Wednesday, May 30, 2012

East Side Story - A Tale of Two Zions, part 2

Roger here...  When I asked the park ranger at the visitor center if there were any trails on the east side of the park, he responded that other than the very short Canyon Overlook Trail, that the eleven-mile East Rim Trail was the only one.  With a twinkle in his eyes, he then said that the best fun on the east side was to park the car and travel on foot across the slickrock.  He assured us that in that part of the park, sticking to established trails was not necessary.  Hmmmm.  That might be fun.

We slept in on Sunday morning and did not leave the motor home until around 11:00 a.m.  We stopped in Springdale on the way to the park so that Dianne could buy a new pair of hiking boots.  

We knew the park would be crowded since it was Memorial Day weekend, and expected a delay getting into the park.  The lines were long enough that a ranger was stationed outside the gates, waving people through who already had passes.  My senior pass counted, so our entrance into the crowded park was surprisingly easy.  Being old does have a few benefits :-)

The only way to get to the east side is to drive your car through a mile-long tunnel that was blasted through a mountain in 1930.  Large RVs have to be escorted through the tunnel ($15 fee) while the tunnel is closed to everyone else, so we won't be doing that, but going through in the car was a unique experience.

Have you ever been in a tunnel with windows?  I hadn't either.

Even the tunnels here are scenic.

Almost to the end.  Go to the light....

Oh my, this side of the park looks completely different.  Instead of being in a canyon, due to an elevation gain, we found ourselves on top of a mesa and surrounded by slickrock.  If you are from the midwest, you are probably asking, "what is this slickrock you keep talking about?"  It is exposed sandstone --- no dirt or dust on top of it --- just very interesting-looking exposed rock.

Our plan was to find a place to park, walk along the slickrock, possibly find a hidden arch that we had heard about, and enjoy a picnic lunch away from the road.  We quickly discovered that this would be easier said than done.  Did I mention it was Memorial Day weekend?  The park was very crowded.  The other-worldly drive in the slow-moving traffic was beautiful.  We were going slow enough to get a real sense of the scenery.  However, ALL parking places at all the pull-offs had cars in them.  We should have started earlier.

Plan B....  We decided to drive all the way to the East Entrance and walk along the East Rim Trail.  We had no intention of walking the entire 11 miles (one way), but thought we could go in about a mile and find a place for our picnic.  It was a good decision.

I spotted a couple of rocks that we could sit on after a short scramble up an area of slickrock.  It was a perfect place to have lunch.

We lingered a while after eating, enjoying the scenery, the solitude, and the cool breeze.  Dianne took a picture of the trail below showing a footbridge that we had crossed earlier.

I then, camera in hand, wandered down to the bridge to document Dianne's descent (It's not really slick).  

No spills, today.  Must be the new shoes.

Since we thought that our adventures for the day were probably over, we walked slowly back to the car.  Dianne (as always) made frequent stops to photograph the abundant wildflowers. 

Blogger is giving me fits, and so I apologize for the duplicate slide show.  It won't let me delete them! -- D.

Enjoy the slide show!

 Our intent was to enjoy the slow drive back, and then spend some time outside at our campsite in our comfortable chairs.  So the journey back began.  But wait!  Is that guy really vacating his parking space in the pull-off just in front of us?  He is!  We get to do some more climbing!  I love climbing onto boulders.  This was one humongous, mountain-sized boulder.  So much fun.

Look at those formations up there!  Let's go there.

As we moved upward and away from the road, we managed to find a route to the formations that we could handle.  We found ourselves in a small forest of mushroom-like hoodoos -- all with black caps.  Very cool.

We continued to climb higher.  Here is what the mushroom formations look like from a higher elevation.  

Another couple saw us from the roadway and followed us up to the formations.  I just love being a trailblazer.  They decided to go further up the mountain.  After a moment of discussion, so did we.

We followed a fairly level, but upwardly slanted route around a corner and left any views of the roadway behind.  There were more amazing, but slightly different formations.  How do those trees grow out of rock?

Some of the smaller rocks along the way were also intriguing.  I would love to know the name of the striations on the rocks to the right and below.  I would love to know how those formations were formed.  If you know, please let me know. You are not supposed to remove rocks from national parks.  Otherwise, those rocks would have found a home in South Texas.

More interesting rock formations...

Lizards, lizards everywhere...

Hey Dianne.  Do you see the car?  Do you see the road?  Do you remember where the road is?  Probably time to retrace our steps before we get lost.

Back to the road.  A short hike along the road.  Back to the car.  Time to go home :-(.

