahh ! Honestly, I don’t think I had any real spiritual awakenings during this first week. And I didn’t during the following week while I walked in Girls Band either. I was trying hard to be a good TrailWalker, but I was still focused on myself and focused on all of the things that were going wrong. I was quiet and reserved, not opening up to my friends on the trail. I was so fixated on the fact that this lifestyle of living outside 24/7 was so incredibly challenging; I didn’t have any time to see the countless miracles that were happening daily.

It was during my third week on the trail where I really opened my eyes to all of the lessons  that Mother Nature teaches us about our great Creator. I was assigned to walk in Sinagua Band, which is the band with people in their 20’s -30’s. I would be walking with only one other TrailWalker instead of two. A lot of things this week were unique in comparison to my first two weeks as a TrailWalker.  And one of the biggest differences  was the intensity of the hike. It was going to be a long week of walking (and swimming).  I knew that from the moment I looked at the maps and saw the path we would need to take to get to our final destination.

My TrailWalker companion and I decided we were going to let the SinaguaWalkers choose the path that we would take for the week, because there were two options and they were very different. One route was the dry route, where we wouldn’t be hiking along a creek and would instead use cow tanks as our source of water. This route was easier, but the downside was we would have to drink from cow tanks which isn’t always the most pleasant experience. The other route was the wet route, where we would follow a creek for the majority of the hike, but it would be a lot harder of a hike and would definitely involve some swimming. The first night we were in the band, the walkers already knew which route they wanted to take: the wet route. Or, as they liked to call it, the adventure route.

These feet were made for the adventure route 🙂

So on an adventure we went. The hike was pretty brutal. The first day, we didn’t even make it to the creek we were supposed to be following, so we stopped at a cow tank to camp for the night. The next day, I led the hike and it was…well, it turned out to be quite extreme. We had to navigate our way down a long ravine to reach the creek. We didn’t even arrive at the ravine until the early evening, so I knew we didn’t have much time to get to the bottom. I slowly led us downward, carefully calculating each step as to avoid any potential injuries. We had to make many stops, and one SinaguaWalker’s entire pack even fell apart so she had to completely rebuild it while trying to balance on a steep incline. Just when we were getting close to the end, all of a sudden everything cliffed out. I didn’t see a way to get down and so I started to panic. It was almost dark and I realized there was a good chance we were going to have to stop for the night, even though there was no possible way we could sleep at such a steep incline.

My companion quickly rushed up and helped me find a way. There was some loose rock that we could just sit and slide down, so we did. When we had all finally reached the creek, it got dark just after we had set up our little makeshift camp. It seemed to me as if the Creator had caused the light to remain just until we were in a safe spot, and then the reality of nighttime hit. This was the first time in my life where I realized God was in control. I was always so fearful and anxious prior to this experience because everything felt so out of my control. I couldn’t stop the rain from soaking all of our stuff.  I couldn’t force everyone to wake up on time so that we could reach our final destination on time. I couldn’t take away the pain that the YoungWalkers and SinaguaWalkers were feeling. I couldn’t control the path we would hike, because it always seemed that just when I thought I had found the way, some force of nature would push us to a different path. But in this moment, I realized I didn’t need to be in control. If I always chose to do what I thought was right, then I need not fear because the Creator is in control of everything in this world and He will always have my best interests in mind. I drew strength from this experience for the rest of my time at Anasazi, and still try to remember it when I am feeling unnecessary fear and anxiety about life today.

Sacred Circle “1, 2, 3, sure love ya!”

After a short night of sleep, our hike continued the next morning and I was thankful to have a break from leading. We had finally reached the water, which was a blessing and a curse all at the same time. It was a good to have a reliable source of water, but it also meant we were going to get wet. We followed the creek for a few hours that day and experienced our first “swimmer.” The creek was cliffed out on both sides, so instead of hiking next to the water, we had to walk right through it. And at times it got very deep, which meant instead of walking we had to swim. On our first swimmer, everyone tried hard to hold their backpacks above their heads to keep everything dry. It proved to be a very hard task, so most of us just resorted to the fact that our belongings were going to get very wet this week.

