Bryce and Zion -- May, 2011

Last year my daughter and I joined two friends in a hike across Grand Canyon. It was a wonderful experience, and we discussed doing something like it this year. If you are interested in that trip, see my photo journal here.

Since we all love the southwest, we decided on Zion National Park. We made campsite reservations in the Kolob canyon area and along the West Rim trail. The party would be me, friends Alan Pendleton and Ray Kunselman and my son Peter and daughter Kate.

We rented a car for flexibility, and Kate proposed driving out on highway 50 through central Nevada, the "Loneliest Road in America". So it is. In the 250 miles between Fallon and Ely there are two towns, Austin (pop. 340) and Eureka (pop. 1,100). It is Basin and Range country. You go up a thousand feet then down into a broad valley. Twenty miles later you do the same and then again. No food, no fuel, no water. It is easy in a car, but we saw bicyclists. I bike a lot, but that looked simply punishing.

There are a few farms and some cattle. It is sparsely settled and beautiful in its own way.

We camped at a state park near Austin. There was a layer of ice on everything in the morning, but we escaped any rain.

We stopped in Eureka for breakfast. The town peaked in the 1870s as a mining center and had about 10,000 people. There is still mining, but the population has shrunk. The new fire station looks enormous for a town that size, but I imagine it serves a large area beyond.

Bryce Canyon National Park is rather small, and the most interesting formations are concentrated in a few places. The rock is sandstone glued together with calcium carbonate. As the CaCO3 dissolves the rock erodes, leaving "hoodoos" where the rock on top is harder than that below.

There are several good day hikes. We took a 7 mile loop called Fairyland.
The Compleat Hiker.

The odd shapes suggest other worlds. One might see Flash Gordon and the Mud Men here.

A palette of colors from gold to brown to pink to ivory.

At the South end of the park the elevation is 9000 ft. and there was still snow in late May.

The ever beautiful sky.

Natural Bridge and a panorama taken with my iPhone.

This looks like something in a Salvador Dalí painting.

At sunrise.

We drove to the northwest entrance to Zion National Park, met Ray and Alan and picked up our campsite permits.

Choosing our food for the next three days. Thanks to Kate we had not only dehydrated and freeze-dry things but avocados, vinaigrette, apples, bread, butter, bananas, grapefruit, cheese, hard boiled eggs and a variety of trail snacks. Only the bananas were a mistake -- too easily crushed.

The morning began with rain, hail and lightning.We discussed bailing out, but the forecast was clearing weather, so we decided to take our chances. Fortunately it did clear, but the trail was a miserable, muddy slog -- the worst walking I have endured in a long time.

Many stream crossings. Our first camp. and a visitor

Next morning we broke camp and hiked upstream about three miles. A side trail took us to the Kolob Arch. It is a very large arch, about 280 feet wide, but it is high up on the cliff and close to the wall so it is not as dramatic a sight as some other arches. The name comes from the Book of Mormon.

We had to cross La Verkin Creek to get to the next camp. The water was up to 18 inches deep. Another iPhone panorama of the camp.

The next day we split up. Alan and Ray hiked SE and camped the night. Kate, Peter and I recrossed the creek and hiked out. Fortunately the trail had dried. We drove both cars to Hurricane, UT and spent the night at a motel. No hurricanes there, but an early settler named it for a windy day he experienced.

Next day we drove the cars to Springdale, left one and took the other to the West Rim trailhead at Lava Point. We planned to meet Alan and Ray at the campsite.

The West Rim Trail is a great hike. It starts at about 8000 ft and is nearly level for 8 miles. It is a beautiful open forest with occasional dramatic views to the west.

Horned toad (Phrynosoma, actually a kind of lizard).

Evidence of a fire some years ago.;

Our campsite, Potato Hollow Springs, was very pleasant. The campsites were all primitive -- no piped water, no toilets, no tables. A spring was near.

What to do when in camp.

The evening was calm, with a minimum of bugs. We cheered the bats darting about.

About an hour before dawn.

This was our last day of hiking and by far the most dramatic (and tiring).

The alders are another evidence of fire. I believe they are the first to regrow. Eventually they will be dominated by the evergreens, mostly juniper and pine.

The trail goes around a point and down into Zion Valley. Every turn exposes new views. The topography is so chopped up with canyons it is not easy to connect what you saw 20 minutes ago with what you see now.

I hiked for a while with this fellow. He was a park worker who was walking home at the end of his week. He liked to play his harmonica at this point because the opposite wall reflected the sound so well.

Close to this spot I heard a whoosh, and a shadow went over me. It was a condor, not ten feet above me. He glided to the other side of the canyon and perched in a tree. He must have had a seven foot wing span. Condors were nearly extinct, but they have been successfully introduced to Zion and Grand Canyon.

The trail into the valley.

Potent wind coming through here.

Peter and Ray retrieved the car at Lava Point. We had a room at Zion Lodge so we all washed up and enjoyed dinner at the restaurant.

Next morning we explored the upper end of the valley.

"The Narrows" is a slot canyon the Virgin River runs through. It can be traversed, but at this season the river is far too high. Kate has ambitions.

Near Springdale there is an ostrich farm.

We spent the last night in Las Vegas at the Rio, saw the Penn and Teller show and spent time going to and fro in the city and walking up and down in it. It was light years away from the rest of the trip. Inner garden at Bellagio.

Entry to the Venetian,

Sky-ceiling in the Venetian

We had breakfast at Thomas Keller's restaurant, Bouchon, in the Venetian, and it was wonderful.

David Rowland