Updated: Sep 4
In summer 2022, the GodTreks Adventure Club set out on a nine-day trip to the heart of the American frontier — to Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and Wyoming’s Wind River Valley. During this trip, Judah students found that they had in their hands the rare opportunity to experience life on a new level of spiritual and natural intensity.
The crew consisted of four adult mentors and five Judah students. The mentors were GodTreks founder Michael Himick, his wife Rena, Andrew Rogers, and Christian social worker James Warren. The students were Jacob Gordon, Clayton Wacker, Megan Yant, Caleb Yant, and Sophia Bengtson. The crew traveled to Yellowstone in two separate groups, with the students going by plane with Mr. Warren and the rest of the adults traveling by car.
The flyers and the drivers met in Denver and began an eight-hour drive across Colorado and the high plains of Wyoming. They arrived at sunset in the Wind River Valley and moved into their cabin.
The next day, their trip took off.
Shoshone National Forest: The Cabin’s Back Yard
From the cabin’s deck in the morning, the crew gained a sense of the fullness of the land around them. To take in that fullness, the day was devoted to exploration: exploring the cabin, exploring the land around the cabin, and exploring what it means to travel together as one group.
The crew was shocked at the quality of their living space. Mr. Rogers commented on the surprise he felt when exploring the cabin for the first time: “The house was beautiful. It had a rustic feeling to it, but it was modernized and comfortable. A very nice place to come back to after a long hike.”
When the group ascended the ridge behind the cabin, they took their time on top of the ridge, taking in the early afternoon air. This was the moment that the group was finally able to see the possibilities of what they could do on the trip and what experiences the land could provide. Once the crew began to understand the land around them, their focus shifted to how the group would function together.
Rather than getting lost in the endless possibilities now in their hands, the group was quick to remind themselves of their purpose: to seek Christ, together. Much like the perspective gained from the cabin and its surroundings, the group gained new perceptions of each other as they began to depart from individualistic lifestyles, replaced by a greater awareness of companionship.
Together, the group learned about the community that they had become through being with each other. “There were multiple opportunities on this trip to grow,” said Mr. Warren. “I think one opportunity was the chance to build relationships with each other. You know, when you spend a week with people, you really have a chance to get to know them.”
Seeking Christ as one was an important aspect of the trip. Regardless of what someone takes into the trip, the objective of a GodTreks retreat is to understand God in a personal way. The experience applies to everyone: “For followers of Christ, it’s getting the opportunity to ask certain questions and get them answered,” said Mr. Warren, “questions that have to do with things they may be dealing with. For the individuals who would say they weren’t necessarily following Christ, they also had the opportunity to at least get God’s perspective on things, to get to know the Bible, to read it, and to ask their questions.”
Jackson Hole: Over the Togwotee Pass
The following day brought the crew over the Togwotee Pass and into Jackson Hole. A “hole” is a western nickname for an enclosed valley with mountains and plateaus on all sides. Jackson Hole is a mecca for all manner of celebrities, tourists, and outdoor adventurers, thanks to the archetypal Teton Range. As the crew came over the mountain pass and entered the valley, the Tetons leapt into view for the first time.
“We were having a hard time processing the grandeur we were seeing,” said Mr. Himick, recalling what the group was feeling. “Everywhere we looked, we were in awe.” After taking in the view at multiple spots, the crew finally made their way into Jackson, chief town of Jackson Hole, and began exploring there. While in Jackson, the crew scaled the side of Snow King Mountain, a ski hill the locals call the “Town Hill.” After the relentless conditioning of the steep hike up the mountain, the crew was relieved to stumble on a free ski lift down the mountain. The group’s time at the top allowed them to view the Teton Range looking north along its spine, and the team learned that they were capable of overcoming their first real challenge as a group.
Mr. Rogers commented on how smooth the trip was at all stages of the development of the crew: “We all got along really well. I mean, there weren’t issues or problems with people arguing or fighting or being treated unfairly. That part of the trip went really smoothly.”
Mr. Warren similarly said, “I’m a mental health professional. I’m all about learning how people interact with people. One of the main things that showed the group how God’s will was accomplished was that for the entire week, everyone got along. We did community meals together at the end of all the hiking trips. Everyone had an opportunity to really bond and communicate with and get along with each other. To me, that’s evidence of the Spirit of God working. Surrendering yourself to Christ in the moment allows God to work through us.”
In the Shadow of Grand Teton
One of the highlight hikes of the whole trip was the hike around Jenny Lake, in the shadow of Grand Teton. The hike is an eight-mile loop around a pristine glacial lake, whose deep blue waters lie below what is called the “Cathedral Group” of towering Teton peaks: Grand Teton, Mount Owen, and Teewinot. The trails around this lake, and alongside the rushing creeks of Cascade Canyon draining into it, are recognized as some of the best hikes in North America.
