Wednesday and our last day. Our flight home was from Las Vegas airport at 17:35 so we had time for a last drive into Zion after a leisurely breakfast (as we also gained an hour crossing into Nevada).
Again we drove along the Valley Floor road where you can appreciate the wonderful views of the rock formations towering above you.
“ I have looked for this mountain all my life but never expected to see it in this world. This is the Great White Throne.“
After Fisher praised the striking presence of the Great White Throne he turned toward what would become Angels Landing and stated
“The Angels would never land on the throne, but would reverently pause at the foot [of Angels Landing].“
At the end of the Valley Floor road is the Temple of Sinawava with high sheer cliffs streaked black on the red iron oxide by waterfalls, many of which are dry in the winter months. A riverside walk runs alongside the North Fork of the Virgin River which leads in to the Narrows, named for the narrowest section of the canyon. This 16 mile narrow canyon is where hikers splash up or down the shallow waters. Parallel cliffs soar 2,000 feet overhead, only 30 feet apart in places.
Court of the Patriarchs was named for three towering figures of the Old Testament, these sandstone cliffs hold court over Birch Creek Canyon and this section of the Virgin River. In 1916 Fisher gave the religious names to the peaks; Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Finally we left the park and headed west out of Springdale along Highway 9 following the Virgin River to Virgin and Hurricane and on to the Interstate 15 to Las Vegas, Nevada. Our final state of the trip.
In Virgin there is a turn-off to hike down the left fork of North Creek which leads to a geological feature called the Subway. Over time water rushing through a hole in the rock has formed a rounded out tunnel.
Near Hurricane you find the Quail Creek reservoir and the ghost town of Grafton where scenes from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were filmed.
Nevada – almost at Las Vegas
We had no intention of spending any time in Las Vegas other than reaching the airport and dropping off the hire car. As we neared the city the air above was yellow with pollution and the Interstate became much busier, so much so that we missed our turn-off and had to circle round which was a bit worrying as the fuel gauge was getting close to empty. I always find driving in strange cities quite stressful and even more so after days of being out in the vast open spaces with hardly any vehicles on the road.
So “Goodbye Las Vegas”.
It has been the most wonderful road trip and despite the overnight snowfalls, we have experienced lovely weather, cold, but dry. The Canyon Circle is fascinating – so many geological features to gaze at in wonder. We have nothing like it here on such a scale. I only wish we’d made more time and incorporated Monument Valley, Four Corners Monument, Arches National Park and The Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. Who knows whether we will ever come this way again?
When a man is away from Nature
His heart becomes hard
~ a Native American proverb
I have seen many sights on this road-trip to take my breath away, Sedona, the Red Rock Canyon, the Vermilion Cliffs, Balanced Rocks, Grand Canyon’s depths, Bryce’s hoodoos, Lake Powell’s stillness and Zion’s peace. A journey of over 1,000 miles in little over 6 days and every day even more amazing than the last.
After breakfast at Ruby’s we took a couple of hours to revisit Bryce canyon, this time stopping at different viewpoints within the Amphitheatre Region. In winter you cannot travel to the south of the park and because of the heavy snowfall over the weekend even some of the usually accessible points were only open to cross-country skiers, not vehicles, and the delightfully named Fairyland Point was closed. No matter. We got all the views we could hope to see from Inspiration Point, Sunset Point and Sunrise Point. It must be wonderful to be able to hike the trails among the hoodoos in the spring/summer months. Queen’s Garden Trail, Navajo Loop and Peekaboo Loop are just a few.
Bryce Amphitheatre is the largest natural amphitheatre in the park. Vast panoramas can be seen from Inspiration Point and Sunrise Point which feature the Black Mountains in the northeast and Navajo Mountain in the south.
Technically Bryce is not a canyon because canyons are primarily carved by flowing water – a stream or river. Naturally acidic rainwater dissolves limestone, making the rounded edges of hoodoos, but the freezing and thawing of water does most of the sculpting at Bryce.
Sunset Point – a good viewpoint
Back on the road we stopped again in Red Canyon, to get a few more photos. There are several trails here too: Hoodoo Trail, Pink Ledges trail and Bird’s Eye Trail all moderate terrain and where you can see the rare plant species of the region and perhaps some of the wildlife too (mule deer, bobcats, eagles).
We were not shod for the snow, but managed to wander around a little to read the useful information plaques dotted around (and which are the source of information for this post). The most interesting is the legend of Butch Cassidy. There is even a 9 mile Cassidy Trail close by, believed to have been used by the outlaw. North on Highway 89 towards Circleville is the cabin where Cassidy was raised, born Robert Leroy Parker, he was the oldest of 13 children of Mormon immigrants and formed a gang, the Wild Bunch, in his teens.
