Friday, February 22, 2008 ;
At 4.45pm, we left Bryce to continue on to Zion National Park. We didn't want it to turn too dark because the roads were steep, winding, narrow and could be icy. But we did leave reluctantly because the sun was setting and it cast an orange glow onto the hoodoos at Bryce, and it was even more magically beautiful than ever.
The drive to Zion was also spectacular. Very scenic, with creeks, rocky mountains, snowy peaks... When we reached the east entrance, the roads started zigzagging, with sharp bends and after each bend, there would be a steep decline. Right at the bend, I would be able to see the roads winding all the way down to the valley, and right above, I would see the zig zag lines of cars and trucks above. (Yes, this weekend was a long weekend for some, Mon being President's Day, so there were quite a number travelling to Zion).
I tried to take a pic but it was difficult to capture the steepness and how it felt like a roller coaster ride, zooming down while turning left and ride (below: if you look closely, you can just only make out 2 cars down below on the small road).
After that came another surprise. There was one tunnel first, that was quite enjoyable. I have always enjoyed tunnels.
Then there came a 1.1 mile (almost 2km) long tunnel! It was so dark in it, because there was totally no light, no reflectors. So fun! And the tunnel blasted right into the rocky mountain.
Later on, I read on the NP website that this tunnel started construction in 1920s and was completed in 1930. At that time, this kind of tunnel was considered an engineering miracle. It was also the longest tunnel in USA then.
Because the tunnel remains basically the same since then, but vehicle sizes have grown much larger, there are restrictions and if you have a large vehicle, you need to pay more for an NP escort and for them to stop the other lane traffic for you to pass through. Cos a larger vehicle would need and occupy both lanes in the tunnel.
Our Corolla had no problem, of course, haha.
We reached Zion lodge (where we booked a room for the night) and it was quite dark already (6.30pm). We saw a lot of wildlife then! It was very exciting.
First we saw a whole herd of mule deer grazing and lazing around. Tried to take pics but they didn't come out too well in the dim lighting and we didn't use flash because they're animals, not rocks or plants. Not nice to startle and blind them. Below right shows the mule deer. Stopped the car to observe them for a while.
We also saw peregrine falcons, but there was simply no time to take pics. They were once endangered due to DDT use, but have now recovered their population size.
Then there were many wild turkeys around. In the morning when we woke up we saw a whole bunch too. (Below left)
There are supposed to be many bighorn sheep too, but it was too dark for us to spot them up on the rocks by then. Another Sporean friend, Ruoyi, spotted several when she went there over Xmas.
The biggest surprise was the gray fox. We were driving along when the headlights of the car caught an animal crossing the road. We thought it was a dog but then how could a dog be running free here? Then it turned to flee when it saw the car (by then we had slowed to almost a stop) and we saw a long tail and thought maybe it's a cat. However, when we got closer, the tail was so bushy, and we saw the face! Unmistakably, that's a fox! It ran away too quickly for us to take pics.
Later on we read in the handbook that gray foxes are quite commonly spotted in Zion. They can climb trees very well (the only species of fox to do so).
When Dh checked in, I looked around me, and Zion is so peaceful and serene at night. Above left: the moon above the rocky mountains.
Above right: the tiny lights come from the lodge. The sun is setting behind the mountains. It is so romantic. Zion at dusk.
Zion was a name chosen by the Mormons. In Hebrew, it means "a place of refuge". Good choice of name, I feel, as I quietly surveyed the beauty around me.
After dumping our bags in the room, we went for dinner at the lodge cafe. While waiting for our food to come, they served bread. The kids must be ravenous, because this is the first time we managed to finish up the bread. Usually, no matter where we go, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Applebees, Outback, we have never finished the bread before. And even the fussiest, pickiest ds2 ate 3 slices with butter.
Above left: he is not only fussy about food, he is fussy about the way he eats them. Not wanting to get his hands dirty (because we spread butter on it), he kept using his mouth to eat it from the plate. I felt it was even messier.
