Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Fri, Feb 3, 2012: Escape Across the Colorado Plateau, Part 4

We continued west from Kanab, and I found myself in the middle of a high desert, more desolate and barren than I remembered from the trip to this area 2 years ago.
Then, out of nowhere...

Tiny glimpses of brilliant blue water began peeking out from behind honey golden rocks.
Lake Powell, with Navajo Mountain in the background.
It was so unexpectedly stunning that I had to work to catch my breath.
Kaylee and I entered the Glen Canyon Recreational Area, and wandered around down by the water.
The tiny rippling sounds of the water reminded me of the shores of Lake Erie.

I wished we could find a view from far enough away that we could really get a good perspective of the area.  The road did not disappoint, and I headed up a short dirt road to a lookout perched on top of a small hill.

The view...was...amazing.
I'm getting butterflies in my stomach just sitting here and remembering how beautiful it was.  I loved the honey and orange colored rocks, the way that Navajo Mountain randomly stands atop the earth, and the deep blue of the Colorado River, pooled up into this giant lake.
The moon was out too, can you find her? :)
The cliffs around the lake were absolutely fascinating, and I found myself wishing (not for the first time) that I understood the geologic forces that created this strange and wonderful place.
Lake Powell Dam:
This power plant was an interesting little place, and looked like an unwelcome industrial intrusion in an otherwise wild landscape.  I'm guessing (and hoping) that it's some sort of hydroelectric plant, utilizing the immense power trapped in the river-turned-lake.
We breezed through Page, Arizona, which seemed like a neat little town.  It would be fun to spend more time there, someday, as the area is surrounded by all sorts of exotic desert features that I find fascinating.

Cliffs raced alongside my car as we headed south on Rt. 89 in Arizona, and as we reached Tuba City, I realized that we made a connection with the trip that I took out here 2 years ago.  It was strange driving through the area that B and I had visited, seeing the same land forms with a new found appreciation of what the land around them looks like.
I hoped that we could settle in at the Grand Canyon to watch the sun set, but we ended up making it there just in time to see the last traces of light washing away from the colorful, dynamic rocks.
I forgot my tripod at home, so these were taken with me holding as still as possible... which can never be still enough.
I always thought the Grand Canyon was just orange and yellow and brown.  Who knew it could be purple and gray and blue?  Light is one of my favorite painters.
We spent the night in Tusayan, Arizona, just south of the park.  I was filled with wonder at the places we visited, and how far I traveled both across the land and within my own mindset that day.  The sunset provided fascinating hints about the beauty of the canyon, but I knew I wouldn't be satisfied until I could see it in the light of the dawn the next morning.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Fri, Feb 3, 2012: Escape Across the Colorado Plateau, Part 3

One of the reasons why I wanted to take this trip was my recent discovery of the existence of Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.  My experience with Kodachrome State Park two years ago taught me that state parks in Utah can be more beautiful than national parks in other states, so I had high hopes for this place. :)  

