A lingering look at Shropshire

Paula’s black and white Sunday this week is all about Rural Living.

rural-landscape-b&w

I was going to post a view from my new house, but then I thought it would be nice to show off a bit more of the beautiful Shropshire landscape which has kept me company during the past four and a half years. Just a couple of miles walk from the town you find yourself with views like these. I have to say I will miss them. The Ent-like trees, the dead straight hedgerows, the sheep in the fields, the tracks of tractors, the black and white timber-framed houses and the hills. Shropshire is a beautiful rural county and I think this image captures its beauty.

Please visit Paula to see other blogger’s thoughts about rural living.

The Canyon Circle Road Trip: Part VI

Bryce Canyon to Springdale (Zion)


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 Canyon Amphitheatre
Bryce Canyon Amphitheatre

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.

A tricky trail
A tricky trail
Bryce Canyon Amphitheatre
Sinking Ship and The Table Cliff Plateau

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
Sunset Point – a good viewpoint
Bryce airport
Bryce airport

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).

Trailheads
Trailheads
Red Canyon
Red Canyon

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.

Butch Cassidy Draw
Butch Cassidy Draw

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).

Bison outside Zion Canyon
Bison outside Zion Canyon
East entrance
East entrance
Mount Carmel Hwy
Mount Carmel Hwy

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.

Red Road
Red Road

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.

Checkerboard Mesa
Checkerboard Mesa
Geology
Geology
Geology
Geology

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.

entering the tunnel
entering the tunnel

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.

Bighorn Sheep
Bighorn Sheep

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.

Window in the blasted tunnel above the valley floor
Window in the blasted tunnel above 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.

Springdale
Springdale

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.

The Great White Throne
The Great White Throne

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.

Sunset in Springdale
Sunset in Springdale
Sunset in Springdale
Sunset in Springdale

The Canyon Circle Road Trip: Part IV

A Day in and Around Page


Sunday dawned cold and grey. But the photo trip was still on and we spent a couple of hours in the company of Charley from Overland Canyon Tours in the Antelope Canyon which is a few miles outside of Page where the slot canyons are majestic narrow passages with just enough space for a small group to walk the sandy floor – and for the occasional shafts of sunlight to shine down from above. [1]

Antelope-183

The best time to visit is when the sun is overhead so you get those super shots of sunlight on the sand particles shimmering in the oranges, reds and yellows of the naturally carved sandstone. Unfortunately for us there was no sun, but that did not spoil our enjoyment of this incredible place. Even light flares added an interesting purple hue to the rocks. For those of you who are fitter than us you might like to visit the Lower Antelope Canyon which is reached by a series of ladders. All I can say that climbing the steps up into the cab of the Ute was hard enough!

Antelope-021

In the afternoon we took a drive back down to Bitter Springs and turned right on to the 89A across the Navajo Bridge to visit Lees Ferry where you can get down to the edge of the Colorado and watch groups preparing to raft down the river.  [2]

(click on an image to enlarge)

Over the ten miles or so south of the Navajo bridge, the Colorado has several fascinating narrow tributary canyons including  Seven-mile Draw, Soap Canyon, Jackass Creek and Badger Canyon. The layers of sandstone and shale that form the vermilion cliffs once extended five miles to connect to the same layers in the Echo cliffs. The Colorado River cut a canyon through the Navajo sandstone. 

We stopped to marvel at the balanced rocks on the way back to Marble Canyon. Thousands of years ago a huge boulder of conglomerate broke from the cliff above and rolled to a stop here. Since then at least 6 feet of this slope has eroded away.

Balanced Rocks
Balanced Rocks
Balanced Rocks

Ultimately the softer rock, now protected by the umbrella of harder conglomerate will erode, and the boulder will topple to the ground again.

Balanced Rocks
Balanced Rocks

Several fallen boulders at the foot of the desolate Vermilion Cliffs on the Arizona Strip north of the Grand Canyon.

Hard upper layer - Shinarump Conglomerate - forms the cliff top.
Hard upper layer – Shinarump Conglomerate – forms the cliff top.