Above right: finally, after a lot of coercing from us, he used his hands, but with a total look of disgust on his face. Sigh.... this boy!
After dinner, it was already 8.30pm but our room had no TV or internet connection. Basically, it just held 2 beds. So we walked around the lodge's lobby. They had a family room with a fireplace and a piano (which was out of tune, but still made the place look very homely), and some board games and chess.
Once ds1 saw the chess, that's it. He and ds2 arranged the pieces and bugged us to play with them. Dh settled to play with ds1 while I walked around with ds2.
After that, we walked back to our room and guess what?!? We saw the gray fox again! Above right is a futile attempt to take a pic of it before it ran away. It is between the recycling trash bin and the lamp.
Not having any other distractions was pretty good. I am sure if it were to be 1 week, we would miss our internet a lot. And the kids their DVDs, but just for tonight, we enjoyed each other's company and got to just spend time playing and talking with each other.
Back in the room, dh played "Magic the Gathering" cards with ds1. The chess set was too big to bring along. I don't really understand the game still. The creatures and whatever strategies do not attract me, but for Dh, it is a chance to relive his childhood, or maybe to enjoy a lost childhood? haha. He says he didn't play this when he was young, yet he is as crazy about it as ds1. He was the one who brought back 1 pack one day and started teaching ds1. Now both of them cannot stop talking about the Blanchwood Armor and whatever goblin.
After ds1 and him enjoyed that pack so much, Dh brought back 4 more packs! I didn't know there were so many sets of cards to this game??!? If not for the fact that Dh is spending a lot more time playing with ds1, and that ds1 is actively reading the words on the cards and doing addition with the "power" numbers on the cards, I would have not liked it much. Maybe because I felt left out. Haha. I tried to understand it, but after dh explained it and ds1 explained again, I still don't get it. Nevermind...
Morning, after a hearty breakfast, we set off for the 1st hike. The trail to Emerald Pool is supposedly easy, with a paved path. The guys crossed the bridge (below left) and we saw some signs warning us of icy paths (below right). Falling from cliffs account for the most injuries and deaths at Zion and Bryce, apparently.
Being a mom, I gripped onto ds2 more tightly after that. :-) Our shoes weren't exactly suitable for hiking in ice, but we decided to see how far we could go.
It was a wonderful day and we enjoyed the initial part. The Virgin River ran beside us, and the trail took us higher and higher up (above left). Saw many different species of desert plants too, like yucca and various cacti (above right). Above us, the towering sandstone cliffs leave us in awe (below).
We met our 1st icy patch soon after, but it was still manageable. We slipped sometimes but it was not that steep so we could still half slide, half progress.
Then as we ascended further, there were more and more patches like the ones seen above. As these were steeper, I found that I can't hold ds' hands because I needed both of my hands to prevent my own slipping and falling too. Dh was holding ds2 then but then he too needed to stabilise himself. I couldn't trust even ds1 to climb by himself, just in case they both fall off the cliff.
At best they'll knock their heads on the boulders below, at worst, they could fall right into the icy creek. Imagining the worst (but of course, as the mom), I told Dh to go on with ds1 while ds2 and I hung around. It was a one-way trail, so they would come down the same way.
So ds2 played with the snow and ice for awhile. We got twigs, wrote and drew in the ice, and then ds2 found an acorn stuck in the ice (above right). But it was too firmly encased in ice, we just could not pry it out. haha.
Above left: part of the trail was closed as not only was it slippery, ice and rocks were falling from above too.
We decided to make our way down slowly too. Along the way, we met many groups of hikers. Most of them were families. There was a BYU couple who passed us. They were the fit and athletic kind, walking briskly while holding hands. Later on, they came down and passed us again, and the girl told me I was smart not to go up with ds2. She said it was even worse up there and she fell 3 times.
Wow, if she fell 3 times, it was really fortunate we didn't attempt it. She was about 19 years old and ds2 was only 2+. Plus she and her boyfriend were so fit and "garang".