Turning south onto the 89 the Sevier River winds it way alongside, like a black snake in all the snow. Around nearby Duck Creek modern ranches stand alongside decaying remains of ancient buildings. Horses’ breath steaming in the cold. At Hatch there were loads of antique shops, and any other time we’d have stopped for a browse, but we wanted to move on to the final destination on our itinerary. Pretty stands of Aspens lined the road, pink, white and yellow twiggy branches in the air.
If you turned north at the 89 / 12 junction you would reach the town of Panguitch – a name from a Native American word meaning big fish where there is year-round fishing. The most interesting story about the town though is the annual Panguitch Quilt Walk, celebrated in June every year when locally made quilts are on display.
The town was settled in 1864. The first winter was very tough. Frost killed all the crops before harvesting. A few men tried to get to a nearby town for supplies but they kept falling through the several feet of snow. They discovered that if they lay down a quilt, walked over it, lay down another in front and retrieved the last one, they could walk over the frozen landscape. This ‘Quilt Walking’ enabled them to get to the nearby town and back and helped the settlers of Panguitch to survive.
Back at Mount Carmel Junction we turned right onto Highway 9 the east highway that leads into Zion National Park via tunnels and a switchback to the canyon floor. It was created to allow tourists to make their way round the Grand Circle of parks (Zion, Bryce and the Grand Canyon).
On entering the park at the eastern end you notice two things – the road is red to blend in with nature around it and the geology is spectacular.
Found near the east entrance is the Checkerboard Mesa. The name stems from the cliff’s distinctive chequerboard pattern. The horizontal lines are caused by cross-bedding, a remnant of ancient sand-dunes. The vertical lines formed because of the contraction and expansion of the sandstone.
The road loops and winds alongside Pine Creek until the tunnels where we waited in a queue to get through – larger vehicles need to be accompanied which is why there is a waiting time.
Some people had parked up to walk out to the Canyon Overlook Trail. It is very steep and narrow though so not suitable for everyone and can be extremely icy in winter. I walked a little way, before turning back, but did get to see some bighorn sheep on the way.
The tunnels were blasted through 1,000 feet high sandstone cliffs, the second one being over a mile long. Exiting the tunnel you get a good view of the Canyon and some of its most famous formations including the Great White Throne. There is a steep, 10 mile drive down switchbacks to the valley floor.
We drove through to the park’s southwest entrance and in to Springdale where we had booked a night in the Zion Canyon B&B only 1/2 mile from the entrance and close to park shuttle buses (summer months only). A bit early to check in we found a lovely little deli and gift shop where we had good freshly made sandwiches and coffee for lunch. The best food so far.
The Canyon was once home to the Anasazi (a Native Indian word meaning Ancient Ones) whom historians believed lived here 2000 years ago and up to the 13th century. The Paiutes discovered the canyon next and were living here when the first white people (Spanish Padres Silvestre Vélez de Escalante and Francisco Dominguez and the fur trapper Jedediah Smith) came through in the 1700s.) The first Mormon settler was Isaac Behunin who is credited with giving the Canyon its biblical name of Zion. Meaning a place of rest and refuge (Ancient Hebrew = sanctuary). Many of the rock formations have biblical names too.
In the afternoon we returned to the park and drove along the Scenic Floor of the Valley Road stopping at various places along the route, including the Emerald Pools Loop, Angels Landing and Temple of Sinawava. The Emerald Pool was very disappointing, after following a rather icy trail I reached the first pool (puddle) which was a muddy brown. The trail continued underneath a dismal waterfall onto even more uneven ground at which point I turned back.
We were going to eat at the Whiptail Grill near the gas station on the edge of Springdale, but it closed at 7:30 p.m so we were too late. Most of Springdale’s restaurants were closed in March, but we finally found Blondies open where we had a decent burger and fries. Unfortunately much of Utah is dry so I opted for an ice-tea (thinking it would be one of those lemony sweet drinks) only to find it tasted just like bitter cold tea, and I do not like tea! Major fail. By now I was getting withdrawal symptoms for a good bottle of red wine.
On Monday we left Page to drive to Bryce Canyon and our next stop. First we had a look at the Glen Canyon Dam which was the reason for the town of Page as it originated from housing the workers of the dam when construction started in 1957.
