In 1938 my great-grandparents packed up their car and their nine-month-old daughter and drove to Estes Park, Colorado. That trip changed the trajectory of eighty-four summers of my family history.
For years they lived in various places along the front range of the Rocky Mountains. Then in 1942, when prices were down because of the war, my great-grandpa bought a piece of land adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park. In 1946 they built the first cabin—or the East Cabin, as my family calls it. It consisted of two bedrooms, one bathroom, a small living space, and a shotgun kitchen.
The first cabin was not big or spectacular, but it didn’t need to be. There, in the front of the house, was a bay window with two chairs to sit in and watch the sunrise. That nook made up all they wanted: a place to watch the mountains turn pink every morning.
They wrapped their property in a stone-and-wooden fence, and at the bottom they constructed a stable for the horses. Finally, after building another building—the West Cabin—and a patio, our little slice of the mountains was called good.
In the years since the land was purchased, our plot has been surrounded by park-owned land. With the designation of “inside the national park” comes a lot of restrictions. Yet, in a weird sort of blessing, those restrictions have preserved our family cabins that came before them and will continue to preserve them for years to come.
In 1957 my great-grandparent's daughter, my grandmother, married, and she and her new husband spent their honeymoon in the East Cabin. In 1980 the two purchased an eighty-seven-year-old house on Davis Hill. After some renovations, the family transitioned to living in the Davis House and kept the cabins to rent to friends. They became members of the Summer Residents Association, attended church at the YMCA, and eventually became charter members of a Methodist church tucked among the mountains.
My grandparents sunk their roots deeper in the rocky soil of Estes Park. This house was bigger, and some would call it spectacular, but that did not matter. There, at the front of the house, was a porch big enough to fit the whole family. That was what they needed and all they wanted.
In 2002 I had my first summer in Estes Park. At just three months old, I entered into the ongoing family pilgrimage back to the mountains. I have been back for at least two weeks of every year of my life. My mom has now been every year for fifty-two years, my grandma for eighty; my great-grandma made it for forty-three before she passed. Our four generations of Texans have had their heartstrings entangled in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
My great-grandparents might have had an idea of the kind of blessing they were building when they constructed our cabins, but they could not have known the specifics. It’s unlikely they imagined a great-granddaughter with anxiety for which the mountains surrounding those cabins would douse with a peace that I could not explain apart from the love of God. Three generations after they built the nook to watch the sky turn pink over the mountains, their threshold in the gateway city of the Rockies would be my gateway to God’s own Son.
When the brisk air distinct to the tundra at 13,000-feet elevation fills my lungs, I imagine God’s original movement in the Rockies. I imagine the thumb of the Creator pressing the mountain ridges into stone all those years ago. It makes me feel safe, and I thank God for the miles of rock he placed beneath my feet. The mountains are my respite and healing from anxiety. They are my solitude and my solace and my heart’s rest.
When this world is tumultuous and uncertain, there is one thing I know: In July I will begin yet another pilgrimage. I will drive eighteen hours from my small town in Texas to a smaller one in Colorado. At the end of those cramped hours in a car, I will find myself on the front porch of our house. There, in front of me, the mountains will stand tall and unmoved.
In Isaiah the Lord says, “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed” (54:10). In all of our summers in Estes Park, my family has witnessed three devastating floods and two massive wildfires. We have seen our mountains survive, mercifully unshaken. The love of the Lord is steadier still.
He led me gently to himself in the whistling of the wind when I summited my first peak. He showed my heart how to feel when I watched the symphony of lightning and thunder explode across the afternoon sky. He sprinkled flowers across the tundra and taught my eyes to see His signature in natural beauty. When the colors of the sunset streaked across the sky toward Longs Peak, he taught my soul to sing.
It is not just the way the mountains loom over me as I stand at their base. It is not just their grandeur that draws me to the Lord. It is the bay window. It is the front porch. It is the walls that were christened with the laughter of the people I hold most dear. It is the promise that when everything has changed, even when I have changed, that place and the legacy of my family will remain unchanged. Our story will linger and our faith will survive—a foundation of rock.
As I look back at my own story, I see how God drew a straight line from the generational enchantment the Colorado Rockies have held over my family to my very salvation: an inheritance of faith built by my great-grandparents in stone and wood.
Cover image by Lili Kovac.