At the 89a junction we turned right and drove to the  Cliff Dwellers Lodge about nine miles further east to have an early dinner at the diner there.

Cliff Dwellers Lodge
Cliff Dwellers Lodge

During the Great Depression, a few white settlers built a small town of wooden structures with shingle roofs that still cling to gigantic boulders in a moon-like setting at the foot of Vermilion Cliffs.

Through the window of a cliff dweller's home
Through the window of a cliff dweller’s home
Tough living
Tough living

Returning to Page after a very interesting day we managed to catch the sun setting on Echo Cliffs on the land of the Navajo Nation.

MC-David-302

[1] When we did this trip it was OK to have any type of camera but now you need to have a SLR – point and shoot, IPads and IPhones are  not accepted, if you have one of these you may find yourself on a normal tour. We had bridge cameras.

[2] There was a landslip in 2013 which meant that this route was not accessible for quite some time. It is advisable to check routes in this region before setting out.

The Canyon Circle Road Trip: Part III

Grand Canyon to Page


After breakfast on Saturday we checked out of the hotel and set off eastwards along the East Rim. It was a dry day, but extremely windy, which made standing out on the exposed viewpoints and keeping a camera steady, quite challenging.

(click on an image to enlarge and see the detail)

Can you see the river?

I was amazed and rather concerned at the number of people who venture out onto the overhanging rocks to get a photograph, especially when said rocks are covered in snow and it is difficult to see where the end is! I wonder how many tourists lose their lives in this way?

GC3-025

The best views of the canyon on the East Rim are from Grandview, Artists Point and Lipan Point. The whole drive takes about an hour but stopping to look from the various pull-ins will add on at least another hour.  Possibly more! From this side you can catch glimpses of the River Colorado and the rafts making their way down the rapids.

Pinyon Pine
Pinyon Pine hanging on for dear life
Hance Rapids
Hance Rapids – click to enlarge and see the rafts bottom right – yes it really is that deep!

And if, like us, you are leaving via the east gate then make your last stop at Desert View where you can see and hear the river below. Climb up the Watchtower for even more spectacular vistas, framed by the windows they look like paintings. Admire the wall murals inside and maybe buy yourself a souvenir from the region.

View from the Watchtower
View from the Watchtower – Colorado on the right, Little Colorado centre
View from the Watchtower towards the Painted Desert
View from the Watchtower towards the Painted Desert

Hard though it was to pull ourselves away from the Canyon we had to get to Page for the night which meant driving eastwards through the Painted Desert to join the 89 route again.

Murals
Murals – the large circular painting tells the legend of the Snake people
Watchtower
Watchtower

The drive from the Grand Canyon Village to Page will take about three hours without stops, so make sure you don’t dally along the rim for too long!  After exiting the east gate at Desert View the next logical stop is at the historic Cameron Trading Post where you can buy artefacts or a Navajo frybread taco if you are feeling hungry!

The next two hours  is on the Painted Desert scenic highway. The road was pretty empty of traffic in March and the views of the layers of coloured rock meant that it was never boring.

marble Canyon

At Bitter Springs where the 89 winds up into the mountains we pulled into a viewpoint where you have views back towards the Grand Canyon and  also to Marble Canyon [1].

Bitter Springs
Above Bitter Springs towards the snowy North Rim
Vermilion Cliffs
Vermilion Cliffs east of the Colorado River – can you see where the river runs?

Further on is the turn-off to Horseshoe Bend Overlook on the Colorado River, where you need to park up and hike for an hour to view the river from a spectacular high viewpoint. Although I would have liked to see this, we didn’t have the time or the energy for an hours hike (each way).

Lake Powell in the distance
Lake Powell in the distance
Driving into Page
Driving into Page

We stayed at the Courtyard Page at Lake Powell, which is not the most convenient location as it is right on the edge of the town so not easily walkable to the shops and restaurants. But it is quite close to the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area from where you get good views of the dam and where you can take river trips down the Colorado.

