Saturday, May 19, 2018

Zion National Park

I just returned from six days in Zion. I spent the first four in the back country, and the last one and a half in the main Zion Canyon. I got lotsa pictures, so I'll try to organize chronologically.

The day I arrived, I stayed in Springdale, the resort town just outside the park, where I indulged in prawn tacos and a fancy hotel. Then, I loaded up my new 2-liter water bottle (which weighs four and a half pounds when full), about twice as much food and clothing as I needed, and met my shuttle to the trailhead early the next morning.

Day 1
The first day of hiking had some interesting moments, but overall wasn't that spectacular. It was up in the high country, away from the main rock formations of Zion Canyon, and was mostly a pleasant, if relatively boring, walk through the trees. There were a few spots where strange formations rose out of the forest.

"Job's Head." All the formations have religious names. Some sources say each one was named by Mormons, but others say that after "Zion" got its name from them, everyone else just went with the theme.
There was also a spur trail to an overlook, which gave the first glimpse of the truly weird formations of the Zion Canyon.

"Guardian Angel," one of many cone-shaped formations

There was no one around for me to point out that this one looks just like Jabba the Hut.
I camped on the edge between a pleasant meadow and a steep, but otherwise unremarkable, canyon.

Day 2
The next day continued along the ridges, but with a much more open landscape, with big Ponderosa pines and occasional glimpses of some of the high plateaus north of the park. The trail was also covered in wildflowers.

Then, as I neared the end of the hike, and my campsite, the trail wandered toward the edge of the mesa, where the views opened up and started to get truly bizarre.

OMG u are so weird.

Notice a second view of the Guardian Angel toward the right of the picture.

Why can't u b normal!?
The campsite that evening was back a ways from the big views, but was underneath some lovely pines, and I was grateful for the shade. Plus, I woke up the next morning to deer browsing outside the tent.
Twin leaning Ponderosa pines. Lots of them are lightning-struck. Also their sap smells like citrus caramel. Also they are one of my new favorite trees.
Very tame, but left behind clouds of black flies every time they got close.
Also their bark looks like jigsaw puzzles. The gaps are lightning scars.
Day 3
I was staying for two nights at the same site, so on this day, I gave my feet a break and did a short loop around a high-country trail. It descended into a little valley that, like the first day's hike, was really boring. It was clear that the spectacular scenery would be the next day, especially with this preview from the camp's only water source:
Tomorrow's trail!
That water source was really gnarly looking , with a pool full of green and swimmy stuff. My UV sterilizer kept me healthy on previous trips, but I'd never relied on it with such bad water before. Plus, the sterilizer can't filter out particles. Since I had the time and extra fuel, I decided to let the water sit until most of the gunk settled out, and then boil it.

That night, as I was getting ready for bed, I spotted a man walking down the trail carrying two huge backpacks, one in front, and one behind. Then, a ways behind him, a girl followed, limping painfully. The man stopped by and asked if any of the campsites were open. The pair had started a serious canyoneering trip, with rappelling and wet suits and everything, but the girl unaccountably got enormous, severe blisters on her feet and could barely walk, so they had to stop for the night and then hike out. All the back country sites require reservations, but my campsite was technically a "group" site, with spaces for several tents, so I invited them to stay. They were from Costa Rica, and had been planning this trip for almost a year. Luckily, they'd done a few shorter canyoneering trips in the previous two days, so they didn't miss out entirely, but still, I felt bad!

Day 4
We both set out the next day for the most spectacular part of the trail: the descent down into Zion Canyon itself. On this trip, I got to walk down and through all those weird formations I'd seen from above.

The rock formations are basically petrified sand dunes, hence the sand-dune-ish curves and swirls.
Up close, you can see bands where the dunes blew in different directions as they formed.
The trail started at the top of the red wall.
After getting into the main valley, I did a side trip up Angel's Landing, a super precarious scramble up a narrow slick-rock spine with chains guarding the way. I only took photos at the top, as stopping and gawking wasn't an option, especially since it was extremely crowded.
By Tony Crabtree - Original work by author., CC0,
The trail runs up the spine of the formation. By Mountain walrus - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
The view from the top.
That was my last day of the extended back-country hiking. I ended in a campground in the main canyon floor, where I met up for dinner with my old friend Tyler, who's touring the west in search of warm and affordable climes. An excellent way to end the trek!

