"" Writer's Wanderings

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The National Park Road Trip - Zion to Grand Canyon

Zion Canyon from Overlook
From Zion we were to visit the Grand Canyon. As I awoke that morning, I wondered if the Grand Canyon would live up to its name. So far, we had seen so many wonderful scenes and interesting formations and flowers and animals and. . .the list went on. Would the Grand Canyon be a disappointment?

The morning drive took us back through Route 9 that we had traversed in the pouring rain just two days ago. Gone were many of the waterfalls we’d seen along the way. In their place were long streaks of black where they’d been. There was one more hike we wanted to take before leaving Zion that was said to be moderate with long drop offs mostly fenced. You never know what you’re getting into exactly but we geared up and took off.
The Canyon Overlook Trail was just past the long tunnel with the parking lot being on the right so catching this on the way out seemed to be the way to go. Yes, On the trail there were long drop offs. Some had handrails but there were a few spots where there was just enough space for one person at a time. Thrilling. The view at the end was worth the trip though. It was a great opportunity to view the canyon from the top.

As we were leaving, we passed a couple with two young children who were about six and three. I just shook my head. Did they not read the literature? Or maybe they just stopped and didn’t check. This was no place for little ones to hike.

As we were about to get in our car we realized that people were photographing something on a ledge just above the street. Sure enough, two bighorn rams sat there watching the morning traffic pass below them.

Arizona Scenic Route 89
There were two ways to get to the Grand Canyon from Zion. Both were Route 89 but on the map, one was marked as the scenic route. We chose that one and were happy with our choice. Several vistas were worth a stop for a picture as we headed into Arizona and through the flat desert between red tinged mesas.

Before long we arrived at the first viewpoint for the Grand Canyon. It’s called Desert View at the east entrance to the Grand Canyon National Park. There is a huge visitor center there but we scurried past it to get our first view of the canyon. Again, “Wow!” was all I could say. The next thought was so that’s why it’s called “grand.” It was already living up to its name.

Absolutely Grand!
The afternoon was waning and we still had twenty-five miles to drive to the El Tovar Lodge in the park where we were booked for three nights. This was one time we were truly glad to have a GPS. Once you enter Grand Canyon Village, finding your way around “the loop” is a bit overwhelming. With our lady’s helpful directions, we made our way to El Tovar but found our next challenge in trying to park. The lot closest to the lodge was full and we could find nothing that indicated a place for hotel guests. We would learn that it was pretty much a free-for-all and once we found a spot, we didn’t plan to move until time to leave.

Our room was on the terrace level which sounded lovely but actually was just a label for that level of the lodge. There was no terrace and our window looked out into a small hillside topped by the lodge’s driveway. The El Tovar was built in 1905 and was a premier spot to stay back then. It was designed in a European fashion said to appeal to the upper crust of the times who thought that anything European was the best. It was designed as a cross between a Swiss chalet and a Norwegian Villa. Built from local limestone and Oregon pine at a cost of $250,000, it was considered the most elegant hotel west of the Mississippi. Theodore Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Zane Grey, Bill Clinton, and Paul McCartney are among the list of celebrities who have stayed there. In 1987, it was placed on the registry of historic places.

El Tovar Lodge
Our room had obviously been upgraded since 1905 and probably more than once but it maintained the look of the period with a black and white hexagonal tiled floor in the bathroom and a free standing sink adorned with Kohler fixtures resembling the period or a close facsimile. We showered and dressed in our casuals for dinner in the restaurant which had to be at 4:45 since everything else was booked until nine p.m. That worked just fine since we’d gained an hour from Zion and it was dinnertime anyway.

Our view of the canyon from the second row of tables by the window was great. I’d like to say my chicken piccata was too but it wasn’t what I had envisioned. Bob enjoyed his pasta dish and we both ate too many warm tasty rolls.

