Sunday, May 01, 2011

Travel Journal: Utah's National Parks April 23-30 2011

Back from our trip!
We spent seven days visit the area around and in Utah's famous National Parks: Zion, Bryce Canyon...we certainly needed to go and see them since we were now living in Utah, right?

The last week in April seemed like an apt time.  After ski season, before the summer season, when we could use our time share points exchange points to the best advantage.

We left Salt Lake City about ten am on Saturday and proceeded to drive south about three and a half hours, back to Bryan Head, which we would use as our home base as we explored the nearby parks.

We arrived at our lodging as snow fell all about us.

Hmmph. is sort of pretty.  Our living room and bed room had cozy fire places and so we unpacked, fixed a meal and nestled in for the night.

The next morning was Easter. I spent some time cuddled up in the bed re-reading the most wonderful story ever told.

In the dining area I snuck out a few traditional Easter goodies just to remind us of childhood Easter memories of hunting jelly beans and snacking on them for a few days.

San Diego Easters never looked like this though.

So how do Bryan Head children celebrate Easter?

A poster by the resort elevator filled us in.

I thought the idea of adults hunting for white eggs in the snow was quite a novel idea!

We didn't stick around for the festivities though.  The weather was clearing and we had determined Easter to be the day for visiting Zion.

Zion...let us go to Zion on Easter.   Sounds vaguely scriptural to me.

It didn't take long for us to be filled with wonder at the place.
And we weren't even fully into the park proper!
The ranger waved us through the park gates informing us that it was the last day of FREE park visits!
We hadn't known about that when we made our plans.  We considered it an added blessing!

It is quite interesting to me how often my Southern California upbringing influences my interpretation of things.
As we drove by this mount, I mentally noted that "they" must have just bulldozed it to make the road wider, leaving cross hatching on the mountain face.
That's how it always looks on mountainsides around San Diego when a mountain passage road is widened.

Noting several people shooting pictures of the bare mountainside, we pulled over and read the posted signage.
Guess this really does need a second look.

As we drove through a reddish toned desert like area, I asked Bernie to stop so I could take a few pictures and walk about a bit.
The low growing Indian Paint Brush grew in the most artistic vignettes.

How artful is the Master Gardener.

Textural surfaces caught my eye everywhere I glanced.

Beneath my feet I could see the marks left behind by a gentle rain shower; the downy soft red soil recorded every drop.

A stream let was gurgling through an undulating rock way; I found a way to climb down for a closer look.

I passed another charmingly posed Indian Paintbrush landscape focal point on my way down.

A look up gave me a pause to consider the layers and layers of red silt that formed over time, and then was washed away to leave a sculptural form that seemed to twist and bend at will.

Randomly shaped marks stippled and dotted rock surface; what caused them to erode and reveal fresh red tones beneath the darker layers?

A short tunnel had been opened to allow the stream flow to pass below the roadway; above the opening the colors seemed especially colorful and bright.

Exposed roots traveling down to water, each rootlet had long ago muscled the rock aside as it grew.

Were the roots from the tiny tree directly above, or had they grown all the way from the larger trees in the distance?
We didn't find out...

The water, I knew could rise swiftly in a flash flood; I was really pleased to explore its beauty on a day when the stream was barely moving.

Above the tunnel opening a small plant bloomed that looked like it might bear fruit later.

A lone tree braves the elements to grow atop an small hoodoo like outcropping.

There wasn't a lot of flowers this early in spring, but I did stop to photograph any that were in bloom...

I was still gawking at textures and the plants that managed to sprout and grow in the harsh soil.

Clouds played hide and seek with the sun overhead; I practiced patience while I waited for shadows to appear with the brightening sunlight, waiting and guessing when the most distinct shadow had been formed before triggering the shutter at last.
For I while I looked up at the sky to gage the sun/cloud situation.  Eventually I learned to just watch my own shadow and use that as a gage as to when to take a shot.

Those are full sized conifers growing up they are doing it is a wonder, isn't it?

The few bright spring green leafed trees made for a great visual contrast to the red of the surrounding rocks.
Naturally I could also imagine the trees in full autumn glory.
Which would be most stunning?
Someday I hope to find out.

I do know that it is the iron content of the rocks that cause them to be red.  The stripes are just because, or are they like tree rings, denoting times of extra rainfall or ???
What ever...I really enjoy looking at the color variations and texture.
Bernie finally herded me back to the car, pointing out that we still were not at the notable parts of the park, and that we would travel through the 1.1 mile Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel into a total different sort of scene.

It was totally different.  On one side of the tunnel there are low hills,  and then on the other side there is a massive valley surrounded by massive mountains.
I felt like I had been playing in a doll house and suddenly looked up and realized there was a castle overhead.
My world got a whole lot bigger after just a short 1.1 mile drive in the darkness.

