Thursday, November 1, 2018

Zion and Bryce Are Just Amazing

It has been a very long time since I have been to Zion National Park.  What a fool I have been. Luckily, we have a student teacher from France staying with us, Urun, and Kathleen is determined to show her all the wonders of our magnificent state, so a week and a half ago we grabbed a VRBO in LaVerkin for a couple of nights, and started with Zion.  It was amazing.

If you know my wife, she is not content to just do a few things, and packs everything she can into everything we do. So of course on the way down Friday, we made it to Cedar City by 2:00 pm to see a play at the Utah Shakespeare Festival.  It was not Shakespeare (Urun's english is good, but not that good yet); rather, it was "An Illiad" a tour de force one may play based on Homer's work.  It was stunningly good.

From there, we continued to LaVerkin, got settled, and then drove the 25 minutes into the park to see the sunset. It was a long day of driving, but so worth it.  This was the view of the Virgin River we managed to catch before the sun went down:

The brittle brush nearby also added a dash of color to the scene, as a deer grazed just out of sight:

Not a bad introduction to Southern Utah for our French guest.  We headed back through Springdale, which has changed so much since I was last here 10 years ago at Christmas, and landed at the house fully intending to get up early and get prime parking at the visitor center lot the next day, so that we could take the shuttle bus into the Canyon (that is also a new feature since I was here last).

So of course we overslept. But never fear, nice people can be found even in crowded parking lots with cars circling like sharks.  A really nice couple overheard me telling the boys that we would have to wait for their mom for a half hour at the visitor center while she parked the car in Springdale. They immediately whispered "or you could just follow us, we're leaving!"  What a great thing to do! Yay humanity!

Parking problem solved, we picked up the shuttle and headed to stop 7, the East Rim Trail, where we began the hike up to Observation Point.  It is a stunning hike, but not for the faint of heart (or, really, overweight old guys carrying 25 pounds of camera gear).  Here is a photo to give you a sense of the thing.

The views were stunning though, and it was fun to see it through Urun's eyes.

After the steep initial climb, you enter into a slot canyon, and that is where the views really become stunning.

Camera's have so much trouble capturing the scene, with contrast between the light and dark parts of the canyon overwhelming the filter and processor, but hopefully these give you a sense of this magical place, where yellow sunlight bounces from orange wall to orange wall, intensifying the golden colors as it goes, all contrasted with the blues and greens in the deepest parts of the canyon. It never ceases to amaze me how places like this just lift your spirit, brighten your outlook, and fill you with the vibrance and essence of life. What a treat.

The patterns carved into the rock are also just kaleidoscopic, dizzying in their effect as you look down into the slots carved over thousands of years.

As we rounded a bend Keegan looked up and exclaimed, "look dad, its the burning bush!"

Happy that he made that association, I nonetheless wondered if this might give me the right to make my own ten commandments, starting with 'Thou shalt never, ever, look at a screen on a beautiful Saturday ever again.'  (That is truly where I would start these days -- we can cover what we really need to in the other nine, can't we?).  I mean, if this:

doesn't make you a fan of getting out and into it, I don't know what can.  Urun left us and busted on ahead (I was never quick, and I am moving a lot slower these days).  She made it all the way to the top, and was stunned by the view from Observation Point.  I didn't quite make it there, as we had to get back down to see other things in the park on this short weekend jaunt.  But I am going to come back when I have a little more time -- I really need to see the rest of this hike.

Even though we didn't pack much lunch, and it was getting late, we headed from this hike straight up to the Narrows, knowing that Urun had to at least see that part of the park, if only briefly (the shuttles stopped at 6:30, which is one bummer of an otherwise excellent transportation system -- they really need to extend the hours til well after dark).

Even though we were too hungry and had too little time to walk up the stream at the end of the trail, the Narrows did not disappoint.

It is a stunning place -- you feel like you have found one of those hidden valleys (despite all the people) where maybe a group of prehistoric beasts might be wandering, untouched for thousands of years.  It has this essence of peace, and permanence, as you look around and realize that this relatively small stream has been here, carving away at these mighty sandstone heights, for longer than mankind has been on the planet.  In these days of dire warnings and constant change, a place like this is truly comforting. 

Also, I had the treat of spending the whole hike back with my son Keegan, who I really love.  Hiking is not always easy for him but he is a great little hiker, and trooped all over these places with us without complaining at all, despite a serious lack of food.  He truly seems happy outside in nature, and loves being with his family. It was just a great thing for me to hike with him that day.

We caught a late bus out, and headed to Springdale to eat at a pizza place (which was so-so, sadly, given how hungry we were). From there, it was off to LaVerkin for some well deserved rest (after watching my Utes win of course!).