Then we stopped at Lake Powell which is the largest lake in Arizona/Utah and famed for its water sports, fishing, hiking and boat trips to Rainbow Bridge (the world’s largest natural stone bridge).
Lake Powell is arguably the most scenic lake in America, situated in some of Southern Utah’s finest red-rock desert country.
Above: The Hydroelectric Project (Glen Canyon) and the Navajo Generating Station. Why are two power stations so close? The reason is the river. The availability of water at lake Powell, the proximity of a source of coal and a worker base in the city of Page determined the location.
Sparkling clear, blue water laps against towering, sheer, red-rock canyon walls and sandy beaches. Lake Powell has more coastline than the entire west coast and you need a water craft to access the majority of the canyons as access is limited because there are few roads.
Moving on we crossed the border into Utah which is only about ten miles from Page. Utah’s southwest corner is often called “Colour Country” and has a dry, hot climate and Highway 89 is a Heritage Highway because of the wealth of history along its route.
Driving past Paria Canyon and the Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness you then pass Cottonwood Canyon Scenic Backway with rugged peaks called the Cockscomb. Next is an area called Telegraph Flat named in 1876 when Western Telegraph opened an office here. It is now a ghost town.
The biggest town along the route is Kanab, famous for the Western Legends Roundup and Western Film Festival an annual event that is a tribute to the area’s rich movie history. Nearby is the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park (covered in snow as we passed ) where the rare plant, Welsh’s Milkweed, grows.
The United Order experiment was instituted in 1874 for a communal lifestyle at the direction of Brigham Young. Eighty families moved here from Mount Carmel where the co-operative had failed.
It existed until the 1880s when it started to fall apart, though it had grown to more than 700. The families lived in apartments which were identical, they all ate in a common dining hall and wore uniforms. Private property did not exist.
The next town is Mount Carmel Junction where Highway 9 to Zion National Park intersects with the 89 (and which we would be taking tomorrow as we retraced the next stage of our trip), a few miles on we drove through the unusually named Orderville.
Mount Carmel Junction was first settled by Dr Priddy Meeks in 1864 as part of Brigham Young’s plan to settle all of Utah’s territory. It was later named after a mountain in Israel.
John Wesley Powell first visited in 1872; he was the first white man to descend the East Fork of the Virgin River and who named the canyon “Parunuweap” from the Paiute word meaning roaring water canyon.
Just before Panguitch (another town with an interesting tale, which I will tell you about in my next post) you take a turn to the right on State Route 12, another of the All American Roads, which winds 124 miles through some of the most unique geology on earth. Almost immediately you hit Red Canyon, a section of the Dixie National Forest, with red hillsides dotted with ponderosa pines and hoodoos.
(Click an image to enlarge and for further information)
Ponderosa Pines cling to Cap Rock
After 14 miles we took another right turn and headed back south on Highway 63 to Bryce Canyon National Park, so named after Ebenezer Bryce a Mormon pioneer. We were staying in the Best Western Ruby’s Inn which is a short distance from the park entrance.
“Before there were any Indians the Legend people, To-When-an-ung-wa, lived in that place. There were so many of them. They were of many kinds – birds, animals, lizards and such things – but they looked like people…
For some reason the Legend People in that place were bad. Because they were bad Coyote turned them into rocks; some standing in rows, some sitting down, some holding onto others. You can see their faces with paint on them just as they were before they became rocks…”
~ a Paiute Indian Legend
After checking in and dropping our luggage in the Lakeview Lodge we headed off into the park to have a look at the incredible hoodoos that are concentrated in a horse-shoe shaped amphitheatres that provide amazing spots to watch the sun rise and set.
A perfect spot for star-gazing as there is no light pollution.
The 3 feet of snow that had fallen over the weekend meant that several of the pathways were under snow and walking was quite treacherous. It didn’t seem to put off some people though as we saw them climbing over fences to approach the end of a lookout point – oblivious to the fact that you couldn’t see the edge. I even saw two lads carrying a mate in a wheelchair to the edge of one viewpoint.
From Sunset Point this trail takes you down onto the floor of the canyon and amongst the hoodoos. Not to be ventured on except by people in stout boots with walking poles, or idiots in fashion boots complete with high heels!!
We ate at Ruby’s that night, there isn’t really a lot of choice, but the food was reasonable – I can’t say that we’ve eaten any remarkable meals during this trip so far. It had been a long day with lots of interesting scenery along the way. There was a lot of snow all around and it was very cold, but thank goodness the roads were cleared and driving was a breeze. Tomorrow should be another interesting day.