Most people probably would’ve taken advantage of the complimentary soap and shampoo and taken a nice hot shower, but after drying off with the decent towel would’ve remembered that it’s below freezing outside and they either have to make haircicles upon exit or to blow-dry their hair with either one they brought or hope the hotel supplies one – I didn’t look behind the bathroom door so I don’t know if they do. Then, feeling clean as ever would have taken the hotel up on its offer for breakfast – we just weren’t that hungry for a small cup of coffee and thin bagel slice – so we left in a hurry.
Why did I skip these amenities with joy you ask – because my husband suggested we take the scenic route south through Zion National Park – and when time is limited I choose sight over smell. I love it when a place holds such a demand in his heart – so much that we could drive through here every time we pass by until all hikes are done, all holes in the tunnels photographed through, all mammals stared at while stopping traffic, all birds listened to while sitting in the shade, and no beautiful anything doesn’t get our attention for a moment or ten.
If we had more time, like ride our bicycles for days, I know we would see a lot more – how could we not, but there is always something on our way to Zion that seems to grab our attention a little more than its surroundings. In the past it has been the shoe tree located near Virgin, Utah that has been torched and cut down as of November 2012, so today it will be a festive fire hydrant located between Toquerville and La Verkin. We will continue to drive as the sun makes its way over one mountain to light another highlighting the reds, browns, whites, greens, and yellows that call Zion home.
There is a line at the gate. This seems to be a trend at these parks in the off-season. We are not the only ones interested in what the park has to offer in cold weather – dangerously icy trails, road and building closures, and people congesting to wear the ice thin and see what others are seeing. I’m glad they did. During the busy season the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is open to buses only to help control traffic and parking – something that can already be a major issue in this park, but during the off-season it’s open and I am absolutely thrilled.
Some people ask if living by the beach makes me like it less – no, but I am less likely to collect shells or post on Facebook every time I go – because I can watch the sunrise, walk the pier, go for a pretzel, visit the farmer’s market, do some yoga, go swimming, ride my bike, and watch a game of chess all while at the beach and all without my camera. Some say you can never go home because things change. Well what does photography and change have to do with Zion – until I live here I will continue to post pictures and blog about it and I enjoy seeing the changes that this ‘home’ brings to every visit.
Though now I feel bad that I don’t take enough pictures around the city I live in. But I am feeling blessed to be here. I’m grateful that I wasn’t able to easily drive down this road the first couple times I was here. I could’ve taken the bus, but I was worried about what I would miss scenically, and now I’m glad I waited. We make our way into the canyon and watch the water run over the stones in the river; the sun climb higher in the sky bringing light to the shade; and the rock climbers making their way to the top to celebrate their accomplishment and regain some lost body heat before the rappel down.
We get out of the car at Weeping Rock Trailhead with excitement, gloves, and my camera. There is a Trail Closed sign, but plenty of vehicles in the parking lot and two girls just went to the left – maybe we will go right. It doesn’t matter. The steeper it gets the farther off trail I seem to go. I don’t feel too guilty as the snow is deep enough to protect the fragile life underneath. Soon enough though we realize that we need snowshoes to continue. Caleb falling on the way down will make me laugh – I have a cruel sense of humor. It hurts to fall downhill on ice and land on your bum. Caleb looked just like the guy on the Caution sign.
With that out of the way we are free to join the herd at the Lower Falls Emerald Pool Trail. Over the bridge and through the ice to the frozen falls we go. Some water is still falling and the pool is very reflective, but the trail is closed due to ice. I get near the sign to get another photo and a man warns me that, “You can’t go that way.” Thanks. Maybe I was a blind person following the sounds of footsteps or ten pound falling icicles, but there was a railing that I could grab if I fell. Or you could slide down, but that would ruin the structure of the wall, footpath, and pool. I don’t want to do that.
There has been enough traffic to where parts are dirt and other parts are still ice. Everyone wants to stick to the inside of the trail. Maybe that way when they slip they can bring someone with them – except for this family of kids. They are in their sneakers running and jumping around and having a good time. We could learn something from them. It’s all fun and games until someone slips on the ice and breaks a tooth or an arm – even more so if they fall off the edge into frozen trees and running water. We don’t stick around to play team sports. We pass a ranger on the way out. I wonder if he is reporting on trail conditions or checking for bodies.
No bighorn sheep sightings and again the exit is – BAM! – right there before we know it. Luckily, the park’s views extend for miles so that we have a transition stage – that the truck behind us doesn’t agree with. That’s why someone made a wide road and someone else cleared the snow – so that the truck could pass us and continue living their rushed life. Last time we took the 89 north so taking the road south and then west from Kanab, Utah to Page, Arizona will be a first – I love traveling on new roads.
This route will take us by the Moqui Cave with 140 million years of natural history and a closed door. The 89A is closed during winter and part of the 89 is closed due to road buckling caused by a mudslide. This helps determine our route. Instead of seeing the Vermilion Cliffs and taking a minimum two-hour detour to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon – both places we’ve never been – we will take the 89T road to the 64 that will bring us to the East Rim Drive, but not before stopping at the Glen Canyon Dam.
