Monday, March 19, 2007

Zen Pagan Day

I woke up this morning feeling a bit mello. This being my last day I wanted to savor it and decided that the best way to do that was to take the 40 miles back to Zion at a leisurely pace, stopping for breakfast, take in the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, and then leisurely hike up along the Virgin River just until I found a quiet spot to relax and maybe read. I wasn't sure there was an easily accessible quiet spot on the Virgin River given the noticeable daily rise in tourism, but it would have to do.

Breakfast at "Grandmother Tina's" was excellent and I warmed up to Kanab while eavesdropping, and being included in on, on the conversation at Steve's table. These were obviously a group of locals who met there every morning. They were friendly, kind, retired but active people who enjoyed everything the area had to offer. Yesterday Steve hiked down into Snake Canyon.

After breakfast I headed Northwest stopping for a stroll along the dunes at the State Park. Even the sand here deserves mention. It's so fine its more like liquid than like our heavy, ponderous-by-comparison-granite sand. And the further you dig down with your toes the cooler it gets. What really struck me was how wonderful a place this would be to do some yoga, especially at sunset. Any takers?

Then it was off to Zion. The drive was bittersweet, so beautiful but also the last time I'd see all this beauty for awhile. After passing through the Zion tunnel, driving down two of the hair pin turns and crossing a small bridge I pulled off the side of the road to take a picture. Noticing how nice the little brook looked that went under the bridge I grabbed my backpack, locked Brutus and headed down for a closer look. One thing I've learned about this area, from reading the "Paria River" book, short experience, and listening to Steve this morning was that every river or stream leads up a canyon and every and any canyon can be wonderful. So I headed up the stream bed. Rounded a few corners, a few boulders, climbed up a few sliprock walls, and .... came to what was the exact spot I'd wanted to be. There at the head of the little canyon was a waterfall cascading into a clear pool...(that's it in the picture). I waded in the pool, enjoyed the quiet, watched the butterflies (big yellow ones), thanked the forces that had led me here, then took out my book and read.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Sandstone, Sliprock and Slot Canyons

Today's adventure started out at the Miracle Outfitters/Bookstore/Coffee shop with a smooth French Roast, a book entitled "Hiking and Exploring the Paria River," and a chat with the clerk. A young woman originally from Wyoming, Jane moved to Kanab for 2 reasons - she likes the warm weather, and there is so much to do in the area. It was she who recommended the book. She also filled me in on Latex Larry. Yesterday I neglected to describe the town of Kanab, where I'm staying. If I had to describe said town in one sentence I'd say, "Kanab is the kind of small town located on a busy highway that has to park a police car with dummy at the beginning of town just to get travelers to slow down." And that Police Cruiser is parked right outside my hotel door, and it's occupant - according to Jane is named Latex Larry.

It was the book however that pointed me in the direction of Buckskin Gulch. After driving 40 miles to the BLM office I obtained the official map with directions and proceeded to the Wirepass Trailhead. The next 4 hours were spent exploring part of the longest slot canyon in Utah "and all the world". To reach the canyon I hiked along a wash through sliprock country, areas were the sandstone had been twisted and turned into amazing shapes and textures revealing banding patterns that are beautiful. Then while temperatures rose into the upper 70's I slipped into the slot canyons. Sometimes the canyon must have been over 100ft deep, 3 ft wide and 20 degrees cooler than outside.

After that I headed back to Kanab, which also happens to have one of the best Mexican Restaurants I've ever had the pleasure to dine at. Then it was back to the Bob Bon Inn for some R & R, and a chance to finish reading "Hiking and Exploring the Paria River," which is also full of local history.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Swiftly flow the days

Like most days so far a lot has happened between sunrise and sunset.

Sunrise was observed at Bryce Canyon amoungst an international group of fellow sun worshippers. When I reached the point at 7:14 there was already a couple there from Italy. We were soon joined by a Japanese couple a group of Germans and I believe two Frenchmen. How amazing is it to know that people come from all the world to see this country. We were all equally impressed with what we saw. I've uploaded a series of photos to the album.