Day 5
I'd had ambitious plans to do a steep, 8-mile trek to the top of another viewpoint, but the canyon-floor heat and some sore feet led me to take it easy. I rode the Zion Canyon shuttle to a few low-and-easy scenic walks in the main part of the park.
"The Court of the Patriarchs"
 I ended the day at the farthest stop up the canyon, on a river walk up to the Narrows. The sun was just leaving the highest rock formations.
Temperatures cool in the shade and moisture of the canyon.
Notice the two hikers at the bottom for scale.
Day 6
This was my last morning in the park. It turned out to be a longer morning than I planned, as my flight got cancelled, and I had to book one going back 2 hours later (though after a rather leisurely breakfast out, I was cutting it close to make the original flight anyway). 

I took the opportunity to get up early and drive through the Mount Carmel Tunnel on the eastern side of the park and hike to an overlook, where a few people also made it up for the sunrise.
The first rays of the sun hit the West Temple formation
The road leading up to the tunnel, for scale.
Proper footwear recommended.
After a delicious breakfast back in Springdale, I hit the highway to Las Vegas, and back home!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Back to Zion

Seven years ago--SEVEN!--I took six months off my freelance job and backpacked through dozens of national parks of the American West. On that list was Zion National Park, in southern Utah.

While I was on that trip, I rearranged my schedule so that I ended up vising the Colorado Plateau at the very end, when the area was well into winter. During my short stay in Bryce Canyon, virtually next-door to Zion, the daytime temperature was in the teens, and snow had closed many of the hiking trails.
As I wrote on this blog at the time about southern Utah:
I'm trying not to have regrets over the way this trip fell into place, but if I'd had more time, I'd have spent it here.
 "Someday," I thought to myself.

Well, I'm about to turn 40, and I decided that I wanted to do something to celebrate. So I'm heading back to Zion, to cover the biggest park that I missed on that first trip. I'll be there from May 12 to May 18 (I couldn't book it for my actual birthday, as summer fills up quickly).

My original plan was to do the Trans-Zion Trek, a 4- to 5-day wilderness trip that travels the entire width of the park from west to east. Unfortunately, that plan got scuttled near the last minute, because it turns out that they're closing and repairing the only road that brings visitors to the westernmost trail head for exactly the month of May, when my birthday is. So instead, I'm starting at the second-westernmost trailhead, and spending an extra night at a back-country campsite just outside the main valley. So I'll be in the wilderness for the same amount of time, but for the first couple of days, I'll be doing out-and-back day hikes from a base camp, rather than trekking from one point to the next.

I sort-of-ish wish I could say I did the whole Trans-Zion Trek, but for real, I want to: 1. Be there, 2. Be away from crowds, 3. Go where I want, and 4. Still be 39 years old, and this trip still accomplishes all those things.

After several solo jaunts since that long-ago trip, I (obviously) am not spending an entire year obsessing about gearing up and logistics and all. However, I might have over-corrected, as I recently realized that I'm about two weeks away from departure, and I'm only now starting to cook and dehydrate foods and figure out which camping gear needs upgrading/replacement. Luckily, I did obsess enough to actually book all my reservations in time.

In case y'all desperately need me to go on about equipment:
  1. Seven years ago, I bought a bunch of Darn Tough hiking socks. I liked them so much that I turned them into my daily-use socks when I got home from the trip. I'm going to use them--the exact same physical socks!--to hike on this trip, too. Darn Tough, indeed. Shout out to VT.
  2. The trail-running sneakers I eventually settled on held up for over 400 miles. I bought another version of the same model, and I don't even plan on bringing my boots on this desert jaunt.
  3. This was the coffee maker I settled on (cup is not included). I clipped off the little chicken-feet that suspend it above the cup. When I make a coffee, I set the mesh diaphragm directly in the mug and let it steep for maybe 1 minute. I refer to it, like a royal title, as the World's Smallest Coffeemaker. Like the socks, it's so effective that I have it in daily use. 
  4. I'm going to need a new water-carrying system, as the Nalgene bottles were always a little weird and heavy. 
  5. Does anyone know where my poop shovel went? Where would I have misplaced a poop shovel? Who would take a poop shovel? I think it's with the Island Gear. I'll probably just get a new one.
  6. I really should be glad that I'm not doing the Trans-Zion Trek, as one thing I also haven't thought much about is getting in shape, and it's been a loooooong winter (shoveling and snowboarding notwithstanding). Better to go on day hikes that I can cut short than to have to cover miles to make the next camp.
Another new development that has arrived since my first trip is that I've started seriously painting, and have done a number of pieces from photos from that first Western trip. So while I hope to update this blog with lots of photos when I get back, I also plan on gathering material for new desert landscapes.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


Paris is frikkin huge. We walked along the Seine, ate crepes, waited in line at museums, ate in the Latin Quarter, drank wine, people-watched at a cafe where all the chairs were set facing streetward for exactly that purpose, and approached the Eiffel Tower just as it did its champagne sparkly thing.