A future natural arch and chunks that have already fallen away...

A waterfall working to slice through a mountain over time.

Some perspective: the roadway is curving along below the red flowers.
I hung over the upper roadside to get this shot.
Bernie was shooting elsewhere...I really need someone to hang on to me when I am compelled to get these kinds of shot.

We finally drove down to the shuttle parking area and while Bernie packed up our hiking gear I spotted this emerald bug gleaming in the sunlight.

What was funny: I was munching a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and drinking from a bottle of water when I noticed the bug.
I managed to juggle my sandwich, water bottle and camera trying to take a picture of the fast moving bug!
He raced along a fence post, dodging beneath the rail every time I got close enough for a picture.

Once he was on the ground a bottle cap provided a means to document his size.

On another fence post I spotted this colorful fellow...

A few moments later I noted worm sacks up in the trees.

Lots of worm sacks...

Girlish me was content to let them be.
Boyish Bernie: Not so.
He dipped his finger through the webbing and was quite grossed out by how sticky it was.
Pity there wasn't another guy with us so he could have wiped his hands on him or something typical boyish like that.
As it was we were in need of a bathroom break and so we walked across to the Visitor Center courtyard.

The courtyard was wriggling with the worms!
Every surface was covered with the furry things and nearly every step I took resulted in a popping sound as a worm was squished beneath my feet.

Mother Nature in overdrive...and every young lad in the area was going nose to nose with the things, firmly resisting their parent's attempts to drag them away to see the "important" views of the park.
Bernie and I had a discussion about what a National Park visit really means to a three or four year old anyway.

The park has a free shuttle system which whisks park visitors between key sights and trail heads.
Such a great idea, no hunting for parking, and a shuttle comes by about every five minutes so getting off to take a few pictures then catching the next shuttle was super easy for us adults.
The Court of the Patriarchs was our first stop.
I had read it really is best viewed by morning light as it faces east but it was pretty impressive even in early afternoon.
It surprised me to learn that the peaks had only acquired their names back in 1916 after they were visited by a Christian minister who proposed their names: Mt. Abraham, Mt. Isaac, and Mt. Jacob.
Not sure how the Mormon Angel Moroni managed to wedge himself in between Isaac and Jacob as a mount name.

The Patriarchs really are magnificent and such a lovely Easter afternoon view.

I really didn't keep track of many mountain peak names; I just happened to like how the white and red peaks came together in this shot with the spring green foliage.

There seemed to be waterfalls everywhere...

One view towards the majestic mountains, then at my feet I would see a sweet tiny blossom, no bigger than an apple seed, and would be charmed by both amazing things.

A few tiny sweet peas added a sweet scent to the freshest of air.

Alongside the pathways tangles of this kind of weed grew; the white flowers were the size of pepper corn. and grew in a Seussian style of a round green lily pad like flower which sprouted another stem and another flower and so on to create a messy tangle of green and white.

The sky was beginning to darken, but we jumped on the shuttle to the next stop, intending to get off there and do a little hiking up to the Emerald Pools and falls.

(Wonder if there could ever be a Mt. Bernie?  What has to happen for that sort of thing to happen? Is it like the company that sells stars to people?  Can you just pick out a spike on a mountain, pay someone and then forever more it is named after you?)

The shuttle had pop open overhead windows which was nice, other wise I am not sure how one would see the tip top mountain views go by.
It is said to routinely be very hot here in the summer months. I suppose the opened overhead windows would help inside the shuttles stay cool.

The scenes never stopped looking great.

To get to the the falls required passing over a river spanned by an arched bridge.

A short pleasant walk through a forested area put us on a path that lead gently up a sloping mountainside.

The trail had was being hiked by a steady stream of visitors all of which seemed to be speaking a foreign language.
I kept stopping to photograph flowers which everyone else stepped past without a glance.

The same tangled weed from the earlier stop looked quite refined growing as a single plant from a niche in a tree trunk.

Blue flowers the size of sesame seeds barely rated a glance by anyone but me.

A few people were admiring these pink penny sized flowers however.

The sun by now had traveled past the peak we were climbing, leaving us in shadow and across the way in sunlight.
No wonder so many photographers say they make sure they visit prime sites at dawn and sunset to get the right exposure to the scene.

(I've looked for an on-line guide to the Zion's wild flowers with no luck.  Maybe I should have bought that flower guide at the park so I could tell you what flower this is?)

Or bought a guide so I could know the name of each peak?  I don't think knowing its name would make me enjoy the beauty any differently but it would be nice to know.

Pretty soon I was walking beneath a ledge with two waterfalls showering down before me.