After sunrise I headed East toward Escalante and the Grand Staircase National Monument. The next time someone challenges you to name something good Bill Clinton did you may now, irregardless of your political affiliation, grandly state that he set aside this vast, varied and unique tract of land in Southern Utah for the enjoyment of future generations. The 60 mile drive to today's hiking destination climbed to an elevation of 8000ft and traversed Ponderosa Pine forest, desolate desert, amazing sliprock and red canyon country.

After turning several bends along rt 12 and exclaiming, "Oh my god" after each one I reached the trailhead for Lower Calf Creek Falls. As the guidebooks says "this trail follows the year round creek through a spectacular canyon to a 126ft waterfall." During the 6 mile hike I also saw picturographs, and trout and got a small taste of a summer day in the desert. I think they must be extremely HOT. Most of the trail was sand and I walked most of it in barefeet. In the morning the sand felt cool by afternoon I about burnt my feet to match the rest of my quickly sunburning body. And the Falls, as you can see for yourself, were just - well- just like a miracle.

After the hike I retraced the route West past Bryce and South past Mt Carmel arriving in tonight's town, Kanab, at 5pm. The exact time everything closed down. This being a very religious area, most of the establishments are also closed tomorrow. After some cruising up and down the strip however I did locate an Outfitter/Bookstore/Coffee shop (Another Miracle!) which is open tomorrow. Now that I had the important details taken care of I checked into the BobBon Inn, sat down on my second story balcony and watched the sunset over the red canyon walls to the West.

PS "Desert Solitaire" is a classic.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Reading the Rocks

At 1:30 I sat down in the shade of a magnificent Ponderosa Pine. Having just completed the 6 mile Queen's Garden/Peekaboo Canyon Loop of Bryce Canyon. I needed a little break. It was at just this moment that a hiker came up behind me asking for the time. When I told him he told me that at 2:00 a Park Ranger/Geologist was giving a talk at Sunset Point on the Geology of the Canyon. He'd "love to chat, but..." had to get to the talk...which was .6 miles and 1000ft above where we were. Out loud I wished him luck, under my breath I cursed his very existence.

The geology of Bryce Canyon and for that matter all of Arizona and Utah fascinates me. It is certainly unlike anything Dr. Hiscock covered in Geology 101 and although I'd read a few websites here and there the pieces just didn't make sense. Now here I was tired and hot but only .6 miles, 30 minutes and 1000ft from a real live person who was going to explain it all.

Have I mentioned I was tired? I'd woken up before sunrise in Springdale, eaten another of the Mean Bean's excellent Breakfast Burritos and driven East on RT 9 (stopping to take the obligatory photo of Checkerboard Mesa) and 89 arriving at the Canyon rim (elev. 8300) at 10:00. It's just like in the pictures, only now it was real. The colors of the hoodoos are so bright, their shapes so fantastic and without a seconds hesitation I started down, then up, then around. The hike was about 6 miles through fantastic landscapes of deserts, snowy valleys, ponderosa pine forests, hoodoos, spires, window walls, etc. All of which I took numerous pictures and now...I would have to climb up out of the Canyon at warp speed.

Did I mention that it was hot? But I did it! The Ranger's talk lasted about 45 minutes during which I finished off the water in my camelback and learned that the area all round here was at one point a giant inland lake surrounded by mountains of different chemical compositions and what unique combination of minerals allows the hoodoos to exist, or rather not erode. If you're lucky - some day I'll tell you too. I also learned why Zion is Zion, what's up, or down with the Grand Canyon and ... I'll tell you later. Needless to say the uphill sprint was worth it.

Now I'm bunking down at Ruby's Inn. (They've got a Western Theme thing going on) Turning in early. Didn't sleep all too well last night - kept having dreams of falling off cliffs and then when I did fall asleep dreamed that I jumped off them and was flying over the Canyon. Tomorrow I'm not sure what I'm doing except I know by nighttime I'll be in Kanab, Utah, about 70 miles South of here.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Observation Point

Distance: 8 miles round trip
Duration: 5 hours
Challenge: Difficult
Elevation Change: 2150 ft.
Temperature variation: 45 - 80 degrees

After uploading everything last night I got into a conversation with a German hiker who was also using the internet. He was hiking the Narrows today - so I told him all about that. He'd hiked to Observation Point, and told me all about that. I mentioned that I was thinking of attempting Angel's Landing. He showed me a picture he'd taken - of Angel's Landing looking down from Observation Point...and the rest is history.