Glen Canyon Dam
Glen Canyon Dam – it really is very high
Catching a Raft down the Colorado
Catching a Raft down the Colorado

We popped out later for a burger at the Dam Bar and Grille, a steak house in town, hoping that the snow which was forecast overnight wouldn’t lead to the cancellation of our photo trip to the Upper Antelope Canyon on the following day.

[1] The US 89 to Page closed after a landslip in February 2013 and you have to take the newly paved 89T or use the route via Tuba City.

The Canyon Circle Road Trip: Part II

Sedona via Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon 


Today was a much shorter drive, though very different from yesterday as we were driving through the snow that had fallen overnight. After a lovely breakfast and snapping a few shots of Steller Jays and Dark Eyed Juncos who were breakfasting outside on monkey nuts  we were on our way to the Grand Canyon. Would it live up to the hype I wondered? Or would the reality fall flat.

(please click on an image to enlarge)

We continued along 89A through Oak Creek Canyon weaving its way up and around the mountains. At the top we pulled into a viewing place to take a few photos of the canyon and the road on which we had just driven. I am so glad that they clear the roads in this part of the world!

GC2-412
A winding road

By noon we’d arrived at Tusayan the town just before the south entrance to the park and we stopped to visit the IMAX theatre to watch a film about the Canyon which is well worth doing if you haven’t been there before. Though I must be the only person on earth who suffers travel sickness whilst watching these films! I have to close my eyes to stop myself from feeling dizzy.

On the road to the Canyon
On the road to the Canyon, North Rim in the distance

The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison – beyond description, absolutely unparalleled throughout the wide world. Let this great wonder of nature remain as it is now. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is keep it for your children, your children’s’ children and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see. Don’t let them skin this wonderful country – as they will try to do” ~ Theodore Roosevelt, May 6, 1903

Now we were in the park and following the one-way system to our hotel – El Tovar – where we had booked for the night. It is a  National Historic Landmark and is right on the South Rim with views of the canyon from rooms on the northern wing.

The hotel is made from native stone and Oregon pine and the design is based on European hunting lodges and has a world-renowned restaurant along with canyon views.

After settling in to our room, we went to have our first look at the view and then find the shuttle bus which would take us to Hermits Rest which is closed to private vehicles.

El Tovar
El Tovar
Hopi House
Hopi House
Icicles
Icicles

There are no words to describe your first view of the grand Canyon. Photographs do not do it justice, you cannot capture the multiple layers and colours and the sheer scale of the size and form. It overwhelms the senses and all you can do is stand and stare. Take time to pause on the rim and take in Earth’s history.

Hindu Ampitheatre
Hindu Ampitheatre
Hindu Ampitheatre - close-up
View from Hermit’s rest

Don’t rush your visit to the Canyon. I know some people do a half day trip from Las Vegas, but it is worth spending at least one night there. During the afternoon we used the shuttle bus along the 7 miles to Hermits Rest and stopped off at different viewpoints along the way. You can of course walk the trail along the rim, but there are unpaved sections and while we were there it was very icy and snow covered so unless you have adequate walking boots I would advise using the bus.

The Colorado River Runs Through It
The Colorado River Runs Through It

Visit the Kolb Studio, perched on the edge of the rim, the Victorian home of the Kolb Brothers who created a lasting legacy of adventure, exploration, family love, and amazing Grand Canyon photography or hike down Bright Angel Trail, if only to the first tunnel, if you are brave and it is not covered in snow!

The Bright Angel Trail
The Bright Angel Trail
Pinyon Pines cling to the edge
Pinyon Pines cling to the edge

And if time allows the genuine artistry of Native American jewellery deserves a look in the better gift shops at the Hopi House or the Watchtower. Check for a genuine silver hallmark and the quality of stones in the lovely silver and turquoise jewellery. Hopi rugs, pottery and Kachina dolls are also good souvenirs. Finally we returned to the Village just before sunset around 6:30 before heading off into the El Tovar restaurant for a well-deserved steak.

Sunset on the South Rim
Sunset on the South Rim