“It’s a pristine lake, set in the shadow of these towering peaks,” said Mr. Himick. “If you hike there early enough in the morning, you can get these beautiful photos of the mountains reflected in the cold snowmelt water of the lake. At every photo stop, people were saying, ‘Let’s stop here. Let’s rest here.’” Like the conditioning on Snow King Mountain, the loop hike around Jenny Lake was as much a reality check as it was an inspiring day in Grand Teton National Park. While the group’s growth and experience as hikers taught them more about themselves and about God, it also led them to stretch the rules of hiking. They didn’t always stay together as they knew they should. As their hike around the lake developed over the day, the crew split into some people moving ahead and others staying behind to take pictures or rest.
Once the group had made it back to their vehicles to return to their cabin home, they noticed that one of their crew members was missing. Fortunately, because of the quick thinking and additional hiking of Mr. Himick and Judah student Clayton Wacker, as well as the further assistance of Mr. Rogers lending his helping hand in the form of a set of walkie talkies, they tracked down their missing crew member in short order. Yet the crew as a whole chose not to overlook their mistake in not staying together as a group on the hike. They all decided that the next day would be spent together at the cabin, and they all promised that they would do their best to never make that mistake again. Instantly, the crew felt the change of pace. “It allowed for us to regroup, physically, mentally, spiritually, and in a lot of ways socially,” said Mr. Himick. “Everything felt more intentional.”
Geysers, Canyons, and Falls
To finish out their trip, the group collectively decided to explore in Yellowstone National Park, home of half of the geysers in the world. Those geysers of course include Old Faithful, but they also include lesser known but perhaps even more beautiful wonders, like Riverside Geyser, which erupts by and across the Firehole River.
Geysers aren’t especially common in the world, due to the specific conditions that need to be met for them to form. Beyond that, there has to be time for them to become the magnificent and complex structures that we see today. “Seeing the geysers erupt, and more importantly understanding how the geysers erupt, really puts things in perspective for what God can do and build,” said Mr. Himick. “It’s important to understand that while seeing so many geysers erupt was a gift from God, He was also trying to teach us a valuable lesson, which was to explore and appreciate and want to know more about Him and His creation.” On another day in Yellowstone, the crew experienced even more of what Yellowstone has to offer, on a hike along the edge of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. This thousand-foot-deep canyon, cut by the mighty Yellowstone River, is a major feature of the Yellowstone ecosystem. It also features two tremendous waterfalls: the Upper and Lower Falls. Mr. Warren painted a picture of what the crew saw on their grandest adventure yet: “The canyon hike went right to the edge of the canyon and right to the brink of the falls. There were no railings. You could look right over the edge into the canyon and right at the water going over the falls. It was powerful.”
Mr. Rogers summarized the group’s feeling about the experience God granted them: “It’s beautiful. Everywhere you look is beautiful. I love being out in nature. I find that it’s one of the places where I can really connect with God.” The group unanimously agreed that the whole trip was awe-inspiring and gave each of them a new perspective on God’s glory and what He has made in nature and in us.
Exploring God Together
When talking to all of the travelers, a strong impression of their growth and unity emerged. Sophia Bengtson voiced what she took away from the trip, which focused on exploring God: “What I got out of the trip was a deeper understanding of the reaches of God’s grace.” Clayton Wacker voiced his excitement about exploring with people with whom he could share the experience. He said, “Being with people is the whole fun of it. Yeah, I could go there, and it’d be great, but it’s not the same when you’re by yourself versus being with people and talking about important stuff every night and living together for a week. It’s a good experience, because you get to know the people that you’re with.”
Mr. Warren and Mr. Himick put the two priorities together. Mr. Warren said, “Everyone on the trip walked away knowing that they were closer to each other and that they knew more about Jesus and the gospel than they did on the day going in.” Mr. Himick said, “The most important opportunity, the whole point of GodTreks, is that regardless of anyone’s belief in Jesus, everyone knew that they were going on this trip to be intentional about learning more about Jesus and the gospel. There was no expectation that anyone had to be a believer, but they knew going in that you’re not just going for the exploration of Yellowstone and Grand Teton. You’re going because you’re making a decision to say, ‘Hey, this is a chance for me to learn more about Jesus, and I want to be a part of it.’ Once you’re on the trip, you see the wondrousness of everything, and you see the wondrousness of people. It’s impossible not to grow when we explore God with each other.”
—Talon Fazio, class of '24