Saturday, May 28, 2016

Zion National Park

After leaving Page, Arizona, we drove 100-miles northwest to Mt. Carmel, Utah, positioning ourselves for visits to two of the most incredible National Parks in the country: Zion National Park, and Bryce Canyon National Park. We pulled into the Hi-Road RV Park on April 25th, just outside the east entrance to Zion NP, and almost immediately after unhitching the truck from the 5th wheel and getting set up, it started to snow. I guess winter wasn’t quite ready to let go here! The elevation at the RV Park is a few hundred feet higher than the driving areas of Zion, so after watching the snow come down (and stick) for a couple of hours, we decided to drive into the park to get a feel for how we wanted to approach our visit over the next few days. Sure enough, once we came down the hill a bit, the snow turned to rain, and we were more optimistic, especially with a forecast of drier days the rest of the week. We picked up park brochures, hiking trail maps, and drove through the scenic byway, excited by what we were seeing, and looking forward to a more in-depth exploration the following days.

Like all of the vast canyon lands across the Colorado Plateau, Zion’s impressive landscape is one carved from water. Waterfalls, rivers, and flash floods propelling log jams and boulders through the canyons, over vast periods of time, all play a part in creating one of Nature’s most breathtaking displays of geology anywhere. Everywhere we looked we were awestruck, from the soaring steel-gray rock mountains, to the red sandstone cliffs, green canyons, and blue skies; the waterfalls coming down the mountain sides feeding the Virgin River, spreading over diverse landscapes encompassing everything from the lowland deserts to the forested highlands. A large variety of plants, animals, spiders, and reptiles call Zion home, and we were lucky enough to see a small sampling of these native (and sometimes not so native) inhabitants.

The hiking opportunities in Zion seem endless, ranging from quick jaunts of under ¼ mile to take in a vista point, to half-day, full-day, and even several day backpacking ventures. Our time was limited, and wanting to cover as much ground as possible, plus include a variety of experiences, we went on a number of the more popular hikes in the park:

The Canyon Overlook Trail that climbs above the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel that culminates in stunning views of lower Zion Canyon, including the famous switchbacks (on the road), hoodoos, wildflowers, and many  significant geological formations.

Riverside Walk, one of the most popular trails in Zion NP along the Virgin River which provides access to “the narrows” (a slot canyon in the north end of the canyon). During the drier months of the year, hikers can continue hiking in the river, up “the narrows” for as far as they want. During the wet season, the chance of flash floods prohibit this. 

Emerald Pools, a lushly vegetated trail that meanders by a stream leading to tiered waterfalls.

Weeping Rock, a short but steep hike that takes you to the moss and fern-covered eave of an overhanging cliff, and is accessible from one of the stops along the shuttle route.

Pa’rus Trail, named after the Paiute word for “bubbling water”, a paved trail along the Virgin River with much wildlife, flowers, and birds.

We also took a lengthy walk along the shuttle route, which allowed us to explore parts of the park we otherwise would have missed, such a small “unadvertised” waterfall tucked away off the road, and to get off and on the shuttle if we felt like it (which we did, once it started to rain!).

As is always the case, pictures can only capture a small portion of the awe and beauty one experiences by actually being somewhere such as this, but here is our attempt to do just that.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Page, Arizona (Part 4, Lees Ferry, Vermilion Cliffs, Cliff Dwellers)

The last thing we did before leaving Page was take a drive to Lees Ferry and the Vermilion Cliffs, about 8-miles southwest of Page and 9 miles south of the Utah-Arizona border. On tap for us was a hike near the Colorado River, and a drive in the surrounding area to a couple of historic points of interest.

Lees Ferry’s unique geography makes it the only place in hundreds of miles where you can easily access the Colorado River from both sides. Historically this was the site of a ferry operated by John Doyle Lee, for whom the site is named. In the early 20th century a bridge was built that superseded the ferry, and allowed for more efficient automobile travel.

The Vermilion Cliffs National Monument is part of the Colorado Plateau in northern Arizona, with scenic views of towering cliffs and deep canyons. Our visit was just on the periphery of the area, as we did not venture deep into the National Monument where a hiking permit is required for access. We hiked Cathedral Wash, a minor drainage that begins at the base of the Vermilion Cliffs. This short hike took us through a sandstone slot canyon with many interesting rock formations, plant life, birds, insects, and reptiles. Hikers are warned that this wash would be dangerous during or shortly after any rains due to flash flooding, but we had a blue sky day with no hint of rain to hamper our enjoyment.

After our hike, we took a scenic drive along Highway 89 to the location of the Cliff Dwellers. Not knowing what to expect, and just reading the signpost announcing the “Cliff Dwellers” where head, we thought this was going to be archeological remains from ancient native peoples. As it turned out, these are in fact archeological remains of a sort, but something much more recent, only going back to the 1920’s. The story goes that Blanche and Bill Russel, the original homesteaders at Cliff Dwellers established a trading post here in 1920, after their car broke down near the big rocks. Blanche thought this would be a nice place to live, and the rest, as they say, is history. Their original home still stands at the end of the property. The unique rock house they built for themselves was called Cliff Dwellers by the local cowboys because of its proximity to the Vermilion Cliffs.  

Here are some pictures from our final exploration while staying in Page, Arizona.