After a bit more swimming, we chose to stop early in the afternoon when we had found a flat spot to camp. As my companion and I studied our maps, we knew that if we went any further we were going to face a lot of swimming and really no good camp spots. So we unpacked our things next to a delicious patch of blackberry bushes and relaxed, starting a fire, drying out our stuff, telling jokes and cooking up our food. I laid to rest in my sleeping bag, completely unaware of the spiritual experience the next day would bring.

We awoke very early, because we knew that we had a long hard day ahead of us. We could tell by looking at the maps that we would be walking through the creek. A lot. But we didn’t know how deep it would be, so we didn’t realize just how much swimming we were going to have to do. Basically the entire day was spent swimming, our makeshift backpacks gaining weight as they soaked up endless amounts of creek water.

When we reached the first small waterfall, I was already exhausted. We had to climb right up that waterfall, and it was so difficult! But then we came to the next large waterfall, and I knew there was no way we could climb it. It was at least ten feet high, and the water was pouring down. After deliberating, my companion and I decided we would hike up the very steep mountain to the left of us. The beginning of the climb involved what was basically just rock climbing, without harnesses or ropes. It was scary but I was constantly praying, asking the Creator to take my feet on the safest path for my band. We got past the steep part safely and we then slowly but surely made our way up the mountain, our lungs and legs burning. We were disappointed time after time as we thought we had reached the top but then realized it was still much farther ahead. Eventually we did reach the peak though, after much perseverance. The feeling of reaching the top of a mountain is unreal. While I am climbing, it seems that I may never make it. But then when I finally do reach the top and gaze out at the remarkable view, it always causes me to reflect on past life experiences. I think we all have things that we have attempted but haven’t finished because we didn’t think we were capable. The end wasn’t in sight, so we figured it was impossible. But if I can climb mountains, then I most definitely can accomplish any good thing that I may choose to do, and you can too. All of life’s peaks and valleys are walkable, if we only have patience and trust in our great Creators timing.

After hiking back down the other side of the mountain, we reached a cow tank to camp at for the night. As we hung our things to dry and started a nice warm fire, we were greeted by the most amazing sunset I had ever seen in my entire life. One walker, who hadn’t spoken of God at all that week said, “Look at this. A gift from our Creator.” We stared in awe, knowing everything we had endured that day was worth the view we were now witnessing. The rest of the week was (kind of) a breeze, because we all now understood more fully just how present the Creator is in our lives. All of our trials and sufferings do not go unnoticed. As we keep pressing forward through the good and the bad, every now and then we will see an “out of this world sunset” and know that the Creator is right there, treading with us every step of the way.

We can all come to know God as we spend time on His precious land. He created all of the astounding views, the mountains, the creeks, the sun and the moon, the lush green grass and the tall Ponderosas, so we must believe that He can create remarkably bright lives for us if we will come to Him and trust in Him. I feel closest to my dear Creator when I am in nature, gazing at his most beautiful creations. To be in the wild is to understand the power of our life-changing God. Be outdoor adventurers, my friends, and you will see God in many ways.

Love,

Bright Blue Stone

 

 

5 Comment

  1. Craig Snyder says: Reply

    Another excellent life-lesson, Ellie. Your adventures in Tonto National Forest always made me envious. I often wondered if I could endure what you endured on those 8-day wilderness outings. At the same time I was always so proud of you for doing something so hard and yet so meaningful. You have helped me love Anasazi and I’m grateful to the founders for starting such a remarkable program to guide youth back to their Creator. Love you too girl. Keep writing!

  2. Ken Hitzeman says: Reply

    What a great Life experience .. God bless Ellie thank you so much for sharing your experience with us all..

  3. Kelsey says: Reply

    I love it! Also this was definitely more intense than Timp! I would have died! 🙂

  4. Heidi Nye says: Reply

    It is amazing to read about this! What an awesome experience! I love the lessons you’ve learned and that you are willing to share them with us!

  5. Misty says: Reply

    Awwwww. I needed to read this tonight missing our girl on the trail. Thank yuou Ellie!! We hope our Serpentine Weaver is having as wonderful of a time as you Did! Much love! 😚😚😚

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