The advantage of eating early was that we were ready for the sunset which came at around 6:15 local time. By now we had learned that it’s not really the sun setting that you want to see but rather the rays of the sun reflecting off the multi-colored cliffs of a canyon. The Grand didn’t disappoint. It was a lovely evening display.

Grand sunset
This park, like Zion, has shuttles and is really the best way to get around although it can be a little slow. But remember that parking? You don’t want to give up a spot. Needing to get some orange juice and milk for our breakfast in the morning (we try to cut corners where we can) we boarded a shuttle for the market plaza that was near the campgrounds. In about 25 minutes we were there. The trip would have been short in a car—provided we didn’t get lost in all the confusing one ways and loops and found a parking place again.

By the time we got back to the El Tovar, it was very dark. There were more lights around the area than had been at Bryce Canyon but we walked to the rim anyway to look at the stars. They were still spectacular. Only now, days later, the light of the moon was beginning to wash out the Milky Way. I was determined now though. This would probably be my last chance to get a picture of the night sky. I vowed to try again the next night. Would I be successful?

Friday, October 17, 2014

The National Park Road Trip - Zion

We awoke to a beautiful sunny day. Except for some of the deposits of muddy red sand, you’d never known the day before had been so hazardous. Of course there were also several rock slides in the park that were still being cleaned up but our ride with the ranger was still on. Our bus sat right beside the flagpole that had been indicated to us the day before and soon our ranger arrived and informed us that she had a plan A and a plan B in case there was a road still impassable.

There was nothing to worry about. The rock slides and sand deposits and damage from the river and instant waterfalls only helped her to prove her points about how the canyon was formed. While those sorts of weather happenings needed thousands of years to erode and cut through the canyon we could all understand how it could happen.

Our ride with the ranger gave us some stops along the way that the regular shuttle didn’t do so we got to leisurely see parts of the canyon without having to hike to some of the spots. We ended our ride at the Temple of Sinawava at the end of the shuttle line. Given the option to ride back to the visitor center or stay and do a little hiking, we opted to stay.

The trail was already full of people but it was a fairly easy walk to the end where the trail continued to a more difficult one that goes through an area called the Narrows. It’s a narrow opening between two cliff walls where the river flows through. You have to wade through the river water to continue the trail. Because of the speed of the river plus its depth after the rains, the park had said it was closed. We did see three men who appeared outfitted (you were required to have some special equipment including some thick walking poles) and headed for the Narrows trail. We wondered if they were a search team looking for the people who had left a car in the parking lot that had a notice on it which read, “You are overdue. Please contact the visitor center or a ranger to check in.”

The shuttles are the only way to get through the main area of the park without special permission and they reduce traffic as well as emissions since the shuttles all run on propane.  Upon our return to the parking area, we caught the next shuttle to a place called Weeping Rock. While considered an easy trek, it was a lot of uphill walking. The good part of that was coming back, it would be all downhill.

We got to Weeping Rock and found it wasn’t weeping, it was crying a river. All the rain was still seeping through the rocks at a good rate. Lovely green maidenhair fern graced the rocks around the area and lots of moss softened the harsh lines of the rocks.

When Bob had originally planned our trip and tried to get reservations at each park lodge, he couldn’t get into the Zion Lodge. We decided to stop by and check out what we missed as well as stop for lunch. The lodge was rustic and comfortable looking and the restaurant had an inviting menu. Bob made reservations for us to return for dinner and he was handed a special red tag for the car. We would not be able to return by shuttle after dinner so we would have to drive.

Lunch was enjoyed at the outdoor café and then we trekked off to a trail that led to the Emerald Pools. Again the trail was said to be easy and it was, mostly, but we were getting a bit tired and sore from uphill climbs. We found a spot short of the destination to observe what were probably emerald green pools of water on a normal day but like all the other water ways they were chocolate colored with the mud stirred up from the rains.

