We had been hiking for about an hour as the sunset melted over the mountainous landscape of Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico. My legs ached and my shirt scratched my burnt shoulders from a day of working in the sun.
Twelve weary MU students trekked up the mountain toward Chimney Rock, snapping photos, making jokes and climbing rocks along the way.
It was the golden hour. Stunning light seeped through every pore of rock to meet the red clay floor of the valley, making the red rocks below glimmer and the water of the Abiquiu Reservoir shine. I closed my eyes to try to internalize the landscape, but every time I opened them, it was more magnificent than I could recall.
By the time we reached the top, I was breathing heavily — high elevation air couldn’t quite fill my lungs.
My mind began to wander as my shoes dug into the sandstone cliffs.
Humans did not make this place; we did not shape it with our hands or beat it to submission.
We did not plant these trees or lay this rock and grind it down to fine, fine sand.
Humans did frame this great expanse of cascading crust and lowly valley, we did not hang the sun up in the sky…
and no matter how hard we try, we will never conceive anything this spectacular.
I began to feel very, very small. I melted into the mountains and we were one — myself and the cliffs and the boulders and the well-worn path beneath my feet.
We climbed higher and higher, the mountains and my friends and I. The sun grew brighter. At almost 3 miles above sea level, we reached the peak.
Tears creeped from the corners of my eyes and plunged down my cheeks as I moved closer to the edge. New Mexico opened up before me, golden rays swept the side of my face. I fell to my knees.
The birds that dipped through the bedrock crevices drew my eye to the lines of the mountain and the architecture of the earth. The sun illuminated the landscape before me and the faces of friends behind.
Wind blew, silence fell, and I sat on the precipice of perfection.