The bad thing about not changing your clock when in a different time zone is that you simply forget and are running on another schedule. Such is the case with the next tour of the dam – that either left an hour ago or that leaves in an hour. We can still learn about the explorers and expeditions of the Colorado River; the history and details of the different dam units; hiking available in Glen Canyon; there are plenty of books on their shelves about modern societies, American Indians, and running the river; multiple books by Craig Childs and Edward Abbey; and other books about wilderness, water, and the desert.
No pile of books in our shopping hands today, but I will be adding a few to my TBR (to-be-read) list when I get home. Now it’s time to get into the grandest of canyons in the world before sunset. Last time we were here, in the summer of 2009, we had time to drive along the rim and take a photo. This time… We stop at the Desert View Watchtower after finding a parking spot in the crowded lot and as soon as we walk up to the visitor center my camera battery dies. Caleb says he will be a sweetheart and run back to the car for me, just to return shortly with a lost look on his face. He comes back with a charged battery in the camera and another in his pocket – good thinking.
Inside we learn about the badass explorers and cowboys that took to the West before it had handrails and cellphones and guided tours. We read about musicians, painters, writers, and other artists that have found inspiration in either being here or from pictures and stories from others who had. Caleb’s voice gains an octave as he exclaims that we could visit the Skywalk – that is until the lady behind the desk shows us where it is on the map – five hours of which 1.5 are on back roads and hands us a brochure – minimum of $88 per person includes Skywalk, a meal, a walk, a hike, a voucher, a certificate, and a ranch.
It’s probably a great deal for the money, but it’s also a day trip that we don’t have time for. Better to enjoy this end of the river now. We walk down to the tower and I still remember the visit with my dad in 2003 where we got to watch a Navajo lady weave, I fell in the snow, we saw a Condor, hiked part of the Bright Angel Trail, and then had hot chocolate in the El Tovar Hotel. This park is where my dad had his honeymoon in 1994, hiked the North Rim in 2007, wrote his book about the river in 2011, and took his mother-in-law for Christmas in 2013 amongst the 20 or so times that I’m sure he’s been there.
Anyways… back to my trip. With the tower in view we see a snowman – with a bun hair-do and four sharp teeth – who appears to be frozen in a block of ice from the waist down. And then… there it is… the Grand Canyon. It still makes my face a place for ‘cloudy with a chance of rain’ to think about all the time, energy, and love that has gone into this great carving; and all the labor, science, and laws to protect it. I stare at the layers of rocks and think about the Hindu God names they’ve been given by Charles Dutton who believed that the canyon was such an important and impressive place that it should reflect all the world’s cultures.
There is a line to get into the gift shop – the only way to the top – and a line up the stairs. We have to squeeze between people going up/down and in/out to view the art on the walls and ceiling, to look out the windows, and to eventually go back outside. Forty-five minutes later and we are parked behind some cabins on Village Loop Drive near the Bright Angel Trailhead. We make our way down as the sun starts to set behind us but shine brightly on the other side. I love seeing all the switchbacks and am envious of those short of breath as they climb from the depths before dark gets here.
Soon the brightness is gone and I know we should turn back, but this trail calls to us. I climb on a rock for a better view (in my city boots) and this couple (in full Patagonia gear) walks by and loudly comments on how dumb the two girls in high heels are – perhaps they want to die in the latest fashion. I’m not one to judge, but the cardboard cutout in her purse that looked like an Asian Justin Bieber did intrigue me. We make our way back up and will walk along the Rim Trail as the sky grows dimmer.
Caleb must be getting cold, tired, and hungry as he mentions more than once that we are heading away from the car. I can’t help but want to walk through the El Tovar Hotel – we are so close. We enter through the back and in front is a Hopi House art gallery decked out in traditional ladders and wreaths – instead of bound feathers to celebrate Soyal. It’s after hours so we aren’t able to gain an opinion about the interior, but I’m satisfied with our visit and we make our way back to the car to join the line of traffic leaving this park in the dark. We could’ve taken an old entrance road out and saved time, but we followed the crowd – all the way to Valle where the 180 and 64 split.
We pull into downtown Flagstaff looking for a room. Caleb is having trouble finding anything on his phone. I park at one and we run across the street to two others – all over $100 and none accept pets. I tell him we will head south and stop at the first one that looks cheaper than the rest – like the Motel 6 on Lucky Lane. Inside we are the second in line. The girl behind the counter has a great sense of humor and keeps the man in front of us and the men behind us in a gentle laughter too. We get checked into a smoking room on the fourth floor – and take the steps carrying Piggy up – to room 414 for $46.
Of course our room is all the way at the end, opposite the stairs, and opposite the end of the parking lot where our car now sits in snow next to a shed. I flip to a channel in the middle of some movie and Caleb wants to order pizza. Forty-five minutes later a girl delivers our veggie pizza and spinach-feta cheese sticks with some bad jokes, but I commend her for coming all the way up – instead of making us come to the lobby – and still trying to find some humor in it. I think it was enough dumb charm and teeth chattering to impress Caleb into tipping her well while I sit warmly on the bed writing this.