The shuttle deposited us back at the Visitors Center which, with a short walk through the pedestrian entrance to the park, got us quickly back to our room at the Cable Mountain Lodge.  I left my backpack and camera in the room and we took a leisurely walk along the other side of the river where the campgrounds were. We thought often of a few of our friends who love to camp and decided that we would definitely leave the camping to them to enjoy. It was impossible to imagine what it would have been like in one of those tents in the rain the previous day.

Showered and dressed casually (dress code at each park is jeans and shirts), we drove to the park entrance and showed our pass and ID even though we had the red tag. The red tag got us through the area where normally only shuttles are allowed. Along the way we had to slow for some wild turkeys. We didn’t expect those here.
At the lodge, we enjoyed the view out the window of the huge cottonwood trees on the lodge grounds and the cliff wall in the distance. We weren’t seated at a window but were near enough to enjoy the view. While the view was nice, the dinner was even nicer. I had a pecan encrusted trout with garlic mashed potatoes and the vegetable of the day which included zucchini. I winced at the zucchini but when it came it was absolutely delicious. If zucchini were always that well cooked (not mushy) I’d always welcome it on my plate.

The sun had already set as we made our way out of the park. Not far from the Zion Lodge, we had to stop for a herd of mule deer. Unfortunately the pictures I took blurred but there they were, deer caught in the headlights. At least they weren’t at my house eating my flowers. You know, when they’re not eating your garden they are kinda cute.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The National Park Road Trip - Driving to Zion

Our drive to Zion National Park was scenic and dramatic. The drama was mostly in the skies. It rained a great deal of the way but as we neared Zion, the skies darkened more and we worried that it would be a difficult drive on Route 9 through the park east to west in order to get to our hotel room. The description of Route 9 in the tour book mentioned hairpin turns and narrow roads.

Several times as we neared the park, the rain poured down and slowed traffic. Once we neared the east entrance though it seemed to abate. The park ranger looked at our pass, gave us our maps, and said to be careful because there was the possibility of flooding. Little did we know that we would be some of the last people through that route for the day.

There were two tunnels to go through as well as lots and lots of curves and switchbacks. We had to stop once so we could take a picture of a waterfall that was obviously just water running over the side of a cliff due to the downpours. After that though, we thought it best to make our way as quickly and safely as possible to our hotel, the Cable Mountain Lodge.

When we arrived at the Lodge, we watched with amazement as the Virgin River was roaring past the parking lot and looking quite menacing. Receiving our keys to our room, we walked around to find that there was no way to get too it. Water was more than ankle deep in front of the room. We returned and received a new room assignment but had to walk through wet slushy grass to get to the door since the sidewalk was flooded.

We decided that we wouldn’t carry our luggage in until we were sure the whole place wasn’t going to flood. The river was still rising. We ventured out to find food and farther up the road, we found Blondie’s Diner and had a great lunch. When what we needed for breakfast in our room wasn’t available at the local convenient stores, we decided to head for a nearby town that was a bit bigger. By nearby, I mean a half hour away. The nice thing was that just ten minutes up the road, it wasn’t raining and by the time we returned, the rain had subsided and so had the flooding a bit.

The Lodge has a large screen movie theater (almost IMAX size) on its campus along with several restaurants and gift shops.  The movie that highlights Zion Canyon is called Treasure of the Gods and is a 40 minute film that features the myths and history of the canyon. That afternoon, we enjoyed some popcorn and the story of the area’s settlement and some of the legend that goes with the Zion canyon area.

By the time we were done at the movie, the rain had stopped and we noticed the river seemed to be going down a bit. We carried our luggage in and settled into our room.

All told, the reports said that we got two inches of rain in Springdale within about five hours and the Virgin River had risen seven and a half feet. The park closed Route 9 for most of the afternoon and evening. We felt fortunate to have a room and not be caught with nowhere to stay but we worried that our ride with a ranger in the morning might be canceled. We’d find out in the morning.

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