In short: Paris stuff!

From the series: "Stuff in front of other stuff."

Arc de Triomphe!
Our hotel was just off the Champs Elysees, so we got to see the Arc each time we went out.

We were there at the blue hour.

Eiffel Tower!
Stuff in front of other stuff!

Ste. Chapelle!

See that stuff? Put some stuff in front of it!
Notre Dame! (we didn't go in; the line was insanity)

"Let me just..."
"It's just... you've got something on your..."
"What? What is it?"
"Oh... oh god. Oh. Sorry."

The Holy Lobster of Notre Dame

The view from the Basilica of Sacre Coeur:

Put that thing in front of that other thing, and then TAKE ITS PICTURE.
Whee Paris!


Hey, guys-

Apologies that the blog didn't get updated until I was back home in Salem, with my own computer. There were hotel computers available here and there, but I simply didn't have the desire or energy to sit in an office chair and pick through photos while I was either a) wiped out from riding my bike, or b) in front of food. Unfortunately, the same set of circumstances led me to take relatively few photos.

To make it a bit easier, I'm creating two posts: a bike post, and a Paris post.

After two days of wandering around Aix-en-Provence, sampling the food and cafe culture, we finally met the rest of the VBT tour to get on a bus toward St. Remy. There were only five people on this tour--which I think was the minimum they'll accept without cancelling. Apparently, a lot of people bowed out after the Charlie Hebdo shooting, which seemed ridiculous to all of us. Then again, our sample consists entirely of the people who didn't cancel.

The entire trip, L to R: Ray; our tour guides, Didier and Thibault; Leslie and her husband Leigh; moi; and Dad.
Some shots from Aix-en-Provence:

Some fancy building or other under a threatening sky. There were dramatic thunderstorms nearly every afternoon.
We were bad at researching, so I don't know anything about anything we saw, other than "That's purty!"

A Medieval street in Aix-en-Provence. They were jam-packed with shops, cafes, and restaurants.

The small group made for fairly relaxed riding. We all tended to stick together. The very first day (after the warm-up ride) included the biggest hill of the week, and not only did we all make it up, but we all chose the long option.
What I thought of every time I saw my typical cycling outfit.
My typical cycling outfit.

The climb set us to the top of Les Baux, a tiny medieval village. Like a lot of places on the tour, it was crammed with tourists, but quite charming.

The group resting at the top of the climb. There were weird limestone formations all around; I scrambled to the top of one for this shot.

The entrance to an old chapel, cut from the rock, and looking across to the next peak.

French car parked atop the cave-riddled village. People drove in the unlikeliest-looking places.
It also included a baffling attraction: an old limestone quarry, with enormous underground pillared chambers, that had been converted to a 360º projection show, complete with music.
Taken during a break in the action. Photography wouldn't work during the show.
 The rest of the cycling often followed a similar outline. We would cycle to a remote little town, often on a hilltop, relax for lunch, and then visit a site or two.

The village of Eygalières, which I was quite taken with.
Clock tower in a village I can't specifically recall the name of.
As we stood below the tower, an old man came up and told our tour leader that he remembered racing up the steps to ring the bell when the Allies arrived to liberate the town. I couldn't get my camera out in time to catch his face. Dude moved fast!
One of our stops was the remains of a Roman aqueduct at Pont du Gard. The thing was huge, and flanked by an entire tourism complex. It was crowded, but large enough to find a private spot in the wooded paths along the river.

 During all this, we enjoyed the food and wine of Provence, including hotel breakfasts that were far above the quality I'm accustomed to. In fact, the quality of our hotels in general was above and beyond what I've normally encountered. They looked like the hotels I imagined before I'd ever stayed in one.
Golden infinity elevator in St. Remy.
The view out my window of the same hotel, with a rainstorm passing through.
The mascot at a lovely vineyard where we stopped for lunch and a tasting. We're BFF.
After a few days in St. Remy, we moved along to Avignon, or rather to Villeneuve les Avignon, or "New Avignon," a tony suburb right next door.

Dusk in Villeneuve les Avignon. Not really that new.

An interesting graveyard near the hotel
We also toured Avignon itself. It was the biggest town we'd been in so far, but we had only a few hours in the city.

An enormous selection of salt for sale at the central market

A street performer prepares for the day in an alcove behind the papal palace in Avignon
 During a schism in the Catholic Church during the middle ages, Avignon was the home of the popes, and the papal palace still stands, emptied and monumental after being gutted during the French Revolution. It's enormous, and takes up a huge amount of the center of the city of Avignon.

After a last evening in Villeneuve les Avignon, we said goodbye to our guides, and boarded the train for Paris--coming next!