This morning at 9:00 after an excellent breakfast burrito I pulled into the Weeping Rock parking lot and started climbing. To whomever built all those switchbacks I promise my eternal gratitude. The views were beautiful. wonderful. The climbing enjoyable.

Once again the first people I met were European. The Americans would come later. Guess the Europeans just get up earlier?

Half way up the visable mountain (you know how mountains have that habit of being much higher than the peak you can see), the trail turned a corner and entered a slot canyon. Cool.For awhile it went along a stream bed, then through a narrow section of shear Red Rock walls. Up close those walls are even more beautiful. The veining is so intricate, the colors vivid. Out of the canyon, the temperature started rising as the sun started sliding down the walls. Spring is obviously something that comes here in pockets. Every once in a while I'd see a plant flower that in other areas were still dormant. I love wildflowers and these were as sweet as any I've ever seen.

After hiking 2 miles I stopped for a rest under a Ponderosa Pine that sat off the trail. (Gerald - you're right those Honey Stinger Bars are excellent - could use a tad more chocolate - but really very good) Then started hiking another series of switchbacks. I too am thankful to the people who made these possible...but couldn't they have made them 5, maybe 6 feet wide? Maybe added an edge in some places where it went along shear 1000 ft drop? Okay. It was in this section that I had a panic attack. The fear of heights is a hard one to get over. I actually turned around. Walked down about 20 steps. Hugged the wall. Waited for my breathing to return to normal. Turned back around and never once taking my eyes from the path in front of me walked the remaining switchback section to the Ponderosa Pine Forest of the High Desert which leads to Observation Point.

The Point itself? The picture says it all.

Tomorrow I head for Bryce Canyon.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Reading the River

Well those of you who bet on my going up the River have won. What it really came down to was me knowing that as long as I didn't go it would be the main thing on my mind. So after updating the blog this morning I went to Zion Canyon Outfitters, put on a 2 pairs of neoprene booties, one pair of canyoneering boots, and some really large dry suit pants.

I then drove (in those) to the end of the Zion Scenic Drive, hiked the 1 mile paved walkway, entered the River and started off on what is unarguable one of the best hikes I've ever done. Hiking between towering canyon walls is awesome. Hiking IN a river is a new skill all together. As the water rushes down you have to figure out where the water is running deepest and fastest. Often I thought of Mark Twain and his riverboat piloting days. The water was always deepest on the outer bends of the Mississippi, and so I walked the inner curves of the Virgin River. The hiking stick, or sounding pole as I soon came to know it was invaluable. Mark five, Mark three, Mark Twain. Actually it was more like knee depth, hip depth, ankle depth.

Wall Street, the area where the canyon narrows to about 20 ft wide with no shoulders was a powerful experience. Between the force of the water and the height of the straight narrow walls it was almost overwhelming. By the time I reached the end of that section I'd been hiking about 2.5 hours and honestly, my knees were starting to shake.

Walking down stream was a whole new experience and at first I didn't like it at all. After awhile however I got the hang of it and enjoyed that too. So much I took a detour into a side canyon which had a gentle flow and some small waterfalls. It wasn't until after that and I got back to the Virgin River that I began to see other hikers. The first 9, in groups of 3, 2, 2, and 2, were all European. That was a bit disappointing. But soon the Americans started showing up. I guess most tend to sleep later? By the time I got within a mile of the paved walk the river was full of young adult types trying the River in Tevas. Their legs were the red of a well done lobster and I was glad to have the dry suit.

Tomorrow I'll attempt Angels Landing which when you think about it, is basically walking on air.

Good morning

Here I am sitting and typing away on the patio of the "Pioneer Lodge" internet cafe - and a better place to type I can not imagine.Neil Young is singing "Harvest Moon." People are walking by saying hi. I took some shots the sunrise while uploading my last post.