We also saw many others who fell and slipped. There were groups of seniors (the more elderly couples) who came up, saw the ice and went down again. There were others who held on to the scraggly bare trees at the side to pull themselves up as they went along. And there were those who grabbed dirt and soil from the sides and kept throwing them over the ice to give some traction as they climbed.
Then there was this family. The 3 of them brought their ski poles! They are really well prepared! Later on I told Dh we should wear shoes with spikes. :-)
Finally, after a really long time, when I was getting worried, Dh and ds1 reappeared. Both had fell too. Ds1 showed me his muddy dirty hands, but his eyes were shining and he kept exclaiming, "We did it! We made it to the waterfall!". Haha. Glad he made it too.
In fact, Dh said there was one fall that was particularly tough for ds1 and he couldn't get up at all. He kept trying to get his footing but slipped again and again. So as Dh stabilised himself and gave ds1 a hand, they both stumbled and the water bottle (our only family water bottle) fell out of Dh's jacket deep pocket and tumbled off the cliffside.
We've had that water bottle ever since we got here 1+ yr ago! But really fortunate it was not Dh or ds1 who fell off, of course.
They showed me the pics. The lower Emerald Pool was greenish, no pic here. The water sprays do make up a tiny waterfall. Most of the water flow is frozen though, as you can see from the 2 pics above. Above right shows a part that is frozen and the other part that is flowing.
After that we collected a sack lunch which we ordered in the morning and set off for another part of the Park, called the Temple of Sinawa. There is a Riverside Walk there which promised to lead us into the narrow canyons where we can walk in between the towering cliffs. Quoting from the Park newsletter, it says the towering sandcastles here crown the desert canyons.
Again, we saw many warning signs. In the canyons, flash floods can occur. I was curious and read more about it. According to the Park Guide, a storm can occur without warning and when lightning strikes the rocks, it will release the groundwater/ water stored within. The great force of the water gushing out with uproot plants and boulders, lifting them up and hurling everything in the water's way into the narrow canyons. Any hiker in the water's path would have nil chance of escape.
Just as we were deciding about this trail for ds2, he fell asleep and happily took his nap, so once again, I stayed with him in the car, and let the other 2 go.
An hour later, they came back. Soaking wet below their knees. Dh said the last part of the trail was closed because the snow melt had caused the last part to be a waterway, and you had to walk in the cold water to get to the end of the trail. These were some pics they took (below).
Ds2 woke up by then, and we had our "picnic" lunch. Then we drove to the Zion Visitor Center. Now it was my turn. I went on the Virgin River trail on my own (ds1 said he was tired, dh felt sleepy, and ds2 did not have enough sleep). Also explored the Visitor Center. I didn't walk the whole trail cos I knew Dh would probably doze off, and the 2 kids might be up to no good in the car. Here are some pics of the sandstone cliffs and red rock towers.
The sandstone can take on many different colors, so mesmerising.
It was almost 4pm then, and all of us were pretty tired. So we left Zion to head on to St George, where we would be staying the night. We were supposed to put up with friends of the Crills, who is the Minister of the St George COC and his family. But at the last moment, he came down with a bad cold (which later turned into pneumonia), so we booked a room at Holiday Inn. Because we reserved a room too late, we found that all the usual motels we stay in are fully booked. Again, due to the long weekend, I guess.
Holiday Inn is more expensive than those we usually stay in, but we felt the room wasn't much better. It was probably more of the facilities in the main area that cost us more.
Above: what we saw on the way to St George.
Above right: Just outside Zion, there is a small town that's rather vibrant. I think they cater especially to Zion's visitors. It can get very crowded in summer, which is why in summer, there are no cars allowed, and shuttle buses ferry visitors around the park. They said in the newsletters: "Imagine 5000 cars, RVs and buses entering the park each day in summer. How much damage and pollution to the wildlife and natural surroundings would be caused?"
Last pic above: part of the Colorado Plateau?
rainbows every day, do not worry for the morrow