 Kaylee and I wound up and out of Zion and found ourselves back up at a higher elevation, surrounded by scrubby trees and less colorful rocks.  My heart was full to the seams with the energy of Zion, but my eyes craved its rich colors.  I hoped they would find their fill in the sands, and was not disappointed.
I had the park entirely to myself.
There were no trails, just me and my feet in the sand and whatever direction I felt like going.
I was surrounded by this strange, alien orange sand - the orange that is now one of my favorite colors after my experiences in the southwest, and especially Utah.  Tiny sand waves rippled all around me, slowly shaped by the cool wind that blew across their miniature peaks.
My traveling buddy. :)
It was strange to see how much plant life existed in the sand - or, sometimes, the remains of plant life.  I wondered how much of it is still alive and how much found its spark choked out by the tiny cloaking grains.
There were the remains of what looked like sunflower heads all over, and I wished I could have seen them blooming.
Kaylee loved the sand, though the feeling of it under her toes weirded her out a little I think until she got used to it.
There is an area of the park where off-road vehicles can drive, and it made me smile to think of people cheering as they zoomed across the silky soft dunes.
The further I walked into the park, the more desolate the stretches of orange pink sand became.
The sand marched slowly onward, propelled by a relentless wind, steadily devouring everything in sight.
I marked the highest sand dune in the park with my eyes and headed out toward it, losing myself in a ripping sea of orange.
The wind was my constant companion, gentle and playful and steady, sending glistening specks of sand flying at my every step, pulling my hair over my eyes, tugging at my coat, and in general just making a fun mess out of everything. :)
The sky was so blue and clear and bright, and I was immensely grateful once again to be out of the snow.
There were little dunes sprinkled throughout the park that were covered in what looked to be these little sunflower heads.  I stopped and knelt down in the sand, tiny bits of orange sticking to my hands and feet and catching in the fabric of my pants, and pushed my nose close to one of the flowers.
I was surprised to see it covered in a fine orange dust, little specks of sand caught in the hairs of the plant.
I'm not sure how they can carry out photosynthesis while covered in dust, and I'm curious to learn what they are and what kind of adaptations they have that they can thrive nestled in a bed of pure sand.
I ascended the highest dune, walking along the curvy crest, more and more amazed by the view around me as I rose and the earth tumbled farther below.
I have done a lot of reading about southern Utah lately, and learned a bit about Escalante National Monument (the largest national monument in the country).  One of the earliest travelers there of European descent described the land in southern Utah as being like a staircase, with the Grand Canyon at the bottom and Bryce Canyon at the top.  Apparently, the youngest rocks in the Grand Canyon are about the same age as the oldest rocks in Zion National Park, and the youngest rocks in Zion are about the same age as the oldest rocks in Bryce.  I find it so fascinating to think of the earth like that.

From the top of the highest sand dune, I could see down into a little space between the mountains around me to a lower elevation of the "staircase", and it really struck me to actually be seeing that theory in the land before me.
The textures in the sand were beautiful and complex.
It looked like it had snowed fairly recently, and some of the areas of the sand were a deeper orange due to being dampened by melting snow.  The textures of the wet sand reminded me of sandstone, and again it struck me to realize that perhaps sandstone was created in places such as this, tens of thousands of years ago.
The wind greeted me joyfully from the top of the highest dune, showering me with sand and tugging eagerly at me with gentle hands.

The sand at the top of this dune had somehow formed some funny little mini hoodoos!
The view was breathtaking and deeply strange.  I felt like I was on Mars, and I loved the feeling.
These little formations look to me like the tips of a giant's fingers almost completely buried in the sand.
I was surprised to see some trees growing on the back side of the dune, what looked to be some scrubby pines and cottonwoods.  I wonder how long the dunes have been there, and how the trees get their water.  I can't imagine any seed deciding that a bed of sand is a nice place to thrive, though if I were a tree and I had a choice I might want to live there too.  The sun was warm on my face, the sand soft and inviting under my toes, the wind caressing my skin, and I loved the freedom of not having a trail to follow but being able to see everything around me so I knew I wouldn't get lost.
Playfully, the wind's fingers pulled in some light, airy clouds and dotted them around the sky above us, creating thin beautiful shadows that undulated across the surface of the rippling sand below me.
In the wet sand, more sand patterns.
An older bank of sunflowers, mostly buried.  I wonder if they still bloom?
There were tiny little footprints in many areas of the sand, especially near the plants.
Textures on wet sand.
I almost walked past this little plant, but my attention was somehow caught by it and I turned around to study it.  The fingers of the plant drew arcs in the sand as the wind blew across it, and I loved being able to see this interaction.  It was like a small compass able to sketch in only one quadrant of the page.
I wandered back to my car, waved goodbye to the beautiful orange stretches of sand before me, and Kaylee and I headed off to our next destination.
Kanab, Utah took me completely by surprise.
The land around it was covered with more orange sand, and high orange cliffs rose around the town.
Apparently this used to be (is?) a popular place to film moves that take place "out west".  I loved being able to enjoy its unexpected beauty.