Ravens in Bryce Canyon National Park

Impressive ravens dominate the skies over Bryce Canyon.  Their rich black feathers are striking against the orange, gold and white hoodoos reaching up from the canyon floor.  Rolling through the air (sometimes flying upside down), the ravens hunt small animals for their next meal.  And they are not above eating the leftover snacRaven wanna cracker?ks of chips left behind by human visitors.  We saw so many ravens at viewpoint parking spaces waiting impatiently for tidbits of sandwiches.

It shouldn’t have been so surprising to see how close the big birds would let park visitors get to them.  At one stop, several of us were able to get close up shots with our cameras by getting within a foot of two of a pair of ravens.  Their patience with us was based on the hope of receiving some goodies from the would-be photographers but the ravens were out of luck.  None of us had food so soon the birds went back to their natural tendencies and began looking for bugs.  One of them stumbled into the front grill of our car and found delicious insects squashed and ready for eating.  As it nibbled along the bumper, the first raven’s companion realized it was missing out on some juicy grub and came to indulge itself, too.  Raven number one would have none of this and soon the two were squabbling over who would get the smushed moth on the license plate.

San Rafael Swell, UT

The San Rafael Swell is an awesome sight.  After driving for 90 minutes from Grand Junction, CO, stopping here briefly was a surprisingly nice jolt to the lull we’d been feeling driving along that long stretch of I-70 between Fruita, CO and Salina, UT.  Just west of the exit for Green River, UT (the only place to get snacks on the long stretch) is a set of scenic viewpoints just off of the interstate where you can check out this impressive panorama.  I’ll get into the geologic wonder of it all below but I want to again say it was awesome.

The San Rafael is a 75 mile long anticline where the earth’s crust was pushed upward by plate-tectonic forces leaving behind massive pink, red and golden brown undulating layers of rock that slant down on both sides of a shared crest.  Where the view on the east shows pinker and more golden colors, the view from the Black Dragon Canyon viewpoint from the west features deeper red hues with bits of black as if smoked by its namesake.

According to a sign at the stop, the visible rock layers predate the Permian period over 250 million years ago when the greatest mass extinction occurred on earth.  During this time, 90% of the earth’s living species were wiped out.  As you look around the land surrounding the San Rafael Swell, consider that the rocks exposed by the anticline are 50 million years older than the terrain on either side of it.

Several uranium mines were set up in the area up to the 1950s but the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) notes that few were successful – http://www.blm.gov/ut/st/en/prog/more/Abandoned_Mine_Lands/projects/San_Rafael_Swell.html – By the 1960s, most mining operations had stopped.  BLM has identified 203 abandoned mines in the area and labeled 181 as physical safety hazards.  For that reason and the ruggedness of the terrain, hiking without a guide is discouraged at each of the viewpoints.

Water is not available at any of the viewpoints but rustic restrooms are present for the urgent traveler.

Sunrises at Bryce Canyon National Park

Ironically, Sunrise Point at Bryce Canyon National Park may not be the best place to catch a sunrise or a least photograph one.  Bryce Point and Sunset Point both give a bigger view of the incredible amphitheater and other rock formations.  Another option is Rainbow Point at the very south end of the park.  With Rainbow Point, spectators get a higher view of the canyon and surrounding plateaus.  Whichever you prefer, you won’t be disappointed with the intense oranges and bright whites shining against the early morning sky.

Bryce Canyon can be chilly in the morning – even in July.  Be sure to bundle up and wear layers.  I visited with a French woman one morning at Sunset Point. She remembered a hat and coat but forgot about her footwear.  She was wearing sandals.  It wasn’t too long before her feet were blue.  At Bryce Point, we saw a woman wearing shorts who had wrapped her legs in a beach towel she had scavenged from her car to help withstand the cold. A wise German family brought a thermos with hot coffee.

Despite the cold air, a sunrise visit to any of the viewpoints is worth the small discomfort.  When the yellow sun ascends the sky, you can almost feel the colors of the stone warm and come to life.  The vibrant hues gradually increase to a crescendo of intensity.  All that’s left to do then is head to the Bryce Canyon Lodge for hot chocolate and the breakfast buffet.

Checkerboard Mesa, Zion National Park

If you entered Zion from the west, be careful that you don’t miss the east side of the park.  Driving eastward on highway 9, you’ll notice that rock formations become lighter in color and develop a crosshatch pattern.  The cross bedding is most apparent at Checkerboard Mesa one of the last view points before the east park entrance.  To be honest, I don’t quite understand how the mesa was created so I’ just refer you to the National Park Service – http://nature.nps.gov/geology/parks/zion/geol_feat_proc.cfm

Taylor Creek Trail, Kolob Canyon, Zion National Park

Taylor Creek Trail View

Taylor Creek Trail View

If you really want to get into a canyon in Zion, the Taylor Creek Trail of the Kolob Canyon has a jewel waiting for you.  The canyon entrance is right off off I-15 at exit 40. Besides many wonderful scenic view points, the canyon offers three hiking opportunities.  One is a nice short trail at the top of the scenic drive.  There is also a full day, eight hour trial.

We chose the Taylor Creek Trail because we wanted to really get into the canyon, but we didn’t want to kill ourselves. The hike will take you four hours round trip (or six if you stop to take lots of pictures like we did).  Bring plenty of water and some snacks so you can picnic at the highlight of the trail, the Double Arch Alcove.  The trail winds along and occasionally crosses the creek so just as you are about to melt from the heat you come to a shady spot by the water to cool you.  Two old homestead cabins from the thirties serve as landmarks to help mark your progress.

