Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Long Road to Zion

Leaving the South Rim of the Grand Canyon behind, I headed northwest toward Las Vegas. There I would meet my wife and some friends for the next part of the journey. It wasn't long before I was back in civilization. There is a lot of road work being done all over the area and I was caught in the grip of this road development with many other unfortunate travelers. It would be slow going for several hours.

I can't say that Las Vegas is an ideal stopover after the tranquility of the open desert. It's more like a dunk into ice cold water after baking in the Sun. On one level it is revitalizing and on another just shocking to the system. Thankfully this would be a short layover.
I picked up my wife and the next morning we were off on route 15 to the open spaces of the Colorado Plateau and the next major location of Zion National Park. Along the way it is worth stopping at St. George, for gas and food before the route 9 cutoff as there is not much between there and the small town of Springdale which marks the entrance to the Park.

I'd herd a lot about Zion and how beautiful it is and was looking forward to the experience. The bad news is that we arrived at the gate late in the evening and the road into the park was very dark. All we could see in the darkness as we drove the winding road for the several miles to the Lodge were the trees lit by my headlights. Also, just a word of advise at this point, you need a reservation at the Zion Lodge to drive your car into the park. All others must use the shuttle buses that run during open hours. 

Night hid any chance of seeing the grandeur of anything but a few rodents caught in the headlights as we drove to the lodge. Soon a sign announced that we have arrived. We checked in quickly and were so tired we went directly to our room to get some sleep. The lodge is rustic and the rooms are nice and without frills, but the bed was soft and soon I was fast asleep... Zion will have to wait for morning.

The morning sunlight brought the first view of the valley and it did not disappoint.  The red cliffs formed bands of strata layers revealing  the history of 225 million years of erosion from the Virgin River, earthquakes and volcanic activity. I strained my neck to look to the top as the peaks rose to meet the blue sky.  

Over the next days as I walked the trails and photographed this valley I could not help but be awed by the majestic scale and color of this spiritual place. It is clear why and how Zoin got it’s name one feels the energy of a higher power here it is a vortex of energy, a place of contemplation and self awakening.

It’s at this point that I become lost for words. Yes... you heard me right... I became speechless. I have been sitting here thinking what I could say that would add to the images that follow but the story is in the images so I think I will let the images speak for me. I hope the pictures that follow do justice to the experience of Zion National Park. 
My first view of the Canyon.

Emerald Pools Trail "The Falls"
Emerald Pools Trail the path along the pools.
Emerald Pools Trail water etched rock face
Trees along the edge.
Towers of the Virgin

Looking south over the Virgin River
The wide view looking south

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Traveling the South Side of the Grand Canyon

I know I said the next post would be Zion but that will have to wait just a bit longer my fellow travelers. I have decided to take a small detour to the lesser visited south rim of the Grand Canyon. Many of us have been to the highly viewed and crowded North Rim. It is the most familiar of the Canyon views and is the most photographed. So with this in mind and because I am free to do just anything I want, when I want, I thought I would detour to explore the road less traveled. Taking to the back roads going east on route 40 to Cameron then North on 64 to the Grand Canyon Village.

Once at the village I was surprised to find a bumper to bumper traffic jam. Now I must warn you that once at the village you will be asked to park your car and travel by bus if you want to go to the rim. There are long lines and a high fees as you spend hours in one line after another, herded through what felt to me like a processing mill. There are also planes and helicopters that for even higher fees (shorter lines) will fly you into the canyon. Needless to say I soon realized that this was a bad idea. I was overwhelmed by the sea of humanity and the high prices for everything from food to rides and  memorabilia. I hurried back to my car and left what felt like a waste of time. Sadly, I did not get to the glass viewing site that extends over the rim.

So to recover my sense of balance I looked for a back way to see the canyon and surrounding area. I took an unmarked dirt road on to the Havasupai Indian reservation (My GPS said Indian road.) and headed west into the hills. This felt better and more like the experience I was looking for. It was my hope that sooner or later this road would bring me to some views of the South rim.

Driving over long stretches of winding road filled with rocks and potholes that threatened to damage the car if not avoid was stressful. An hour went by and I did not see another car or person anywhere, I was truly out in the wild and on my own. Another hour of turns dips and bumps on a road that seemed to go in every direction, my GPS said no road indicated, I was driving on nothing! But now I was committed and had used half of a tank of gas going back was out of the question, I began to wonder if I would spend the night out here?

Rounding a turn to my surprise, I saw on the side of the road a reservation police SUV. I stopped and walked over to the car. Sitting in the drivers seat was a large dark impressive figure, his face etched with the lines of life in the elements, his black and silver hair wrapped with a bandana. Sitting straight up behind the wheel half dressed in police uniform and half in his Indian garb. He looked at me with calm clear eyes and said "What are you doing way out here, are you lost?" I said I was looking for the south rim of the canyon that was not in the village tourist trap. I wanted to see the places where the locals go. He grunted an understanding gesture and said the reservation roads are not for outsiders, but since you have come this far you can go through. I asked will this road take me back to the highway and could I reach it on half a tank of gas?  He said "Keep on going and be careful the road is very bad and there is no help for you if you break down. You will be on your own. Eventually you will come out at the highway if you are a good driver." I thanked him for his advice and went on.

I now knew that I could make it back, that the road did go through and not take me to a dead end that would leave me stranded. A renewed feeling of confidence gave me energy and it was early enough in the day to stop at many of the vistas that I felt were never photographed. I almost didn't care that a close view of the canyon would elude me on this trip. I was fortunate to be shooting images across two reservations now that I had passed from the Havasupai to the Hualapai Reservation. Slowy progressing over one hill after another the vistas promised an ever closer view of the south rim. Would it still be possible to get a good look?

The land here is vast desert and scrub with variations of subtle to strong colors that are hard to believe. Distance is compressed and the illusion of scale confuses the mind. That which is large appears small and that which is far seems close.  Another hour passed as one photo-op to the next moved me down the road. Time stopped for me, the spirit of the landscape revealed itself to me. In my solitude of visual meditation I found the images I was looking for.
I was glad to be alone out here and feel the vast bigness of it all reveal how small I really am.

I noticed a cloud of dust approaching me over a distant hill. It was another car going the other way. I flagged him down he told me the road was at least an hour back. I was amazed to see he was driving a Cady and warned him of the road conditions and that he had over 4 hours if he was going to reach the village as it was beginning to become dusk and night travel on this road would be very hazerdous. That's OK we are going to camp in an hour. I wished him good luck as we parted going in opposite directions.

Needless to say that I was glad to be in my Suburu all wheel drive and soon reached the highway as my tank was riding on the empty mark. Gassing up and a motel for a shower and sleep marked the end of a day of rewarding excitment and adventure. Life is good when you come out without a scratch. Tomorrow I will be on the road to Vegas to meet my wife and friends then off to Zion.

 Oh, and by the way I did get that big shot of the south rim, amazing!