Saturday, May 18, 2013

Utah's Place of Refuge

While Spring Break is a distant memory now that the Spring quarter is in full swing, our trip hiking Zion and Bryce Canyons in late March is still imprinted on my memory as a fantastic way to jump-start sunny weather hiking and see some amazing rock formations in the process. Rich and I started out by flying to Las Vegas, the land of Sin, where we went to the under-publicized but overly stimulating Erotic Heritage Museum and then a walk along the Strip, with all its characters.

with Woody and Buzz

In the morning, we set off on a two-day backpack into Kolob Canyons to see the Kolob Arch. We set off down the canyon, along La Verkin Creek to our beautiful camp spot along the creek, about 5 miles out. We treated water with my Steri-pen, then went about exploring. When we returned to our site, about an hour later, the water level had risen and the creek was running silty, leaving us with scant water supplies.

beautiful campspot beside cloudy creek

The next morning, after an abbreviated breakfast with no coffee (gasp!), we were excited to see a clear-running creek at the Kolob Arch cut-off trail. I almost forgot to filter it first, as I was so thirsty. We filled up, saw the arch and started our hike out. Wow, it was hot! I had worn long pants, thinking it would be cooler at that elevation. The heat made everything feel heavier, longer and steeper. When we made it to the car, I was no longer even able to remove my own pack from my back. Rich helped me with it and got me into the car. Thank goodness for air conditioning!

Kolob Arch

To recover from our hot and tiring trip, the next day we explored the front-country trails in the canyon, doing the touristy stuff we probably would never have had time for if we had stuck to our original plans and not exhausted ourselves the first day. And we made sure to bring lots of water.
stroll along the river

this was the only camouflaged deer we saw in the front-country

Emerald Pool
On Tuesday, we were recovered and felt we could return to our serious hiking plans and set off for the West Rim trail. To get up to the West Rim, we had to first pass by the ultimate tourist spot in the Canyon, Angel's Landing. Named by a minister who claims the ridge is so high in the sky that he could talk to angels, the Landing juts out over the Canyon and has a spectacular view down to the floor; that is, directly down to the valley floor. The vertigo I encountered at Scout's Landing, the intermediate stop, made me feel like I could talk to angels, too. But we passed up the opportunity and headed upward toward the rim.
Walter's Wiggles
Old #99

last bit before the West Rim

Not far from the throngs of tourists, we stopped to make a clothing adjustment and I spotted what first looked to be a small dog in a tree... at the edge of a cliff. Above us, we could see a small group looking down on the tree with binoculars and we realized that it was a California Condor we were looking at, Number 99, to be exact. He was preening himself and was taking his sweet time doing it, so we could get up higher to have a bird's eye view, if you will. After we got all the pixels our cameras could handle, we headed higher and higher, toward the Rim. I should mention here that I was unburdened by my typically heavy daypack and carrying my camera bag, with two liters of water, some food and essentials, including my SLR. Rich was being the gentleman (and enabler) and carrying 7 liters since there wouldn't be any water available on the route.

TdF? No, the trail switchbacks down to Zion's valley floor

On the way down from the West Rim, back the same way, we were prepared for the mobs at Angel's Landing and ready to use our poles to prod people out of the way. Lucky for them (and us), the crowds had thinned by that time of day and we were able to have a peaceful descent.

view from East Rim

slot canyon en route from E Rim

The next day, we thought we'd give equal attention to the East Rim of the Canyon and hired a van to take us to the East entrance of the park, via the Zion-Mt Carmel Hwy, to do a one-way trip back to the main Zion Canyon. Although it was not as spectacular an ascent (it was more gentle though), the East Rim Trail had some old road, meadow, a few spots of snow and a thrilling descent back to Echo Canyon and Weeping Rock. It was great to be able to hop on a shuttle bus and let someone else do the driving back to the lodge. It was very crowded on the bus, but we did our best NY impressions and managed to squeeze in.

Big Bend from above Weeping Rock

Sooner than we realized, it was Friday and time to leave Zion and head for Bryce. Good thing the drive was very scenic, as we repeatedly had problems finding a decent cup of coffee that would have had to keep us awake on a boring highway drive. We arrived at Bryce Canyon Lodge and were getting our bags unpacked when we had another variety of adventure. Rich had gone out to the car, while I was in the shower. I had noticed that things were not quite right in the bathroom, but certainly weren't anything to be worried about. For example, there was no dowel in the toilet paper dispenser. I got ready to leave the room, only I wasn't able to open the door. I tried jiggling the handle, lifting the door in its frame, but nothing worked. I made a call to the front desk and they said they would send someone up. Apparently, they already knew about it because soon, the maintenance crew was outside the door, along with Rich, who sounded like he would break down the door to rescue me. I wondered aloud if I was going to have to let down my hair out the window so he could climb up (I have short hair), but soon the guys had the door open. What we had not realized when we had checked in was that it was opening day for the season and we were the first to test out their handiwork.

sunrise was more photogenic
Although we may have questioned the lodge's ability to heat food properly, it was our sense of adventure that lead to us cook dinner on my Pocket Rocket near the Sunset Viewpoint. Bananas Foster for dessert!

The next day, we hiked the Fairyland loop, and I was thrilled when I was able to easily scramble to the top of a flat-topped spire. WooHooDoo! (they're called Hoodoos). Hoodoo you love? I just couldn't get that song out of my head the whole day.
surreal surroundings

no color adjustment was made to the sky!

Our final day was spent doing some driving to get back to Las Vegas. At first, it looked like it was going to be a long drive on the highway, until I had a look at the map and asked about a nameless road that took us in the right direction and would provide us with new scenery. We checked with the Park Ranger and he was quick to tell us that it was not a shortcut, but he directed us to the BLM office where they could tell us more. The woman at the BLM office got excited and animated when we pointed to the road on the map. She said it was unpaved but very drivable with a regular car, but watch out for the ruts. Aside from a couple of water features, the road was as she said and went through Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, somewhere that a close friend had mentioned many times as a beautiful place to visit and explore.
Sharks in the desert? Only in Las Vegas!

We emerged on pavement in a town called Kanab, in Utah, where we found what seemed to be an oasis. Utah is well-known as being the center for Mormons, who abstain from all types of drugs which includes caffeine. It had been tricky that whole week to find a good coffee shop, but there in the little town of Kanab, we stumbled onto a coffee shop/outdoor gear/book store. We spent quite a while there, soaking up the atmosphere that we were used to in Seattle.

I had never considered myself a Zionist, until I visited Utah. Now, I'm a convert.

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