At the end of the trail is the striking Double Arch Alcove.  Protected from the sun, the alcove is the perfect spot to revive yourself before heading back. This is a place to linger and take in the fresh air.  The base of the alcove is covered by columbine.  Someday I want to come back when the flowers are in bloom.  The alcove is probably breathtaking when filled with all that color.  Even without the blooms, the site is beautiful with the bright green of the plants complementing the red of the rock.  Water weeping from the stone adds bold white, black and blue stripes that accentuate the arch’s curves.

Sunrise in Zion National Park

6am – One of the most stunning shows is on display behind the Zion Human History Museum at sunrise.  The light of the early morning sun slowly unveils the pastel shades of West Temple, the highest peak in this section of Zion.  Not to be out done, its neighboring peaks, Sundial and the Altar of Sacrifice, also contribute to the creation of a spectacular sight.

Fortunately, the shuttle from Springdale starts at 5:30am.  We thought we were the lone early birds but a short stop at the visitor center proved that other adventurers were anxious to hit the trails of Zion.  After the golden hour at the museum and a quick Clif bar snack, we headed to the northern most stop on the park shuttle – the Temple of Sinawava – to check out Riverwalk Trail.  Fairly easy to walk, the paved path leads you to the beginning of the Narrows where narrow slot canyons present incredible hiking and canyoneering opportunities.  We weren’t brave enough to cross the very chilly river to enter the Narrows.  Next time we’ll remember our watershoes.

Several guides and websites recommended the Emerald Pool Trail so after lunch at the lodge we crossed the road to the conveniently located trail.  The Emerald Pool Trail guides you to three pools.  The lower pool is easily accessible to most although the last section is too steep for wheelchairs and probably too slippery for those using canes.  Once at the lower pool, hikers are treated to waterfalls and the numerous plants growing on the rock walls called hanging gardens.  Getting to the middle pool involves a short but steep and rocky climb.  The middle pool is a bit ho-hum but it’s a nice break before moving on to the upper pool.

Ah, the upper pool is a wondrous oasis after a hot and dusty hike.  It takes some effort to get there but, boy, is it worth it.  Most hikers take time to cool and rest while enjoying the view.  After the hot walk, the upper pool feels like another world.

David Pettit Gallery, Springdale, Utah near the entrance to Zion National Park

We arrived in Springdale in time to make an initial visit to Zion but decided to take it easy and investigate the town.  After all, we’re exploring Zion tomorrow so there’s no reason to wear ourselves out before we even get started.

As you stroll around the town visiting different shops and galleries, don’t miss the David Pettit Gallery.  If you’re lucky, as we were, you can meet the artist himself.  David Pettit specializes in landscape photography of the Colorado Plateau and the national parks.  His work captures nature’s true colors without the oversaturation seen in so many photographic works today. Mother Nature is clearly the star in his images, but David Pettit’s vision and sharp eye is clearly present.  His pictures are more than stunning photos. They are intriguing glimpses into what makes this world so fascinating.  In short, David Pettit reminds us to look and see. 

He’s also a friendly and patient guy.  We were able to ask about the best places to photograph sunrises without feeling like we were bothering him.  And he was great about giving us several tips to help us with composing our shots – a natural teacher.  http://www.davidpettitphotography.com

Midafternon lunch – Oscar’s Cafe- locals come for the mahi mahi tacos and the turkey avocado sandwich ain’t too bad either.  Yummy fries.

Hotel – Bumblebery Inn, clean and away from the road so we’re not serenaded by street sounds.  The shuttle for Zion is just across the parking lot.  The Sol Market grocery store is just a quick stroll down the sidewalk.

Surprise

The spirits of travel must have been smiling today.  Today is the day I start my blog on exploring the world and who do we run into in Loveland, CO but my Aunt Marian and Uncle Alan.  Let me explain.

When I was growing up, Aunt Marian would send our family letters and slideshows from around the world as she travelled with the Peace Corps and other international volunteer organizatiions.  My parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and Grandma would gather together to listen to her audio cassettes filled with stories and culture of places like Turkey and Morocco.  When she began dating my future Uncle Alan in Papua New Guinea, his voice would join her’s in describing the life there.

As a child, I dreamed of seeing the world like my aunt.  Aunt Marian inspired my first international trip to study in London for a semester and continues to inspire me today with her next adventure in Ecuador where she and Uncle Alan will go teach English for a year.

While I am not quite as well travelled as my aunt, I am working on it. This blog will help me track my new trips and reflect on my past trips.  It doesn’t matter to me how far away from or close to home a place is. The point is to see and experience it.

Today my husband and I are headed towards southern Utah to see the majestic sites of Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. On our trip westward, we stopped to visit my sister in Fort Collins.  We decided to visit the sculpture garden park in nearby Loveland, CO (aphotoaday.sandhillsnaps.com/2011/07/10/day-211-a-pig-in-loveland-colorado.  Halfway through the park, we found ourselves visiting with Aunt Marian, Uncle Alan, my cousin Ian and Ian’s girlfriend Emily.  They were headed back to Nebraska after their own short trip Colorado. 

Is it a coincidence that on the day I planned to start my blog is the day I happen to run into my travel muse so far from our homes?

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