I sleep as much as I can with it feeling like daylight outside. The lights are so bright that it has affected the local bird community. They are all in the tree above us singing their mating songs at the top of their little birdy lungs. At 4:00 a.m. I’ve had enough. I take a shower while Caleb breaks down the tent, then ask him to bring me the one washcloth-sized towel we have with us, then hand it to him on his way in. Now I don’t feel so bad about the free stay. I really wish places would cater to tents more often instead of cars, RVs, boats, and trailers. All tents need is a flat spot where they won’t get run over.
It’s still so dark out that I drive us to the end of the road in Kolob Canyon. We will be able to see more on the way down. We enjoy a hike on the Timber Creek Overlook Trail as we watch the sun come up. There must be something to see on the La Verkin Trail as the parking lot is full as we go by. We stop at the Taylor Creek Trail for a short hike. There is a ranger there marking branches and other debris to be removed. Down some steps and we come to our first water crossing. There will be plenty more crossings, but they all seem to have strategically placed rocks and only the edge of our shoes get wet.
We are down in a canyon and soon I remember we parked the car in shade but it will be fully exposed to the sun now. We didn’t even make it halfway to the Double Arch Alcove. Note to self, and others: leave dogs, children, and unpaid bills with loving family member. Hopefully they will keep the first two and you can pay them back for the bills upon your return. We pass an older woman on her second water crossing on our way out. We are at the most northern part of the park. We drive past the turn for the middle of the park and make our way to the west-side south entrance.
On the east-side of Virgin before entering Zion we pull over to examine a shoe tree, not the ones you put in your shoes to protect them, but a tree with two branches and the trunk covered in shoes. There are many myths behind the start of these trees located throughout the world. The trees can mark gang territory, the end of a great hike, a graduation. Some are cut down by vandals, others are cut down for safety due to the added weight of shoes. We arrive in time to see shoes still swinging in the tree as a man gets back in his truck with only socks on his feet.
The last time we were in Zion we went west through the park. The weather was nice, the traffic was long, and we saw a mountain goat. This time we are headed east. The traffic will grow throughout the day. The park offers trolleys onto the park and has a trolley only route to minimize damage caused by parking cars off-road and to reduce congestion, accidents, and pollution. When the Zion Mount Carmel Tunnel was completed in 1930 it was the longest of its kind at 1.1 miles. It’s still hard for larger vehicles to navigate but for a $15 fee park rangers will make the tunnel a one-way road.
We find ample parking until 10 am. and then all spots will be taken by hikers, climbers, and onlookers. In the visitor center parking lot we see a lady hunkered over with a large camera pointed at the ground. I didn’t want to miss anything so I walked over there. On the way I hear a crunch, crunch. The lady is taking a picture of the hundreds of silkworms on the pavement. Caleb tells me not to look down and try to ignore the crunching going on under the soles of my shoes as we continue walking. There are so many that it would be like trying to walk on the beach and not touch the sand.
Through the park there are rocks angled every which way with plants growing in cracks and on ledges. Some rocks look like melting ice cream with slivered almonds or like stacked plates with some about to fall. There is the famous Checkerboard Mesa that was forming when dinosaurs roamed the earth. There are rock faces painted in horizontal red streaks and black vertical streaks. There are other red and brown hues with white streaks and spots of green plants.
As we hike we notice trees with twisted bark. Scientists have found that spiraled grain works best to deliver water to more branches and keep the tree alive longer even if it loses roots on one side. Twisted bark also makes it easier for trees to bend after a snowstorm and dump the extra weight. Most animals are scarce in the heat of the day except for those enjoying eternal rest, lizards darting dangerously about, and a bird in search of these daring reptiles. The thermometer reads 58 but it feels like 85. The dogs get lunch in the shade while we clean some of the sand out of our shoes.
I feel as if we missed a turn and somehow skipped part of the park. We will be back again one day to enjoy the view from the trolley. Driving north on Hwy 89 we pass Mugwumps Antiques in Hatch. I stop to take pictures and Caleb gets out for the Mexican food restaurant across the street where the waiter overhears us discussing no meat options and recommends two vegetarian sandwiches. The Ambush – garden veggie burger with jalapenos and chipotle sauce, and The Sodbuster – cheap bread with lots of veggies.
Up ahead is Red Canyon in the Dixie National Forest. At the visitor center I see a monkey with his orange monkey drawers on licking a peppermint candy. Back outside are hundreds of feet of rock layers that look like sand castles with ”gargoyles” balancing on the ledge. The gargoyles are the tops of these exposed rocks that have been most weathered down by wind and rain; they are white atop red bottoms making me think of red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting.
Bryce Canyon is beyond my vocabulary power to describe. I wanted to start with something about a bowl of teeth, but that’s just the surface. The view continues to change as you approach the canyon, look across and down in it, and as you descend into it. The teeth grow taller into beautifully carved walls that surround you. There is something awe inspiring about walking through these rocks – literally; being able to walk down where people on the rim think we look like ants, and then hiking back up and watching the scenery change again – an amazing landscape.
We hike the northern side of the Navajo Loop trail and connect to Queens Garden trail. There are lots of people on the rim but we pass few while on the trail. One group is three older men in their 60s with their trekking poles and one with a camera. They too debate taking the Peekaboo Loop, but reconsider a strenuous hike after night fall. The Queens trail ends at Sunrise Point and we will take the Rim trail back to Sunset Point where we started. In the parking lot we recognize a car we saw in Zion.
It’s a regular red four-door car but the trunk has a vent fan made for trailers installed in it. As we stand there, the owner approaches. He is happy to talk about the home he has made for himself. It fits his snacks, bed, guitar, and a 35-350 camera lens on a tripod. He is visiting the Grand Circle of Utah and then heading on to Colorado. It is nice not having to rush to our next destination; we find more time to talk to fellow travelers and the locals.
We stop at the General Store to look for memory cards but all they have are 2GB. We drive to the North campground, Loop B, and find one of three spots left and then Caleb remembers that we need wood. We lock the bikes to the table and drive back to the store. We get a bundle of wood for $5 and he grabs a local brew. On the way back to camp we pass two thieves breaking branches off trees and shoving them into the trunk of their car. Of course we reported them to the camp host and they will not be allowed back.
I attempt a fire while Caleb sets up the tent. I tied the dogs to the table, but Sparky is too loud and they get put back in the car, for now. All around us other languages are being spoken, meals eaten, stories told, and games played. Meanwhile, I am squatting by a temple of kindling with a broken mini-torch. I know we have a magnesium lighter and some waterproof matches, somewhere, perhaps in the depths of one of our bags. Our neighbors hear our desperate attempt to burn some wood and deliver a 25pk of matches. I try to return them and they show me the 250 more that they have.
All is good in these campgrounds. Families are warm and full around their fires, or TVs in their RVs. Kids begin to calm, dogs begin to quiet, and night sounds begin to sing. We get a small fire to burn for two hours. There will be no smores tonight, just enjoying the heat of the fire and the glow of the coals. We feed the dogs and then put them in the tent. We watch fires go out and the last car drive by looking for a place to sleep. Soon we will have to put our fire out, but I enjoy watching the wind bring life back into smoldering embers.