Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Adventures in National Park-Hopping, Day 3: March 29, 2010

You may notice that it's taking me some time to post this story here - it's been 3 weeks already! There have been some pretty big life events going on here that have definitely been distracting me from doing this blog... and I think that's saying something because sharing my travels here is very enjoyable for me. I have been facing uncertainty with my job, not knowing if I will be asked back for the next school year, and recently found out that I will be offered a position. That's been a huge weight off my shoulders! The other really big thing going on right now is that B and I have decided to move in together. We're going to wait until school is out for the year for me, but the move is very much in the forefront of my mind. Although this is something I'm very excited about, it's pretty stressful as well (remember how much I love moving? Not at all...). So there's a brief explanation of why this is taking me so long. :)

Another reason why it's taking me so long is that I am brought back to feeling blown away by these raw, beautiful places every time I try to edit my pictures. I feel some pressure in trying to successfully communicate how absolutely stunning the earth is in Southern Utah, but maybe I should just let it go - I'm not sure it wants to be harnessed into a bunch of pixles.

That being said, here are my attempts.

We left Zion National Park by way of narrow and winding Route 9. Through a series of switchbacks, the road had us climbing up the side of the canyon, and the height afforded us some really amazing views.
We passed through a series of dark tunnels in order to cross through the canyon walls, and on the other side found ourselves surrounded by an entirely different type of rock formations. These rocks look to me to be made of petrified mud or lava:
We continued up Rt. 9 to Rt. 89, stopping on the way at a little rock shop in Mt. Carmel Junction. Signs along the road announced that the way south lead to the Grand Canyon, and I wished that we had more time to explore and play and go wherever the road took us.

As it was, we only had a week so stuck with our original plan. The closer we got to Bryce, the more colorful the rock formations became.
Red Rock Canyon, just outside Bryce Canyon, topped them all with its brilliant red-orangeyness:
I was surprised to see how much snow was in the area of the canyon, but still figured it wouldn't be too bad and hoped we could still hike. Our drive through the canyon dispelled that idea immediately. The snow was banked up 4 or 5 feet high in some areas, and a cold wind had me reaching for all the winter gear I hadn't needed at Zion.

The views were so worth it:
What's with me and crows posing for me? They did the same thing at Yellowstone.
We started off at the far end of the park, at Rainbow Point, and worked our way back toward the entrance. Those first views from Rainbow Point were beautiful, but they were nothing compared to what I saw as we proceeded back up the road. The closer we were to the entrance, the more the canyon awed me.
I believe that this is the "Natural Bridge" formation.
This is taken from Bryce Point, which I think was my favorite lookout area of the entire park:
This is called the Silent City.
We arrived around sunset, and the fading light created a beautiful contrast between the warm colors of the rocks, deep shadows outlining the hoodoo formations, blank white snow, and green pines.
Camping was obviously not an option in 3 feet of snow, so we stayed in a hotel that night. It felt so amazing to take a shower and sleep in a bed, even though we had only been camping for 2 nights. It's funny how luxurious the simple things become when you live simply, even for a short time.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Adventures in National Park-Hopping, Day 2: March 28, 2010

I awoke from a somewhat peaceful night's sleep to find that it was about 7am. I usually like sleeping in, especially during vacations, but something about camping makes me not mind too much when I wake with the sunrise.

Once the sun's rays cleared the edge of the canyon, it began to illuminate The Watchman behind our campsite:
We drove down the canyon and I was amazed by how tiny I felt. The sheer rock walls loomed above us, casting deep shadows below, though they were themselves illuminated. This is a view from Big Bend.
We arrived at the end of the canyon and started off on the river walk (which eventually goes into The Narrows), but decided the shadows were still too deep and the air pretty chilly. We headed into town to pick up some things I needed, and were rewarded by this view as we returned to the park:
The little towns were so pretty in the bright morning sunshine, all green and flowery, and I found one of my new favorite houses just outside the park.

When we returned, enough time had passed that the shadows had lost their hold on the canyon and instead rested just along the edges of the rocks. The river walk was sunny and warm....
... however, it wasn't warm enough to do The Narrows (though B thought this would be a great idea!). The sun was hot on my skin, but the water felt about 40 degrees, and we didn't have any sort of waterproof gear with us. As much as I really wanted to hike The Narrows, I just couldn't make myself ok with the idea of walking for any length of time in that freezing water.