The next morning we headed back into the park and up route 9, through the Zion - Mt. Carmel tunnels.  Along the way we saw some climbers scaling one of the cliffs,

and were treated to some awesome views.

Right after exiting the tunnels, there is a trailhead for a short hike called the Canyon Overlook Trail.  We stopped for the quick jaunt, and managed to see this along the way:

Bighorn Sheep!  There were 5 or six of them feeding along this slot canyon area.  Not exactly something you see everyday.  Then we arrived to views like this:

and the picture at the top of this post.  Not a bad way to say farewell to an amazing place. But the wonders were not done on this day.  As we headed up to Bryce Canyon along Highway 89, we encountered bison farms (another first for Urun), and then a bald eagle flew right by our window as we drove along the Sevier River on our way to Bryce. Shortly thereafter a coyote ran across the road in front of us.  I told Urun we were doing a truly awesome job of introducing her to 'Merica.

As we approached Bryce, we stopped at that wonderful mainstay of Southern Utah, Ruby's Inn, where we had a late lunch with my niece and nephew in law, Taylor and Dave, who work there. Here is Taylor with us in the picture below.

She is just a great young lady and it was fun to spend time with her.  Throw in a good meal and we were very content. 

But we had saved a true highlight for last -- we drove Urun to Bryce Point, and let her take in the sights.

At 9000 feet and 35 degrees fahrenheit, with the wind howling around us, we took it all in.

Everyone in this picture is freezing, and soon all but Urun headed back to the car to warm up.

I waited for her, and she said, "I am so cold, but I don't want to leave!"  It is one of the truly magical, unique places on the planet, and she felt it. So fun to see it that way again through her eyes.

We headed off to find the trailhead for the Navajo loop, which was a little more shielded from the wind.  The views from that trailhead, while different, are their own version of spectacular:

We headed in down the steep trail, an orange-tower wonderland all around us as we descended.

You could seriously get dizzy on all these switchbacks.

Looking up,  you realize just how steep the descent really is.

The lighting in the bottom is tricky, and none of these photos do it justice. You may just have to come and experience it for yourself to get the full effect.

After the long descent, it opened up to fields of pines and hoodos.

Makes a dad happy to see his kids smiling together, doesn't it?  One of the better treats in life.

All that downhill had to lead to an uphill somewhere -- and boy did it. We huffed and puffed in the cold air, climbing up all of these switchbacks, which are much steeper than they look here.

As we got near the top, we passed the hoodoo known as Thor's Hammer.

And found ourselves looking over this scene as the sun began to set.  A great way to cap off an amazing trip.  I think it is safe to say we have made a new fan of Utah. Urun already wants to bring others to see these amazing places.  We are lucky to live where we do, no doubt about it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Fall in the Tetons is Everything You Hoped It Would Be

Flying J celebrated its 50th anniversary of existence this year, and as part of the celebration, they took all of the employees and their spouses/significant others to Jackson Hole over the last weekend in September.  It was a home run in terms of activities and timing. 

We stayed at the Snake River Lodge, which was right by Jackson resort and nice enough. The first activity was dinner at the Million Dollar Steak House.  We were all signed up with people we didn't know as well, and it worked out great, as we had a charming evening of conversation with co-workers that was anything but work related. The food was expensive (as stake houses tend to be) but good. 

The next morning, Kathleen and I had signed up for a paragliding activity (go big or go home, as they say) but it was cancelled due to wind.  Guess it saved me from an oops -- splat! moment for a little while longer, anyway. 

The alternative was horseback riding. It is a lovely thing . . .  as long as you don't mind your knees turning into a puddle of mess and pain. How cowboys manage to even walk is beyond me. That said, the scenery was beautiful. 

After I was finally able to walk again, we wandered into town to eat dinner at Gather, a lovely restaurant that had the best food of our trip, hands down.

Sunday we headed out for a cruise around Jenny Lake, and then some sight seeing in the park.  It was a glorious ride and drive, full of colors and beauty. Here are the pics:

There are mountains that claim to be mountains, and then there are the Tetons. Them are MOUNTAINS.

We saw bald eagles and moose, while others saw elk and black bears (some of the latter at very close quarters!).

But the colors really were the star of the show, as these pictures from around Oxbow Bend attest:

But even without the colors, this high country is so evocative. Just a glance out the car window, and you are a hundred years away, in a world less complicated and more isolated, standing on your own to see what you can do in the midst of God's great creation.

Think we may need to make this an annual tradition. Once in 50 years is never enough.