The spray from the falls kept the path wet; I held firmly on to the railing to avoid a muddy slip.

Bits of the mountain had shed into the micro streams carving paths across the foot trail.
I thought the small pebbles were jewel like.

I've heard Zion is a wonderful park to visit even in the summer heat because there are so many places to get spritzed by falls or streams to splash through.  Getting wet didn't sound very appealing during our visit, even though it was tee shirt weather.

We walked behind the falls, then above the falls...

I really enjoyed getting a new perspective every few feet that we hiked.

It made us want to keep climbing higher and higher, despite having the altitude make us huff and puff.

We would stop for a moment, catch our breath and then keep on going.

There were three "layers" of the fall's to walk.  We decided to try to hike up to the top, or at least see how far we could get.  The paths up were easy to manage and quite heavily traveled at times.

Steps carved in stone led through narrow stone passages.

Eventually we came to a flat place, one of the "pools" where we caught our breath before pushing on to the next level.
College aged kids were lounging about on the rocks and just enjoying the serenity of the place.

This Israeli couple were singing lustily as they hiked along.  We wound up stopping at the same poolside and greeted each other, exclaiming how wonderful it all was, and we told them we had enjoyed their singing.
They asked us if we had any requests.
 Bernie quickly suggested Hava Nagila...a song we knew and were pretty sure they would know as well.
And so it was that on Easter Sunday the four of us stood in the middle of Zion and sang the Hebrew words that in English translates:

Let's rejoice
Let's rejoice
Let's rejoice and be happy

Let's sing
Let's sing
Let's sing and be happy

Awake, awake brothers!
Awake brothers with a happy heart.

We did have so many reasons to rejoice!

Then we were at the final pool...the top of the falls.

The pool was not "Emerald" by any means while we were there, but I am not complaining.
Bernie took this shot.  To get to the pool and the base of the falls required a hop and jump over the stream via some slick rocks.
I told him to go that last bit without me.

I could see everything from my side of the stream, but couldn't walk beneath the falls this time.
I really admired the mosaic like rock face behind the falling water.

(Being able to stretch out on a boulder and snap pictures with my cell phone wasn't too bad of way to pass a bit of time.)

The strong tea colored water swirling past the red rocks created endless photogenic scenes.

Nice huh?

Really, we didn't take a picture of every little pool and eddy, but it was tempting.

There is one advantage to visiting the park in late April:  A clear shot of the falls.
No leaves blocking the view.

Can you see the hole on the mountain face?
These boulders fell from there I suppose.
Must have been quite crazy to see that happen.
(I later learned that most rock falls happen during the night after the temperature has dropped.  That made me feel a bit safer as I have no interested in hiking around the area in the middle of the night anyway.)

I have no idea how long long ago the rock fell, but plants have already sprouted and I am sure are doing their part to cause it to crumble further.

The shuttle bus had a recording playing that explained how recently the park had flooded and trapped people inside after the river had covered the roadways.
This little waterfall must at time be completely drowned under heavy rainfall at times.
I am glad we could see the place when the water level was still low.

Going back down a trail, down the mountain never seems to take much time at all.
At the bottom of these steps we had a decision to make: did we want to hike the trail to the Queen's Garden?
A couple that we had randomly hiked along side were discussing the same option.

They were just a little older than us, and the wife said they had hiked the trail many years ago, remembered that it was really pretty but couldn't recall if it was a strenuous hike or not.
We decided to take the trail and if it got too steep we would turn back.

It was so rewarding to be able to look at three falls, on two layers, knowing we had hiked up past the second falls!

It turned out that the Queen's Garden trail crept along the edge above the river below, with no elevation change to speak of.
I did notice the sky was getting serious looking however.

As we hiked along I kept looking out at the dark clouds, and then  started to see lightening and thunder.

The wife, Judy, was hiking along with me and we compared notes on how we wound up in Utah.  They had lived many years in Park City, but after basically 17 years of snow had decided to move to St. George in Southern Utah.
They loved it there.
I kept stopping to take pictures, hoping to get one of a lightening strike.

The Queen's "Garden" was somewhat limited, but there were a few flowery nooks that appealed to me.

(Thunder and flashes of rain...keep hiking...Judy has rushed on ahead....)

You didn't for a moment think that Bernie and I could take a hike without finding a snake now did you???

And you of course knew Bernie was going to catch it, right?

That's George standing behind Bernie.  They had enjoyed discussing fly fishing and engineering companies and all kinds of interesting guy things while they hiked together.

Now the gopher snake has managed to slip through the camera strap around Bernie's wrist.
This is getting a bit complicated.
Bernie just wanted to move the snake to lower ground where it would be hidden and less likely to scare people or be hurt.
It was only later that Bernie remembered the signs everywhere that instructed that park visitors not handle wild life.
Or else they could be fined.