One more photo on the way home from the canyon (west) side of the tunnel.

If you have not seen enough scenery, already.  Dianne made a slideshow of some of the photos that you have not already seen.

East Zion Scenery

Tomorrow, our daughters and granddaughter will be joining us for a few days.  Can't wait!  Get ready for some family pictures in the most picturesque scenery we have ever seen, but probably not until after they leave.  We're going to be busy!!  

The pet picture of the day shows "Big Chuck" enjoying some quiet time in the sun next to his food dish on the dashboard of the motor home. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Tale of Two Zions - part one

Roger here....  With such a lofty title, this post deserves an amazing opening photo.  What do you think of "Pocahontas Dianne :-)"?  In Dianne's defense, I was the culprit who staged the photo.  I told her to sit in the circle of light.  I told her to lift her head in order to remove her face from the shadows.  That said, I still think it is a cool, but very cheesy, picture.  (Cheesy is an understatement, don't you think??  -- D.)

There are really four sections to Zion National Park.  The two remote sections are Kolob Canyon to the northwest and Kolob Terrace (in the center, accessible only by a remote road).  We have already posted about both those sections, as well as Zion Canyon (the most celebrated attraction), but we have not yet visited the East (maybe the most beautiful) section.  We will start with another visit to the Zion Canyon area in this post.  In the next post, (coming soon), you will get to see the fun we had in the amazing East section of Zion.

  Before we start.... sometimes the best adventures are those that you do not expect.  The Watchman Trail in Zion Canyon is not the most celebrated trail, but oh, what a surprise it was!  The slickrock in the East section of the park that I'll post about in a day or so turned out to be a true adventure.   Here's Dianne to fill you in on the Watchman Trail....

Dianne here.  Above you will see the photo that I would have used to open the blog.  The beauty of this place never ceases to amaze me.

The Watchman Trail is a short 3-mile round trip trail that starts by the visitor center and leads to a viewpoint on top of the first layer of cliffs (shown above in the foreground), roughly 300 feet above.

As you start down this trail, you might not expect much, as it begins along the river and then heads through a nondescript flat plain until you reach the hills.  We weren't really expecting a spectacular hike from this one, but my first clue was a comment left by a reader on a prior blog entry, stating that the Watchman Trail was one of her favorites.  Hm-m-m, there must be more to this trail than meets the eye!  

Yes, indeed!  The moment we started switch-backing up the cliff face, the views were amazing.

Here is the shot that started the whole "Pocahontas pose" thing.  What we were trying to show was the very cool overhang that we hiked under.  Roger decided I was in the shadows, so the "move over to the light" began.  

I love looking at the layers in the sedimentary rock...

As we continued to climb, we had views of the trail below us leading back down into the canyon...

This next shot shows how the trail switchbacks up and up...

There was a young man hiking behind us.  I stopped to get a drink and noticed him gazing out over the valley.  

I just thought it was such an iconic photo of Zion, that I snapped a quick photo of him.

Along the way we passed by a beautiful blue damsel fly glowing on the red rock.

We also saw a variety of lizards, including this Great Basin collared lizard:

And this smaller lizard with blue shading on its back and tail:

Near the top we stopped to rest and take in the views...

And took a few interesting photos at the summit:

The orange is Roger's drink sling, not his bare chest!
One last look at the beautiful view, then we began our descent...

One bonus of this hike is that it gets much less foot traffic than the more popular crowded hikes in the main canyon.  This might be because the beginning of the trail looks pretty inauspicious, and if you didn't know the route it would take, you might think it would be a boring, flat walk.  We took this trek on a crisp, cool, beautiful day, but if you are here in the heat of the summer, I would suggest starting this hike early in the morning, as it would be quite hot otherwise.

The hike back down was pretty much like the hike up the hill, but here's a shot of Roger walking past a cliff of blooming flowers.  May is certainly a beautiful time to visit Zion!

As we neared the end of the hike, we stopped to chat with a hiker from Britain.  As we stood and talked, two mule deer made their way down the hill and walked right past us, seemingly oblivious to our presence.

I took a short video of the older deer (the mother?) as she walked by us, then switched over to the young deer.  If you've never seen a deer take a whiz before, this video is for you!  You can hear Roger and the British hiker chatting in the background.

The pet photo of the day shows my hummingbird feeder as two voracious black-chinned hummingbirds get a drink.  I have seen as many as 7 hummingbirds, both males and females, jockeying for position at a time.  I am having to re-fill this little feeder three times a day.  Needless to say, Charlie the cat is enjoying all the visitors.