One thing I forgot to mention yesterday were the soft breezes. You can feel them coming down the mountains or rising up off the river. Not like the wind back home, just small locale breezes. They're starting here now.

Take Me To the River 3/13/2007

I thought I was going to Utah but it turns out I'm going to the headwaters of the Virgin River.

But first back to the plane. The ride was loooong but uneventful.("The Family Fortune" is an excellent book) After leaving Phoenix I did see Sedona and San Francisco Mountain off to the East. Then we flew over the Grand Canyon making this trip the perfect follow up to December's.

Las Vegas...hmmm...The song "Leaving Las Vegas" came to mind a number of times as I pulled out of the rental car lot and headed North as fast as I possibly could. Not much to see in Nevada. Guess the highlight would be scorching hot weather and the yellow flowers which I believed to be Santolina blooming by the side of the road. Then the road turned into Arizona and a wall loomed up before the highway and before I knew it a gap opened in the wall out of which the Virgin River Flowed. From all I'd read of Zion the highlight was hiking up the "Narrows" of Virgin River, but here was that same river. I-15 climbed into the high desert alongside the canyon and leveled out around 3000 ft. The road was pretty uneventful after that unil St. George, Utah when the Red Rock reappeared. Turning East on 9 the hills closed in, while at the same time the views up the valley began to be more breathtaking.

It took 4 hours, 1.5 longer than I'd thought, but soon I arrived at Springdale, UT. El Rio Lodge was "right there where the map said it would be" and the people just as friendly as the Lonely Planet Guide book reported. It was 4:00. Sunset wasnt' for another 4 hours. I threw my bags in the room and headed off to the Park.

First off let me say that Springdale is the cutest, but still realest town that is entirely supported by tourism that I have ever seen. Secondly, I say that the tourists that are here - and you can tell its no where near peak - are all outdoor hiker types.

So...I drove up the center park road, stopping at the Zion Lodge parking lot so I could hike the Emerald Pools Loop. I loved it!!! Pictures are here and also available on my Picassa web album. I'll try and add captions to the photos so they make sense. They are all so beautiful and the pools were just lovely. I, of course, had to wade in them.

And it was while I was wading in them that it occured to me...even though its not supposed to be possible this time of year...perhaps with the weather being as unseasonable warm as it is (tomorrow is supposed to be in the 80's) I could actually hike "The Narrows" - a 10 mile hike up the stream bed of the Virgin River. Back in Springdale I checked with an outfitter and they said that people are indeed hiking the Narrows. They rent water shoes and dry suits (the water temperature is 40 - and 3 hours is too long to spend wet in 40 degree water). I'm going to sleep on it. The down side is I can't take the camera, and it will take all day. The upside is I Get To Walk The Narrows!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Lessons Learned

Over the past few years I've learned a few things. A few of them have to do with preparing for trips.

And so it was with those lessons in mind that I went to Borders yesterday. Having good (paperback) books while going on vacation is vital to the success of the trip. You really can not rely upon the airport bookstores to have that right volume. Once I had nothing other than some hideously boring book that I can't even remember for an entire flight to Amsterdam (Other lesson - Do Not count on there being bookstores in Iceland). But back to Borders and the all important book selection. First off, all books can not be of the same genre. One should be light, almost frivolous. For this category I upgraded from the usual 'chick lit' to "The Family Fortune", a modern retelling of Jane Austen's "Persuasion," a slightly sophisticated version of the genre.

Also on the light side, but also on the uplifting, vacation-as-vision-quest vein, I selected "The Tao of Pooh". One of those books I've been meaning to read for years.

On a slightly more serious note and in keeping with my interest in reading fiction or non-fiction relating to the area I'm visiting is "Medicine Woman," by Lynn Andrews and Edward Abbey's "Desert Solitare". Don't think I'll make it Arches National Park, but I'll be close.

And of course there is the travel guide. This time I went with the lonely planet's "Zion & Bryce Canyon National Parks."

Final important lessons relating to books - do not take hardcovers for the simple fact they weigh a lot. Don't take library books. If they turn out to be awful, or you need more room in your bag, you can't leave them.

And to think, I'm only 45. What deeper wisdom awaits?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007