And the storm kept brewing and drawing closer....

Maybe it would clear up before it hit us?

(Actually I am thrilled to get to see Zion in a storm.  It made all the colors even more intense than usual.)

That thing the recording on the shuttle talked about where park visitors got stranded one time in a sudden flash flood?
Naw...we will be fine.

I kept watching the river below anyway...

Clear skies ahead. No problem!

With the rocks wet, I can see several future arches in the making.
How many years until the rocks crumble away and leave an arch?
Who know!
I doubt it will happen in my lifetime though.

OK...we did make it safely to the shuttle and I shot this picture though the window.  Reminded me of Neapolitan ice cream: Can you see the chocolate, vanilla and strawberry parts?

We got off the bus again, planning to hike just a bit more.  The wind was really kicking up....look at the angle of the water!

First there were just a few tiny drops of rain, then as the wind continued to pick up the drops got enormous and I turned to Bernie and said "Let's go back."
He was happy to comply!
We raced back to the shuttle stop, just a few yards away but I still got soaked to the skin.

(Which didn't stop me from pausing to take another picture as I went...)

It was a real downpour!  At the next shuttle stop a family came piling in...they had been hiking up high when the storm broke on them and pelted them with marble sized hail.
Everyone in the shuttle at this point was staying on the shuttle; many languages were heard and jokes were being tossed about.

"Quit fogging up the window Marg!" was called out to the woman in the front seat when the collective heat of all of us steamed all scenery away.

Not much to see...
We galloped back to our car, and thankfully I had packed a change of clothes which I swiftly wiggled into in the front seat.

We drove back the way we had come in...through the tunnel, and now a huge waterfall was pouring down where earlier it had been dry.
Check out the angle of that pine tree!  Crazy!
Bernie teased me by stopping several times and suggesting I get out and take another picture.
I passed...I only had one change of clothes with me and I didn't want to get wet again.

It was about six o'clock by the time we drove into the town nearest to Zion. 
Chili or soup or anything hot sounded good to us...especially since it had been hours since we gobbled down our picnic sandwiches as we had hiked.

Plus the idea of "Ho-made pie" sounded interesting.
Would they be like, say...Mennonite pies?
Can "Ho's" cook too?
We needed to find out!
(Plus getting a shot of the gasoline prices is always a documentary feature for when one looks back at one's travel pictures years from now.  I remember driving down from Oregon one time and being dismayed at gas costing an outrageous $1.35 a gallon!)

Dinner was great.
The drive back to our lodging...nightmarish.
It rained and rained, and then as we began to climb higher into the mountains it turned to snow and fog.
We could hardly see four feet ahead of us as the snow began to build in the passes where snow plows only cleared during daylight hours.
Bernie had had our snow tires switched out to regular tires just a few days earlier; our all wheel drive Subaru did well in the snow but the fog and snow combined was really challenging.
It took three hours to get back...and it only took a few moments to shower up and dive into bed, warming up with the fireplace in our room blazing and snow still falling outside.

To be continued....


A Lady said...

AAAAhhhhh!!!! Rave reviews!!! Rave reviews!!! Rave reviews!!!! (and a new phobia, thanks mom.) AMAZING shots!!! Way better on full screen. Sooooo jealous!

Lovella ♥ said...

What a fantastic set of shots you captured. So enjoyed all the mountain sculptures, worms, snake, weather, ho made pies (were they good?). .and so glad you made it safely back to your wonderful lodging.

Vee said...

Every post an adventure! You know, I'm sure that your beloved is a darling boy and all, but if he were mine, he'd have to keep at least 20 feet away from me at all times. It just goes to show that you love bugs and snakes and worms as much as he! I was going to ask about the flowers and the snow, but I think I have it figured out. Snow in the higher elevations and "normal" in the lower ones. Striking photos, Jill. Just wonderful!

Vicki said...

Wow...what a day! I had been wishing I'd been there with you until I saw the snake and the storm...I enjoyed the rest of your day from my little chair. :)

I did find some Utah wildflower ID sites and a list of plants and wildflowers found in Zion. I'll email that to you. I've already got that one yellow one you wondered about ID'd. :)

Judy ~ My Front Porch said...

I was with you...each step of your journey to Zion...reliving our trip there last summer. We managed our visit without rain, hail & snow, however! I am so looking forward to joining you at Bryce...tomorrow. You do have amazing national parks in Utah!

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

This post was so fascinating to see and read, Jill! I felt as if I were alongside you on your visit to Zion. I love the National Parks and hope to visit Utah one day to see both Zion and Bryce.