Zion is known for having a large amount of plant life growing from the canyon walls, and although it wasn't the right time of year for it to be green, we were able to see where it will grow as the weather continues to grow warmer.
There were many small "waterfalls" that were basically drips of water running down the sides of the canyon. This one contained enough water to create a mist, which the sun kindly illuminated:
There was a little swampy area filled with watercress, which was pretty random as I don't think I've ever seen this before:
How cool is that?!
We ate lunch under a tree by the river and relaxed in the semi-shade of a just budding cottonwood tree.
Another view from Big Bend - I think the rock formation on the left looks like a stylized jackal.
Weeping Rock was next on our list of hikes for the day, and I was amazed to see a little rainforest living in the overhang of the rock.
View out from under Weeping Rock:
We were able to see another misty waterfall next to Weeping Rock:
The next hike was called Hidden Canyon, and here I learned that B is even more afraid of heights than I am. The trail is pretty narrow and is literally carved into the side of the canyon. I was excited for the hike and wanted to continue even when B was ready to stop, but shortly after I met up with a massive flow of snow and ice that ran across the path. Not wanting to risk slipping off and falling hundreds of feet to my death, I passed on the remainder of the hike. Luckily we were still able to see some really great views of the canyon:
My favorite hike of the day was our final hike, through the Emerald Pools. This is a view looking out from behind the waterfall that feeds into the lower emerald pool:
This is the middle emerald pool, containing the reflection of sunset light on the canyon walls around us:
...And the upper emerald pool, my favorite and the most colorful:
We were lucky enough to have a few minutes at the pool with nobody else around us, and it was so peaceful existing tucked away in that little corner of the canyon with no interruptions.

You might notice that there's really nothing very "emerald" about the pools, which was probably the most disappointing thing about the hike to me. I wonder if the sun had been hitting them more directly they would have been green, or if they look more green during the morning.

The hike back down to the parking lot offered beautiful views of the Virgin River as it wound through the rocks, and I loved the way that the water, trees, and grasses along the bottom of the canyon all took on the same green-gray hue as the shadows descended.
We camped a second night at Zion, and were able to find a site that was a little more secluded and a lot more removed from obnoxious neighbors. After all that hiking, it was time for a peaceful night's sleep. :)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Adventures in National Park-Hopping, Day 1: March 27, 2010

This past week, I was on Spring Break from work and decided to head down to some of the National Parks in southern Utah. B decided to take a break from work to accompany me, and wanted to put together a rough outline of our trip so we knew what to expect. I learned that I am really, really terrible at planning trips! Not only is it challenging for me, it's also extremely frustrating and I didn't enjoy our planning sessions at all. I did learn, however, that as soon as we dropped the stress on *when* we would arrive at certain places, my stress dropped away as well. Phew!

We originally planned on leaving Friday night, but a snowstorm in the mountains stopped us. We headed out on Saturday morning to the tail end of the same snowstorm.

Grand Junction, Colorado is the biggest "city" in the western part of the state, though I wouldn't really consider it to be big. It's very beautiful though, with big mesas rising up out of the high prairie all around the town.
Mesas, mesas, mesas. They were everywhere, and lined our way from eastern Colorado to southwestern Utah.
The blue skies of Utah were such a welcome relief from the stressful snowy driving conditions in Colorado.
This is the San Rafael Reef, a rock formation that runs perpendicular to I-70
Utah has to be one of the most unique looking states I've visited.
I love the rock formations that whisper of castles and gnomes.
This is the Ghost Rock:
As we neared Zion National Park, the mesas became boldly striped with reds and ochres breaking out above a carpet of sagebrush and sand.
We were amazed, and we weren't even in the park yet...
We were able to find a campsite right in the park, a feat we never would have accomplished had we traveled later in the season. The sunset light illuminated the rocks around us as we set up camp and made dinner.
I bundled myself up with several layers, but it wasn't too cold - probably in the mid 30's. Nothing a hat, a down sleeping bag, and a man radiating a lot of heat can't fix!

Shortly after the sunlight dripped down behind the rocks, an almost full moon rose above them, illuminating the surfaces so brightly that I was able to trace the rock formations against the black of the night sky.
The night was far from peaceful, as our camp neighbors were pretty noisy, but I managed to concentrate on the cold air entering my lungs and the cozy warm happiness of being bundled in my sleeping bag, and it all drifted away.