Day 18 - Tuesday 2 August 2016

Epic Zion, a brutal angel, and mormon polygamy

Epic Zion National Park from the peak of Angel's Landing

I set the alarm last night for 5.40 and went to bed last night, the alarm went of in the morning at 6.20, I forgot to save the setting so it went off as per the day before. Opps, I wanted to get up early today as I had heard that the carpark at Zion National Park, my destination for the day, filled up quickly. I had a fast shower, shoved some food in my mouth and was out the door in 20 minutes, probably the same time had the alarm went off at normal time as I probably would have stuffed around drinking tea or something. Zion was an easy 40-minute drive from Kanab, and not much traffic on the road; even the first ranger station that I got to at Zion wasnít open yet.

About 10-15 minutes before reaching the visitorís centre the landscape on either side of the road dramatically changed, a sign soon informed me ĎZion National Parkí. This is probably the most picturesque road on the planet. Almost instantly the road was flanked by epic mountain ranges in white/grey, peach and orange/red. One of the first individual mountain that I came across was known as Checkerboard Mesa - a dome shaped 900 feet high mountain seemingly bulging at the sides, light grey in colour with a checkerboard pattern scratched into it from erosion, caused as a result of weathering in a cycle of freezing and thawing, across its surface. I stopped, took a photo or two, got back on the road and drove on.

Checkerboard Mesa The end of the Riverside Walk and the beginning of The Narrows Beautiful Zion The view looking out from Weeping Rock

I was soon in a 3-mile dark tunnel (no lights to guide you through, only the headlights of the car) that surfaced about another 3 miles from the visitors centre. The landscape had really changed now and out in front of me were 2-3,000 feet mountains soaring straight up all around the car high up into the blue sky. What a sight. And all of sudden it was much busier; I guess people were arriving from the other entrance. I freakishly managed to get a park right next to the visitors centre, made my way to the bus with a bunch of feverishly excited people around me, many with walking poles - some found, some carved and some made out of aluminium. I got into the queue for the bus (now this is the second mention of a bus I have made, what do I mean by this? Well you canít drive into Zion National Park proper (probably because its too busy) so National Parks have implemented a bus system that leaves every 7 minutes with 9 stops into various sections of the park. Most of the stops are to trailheads within the park, and the system works really well I must say.) So, the bus is a mini-bus trailing another mini-bus behind it. Everyone got a seat, no one was standing, the bus was full and the buzz of excitement was building (I could hear it in the voices of those around me) and off we went through the park. I noticed a sign on the bus that read ĎWilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of human spirití written by Edward Abbey and over the sound system a native Indian introduction to the park said at one stage, Ďeverything has a purpose. Listen and you may be rewarded.í These were good signs; I like this place already.

I had made a schedule for myself last night before coming to the park, I would first stop at 4 have a quick look around before getting back onto the next bus, then stop at 5 and walk a trail to 6, then stop at 7 and have a look around. Donít bother with 2, 3, 8 and 9 for time reasons. As the bus kept moving I thought through my schedule and said to myself Ďstuff it, Iíll just wing ití. I stayed on the bus until the end, stop 9, and did the 2-mile return Riverside Walk that then turns into the Narrows trail. It seemed that everyone else on the bus was doing the same except when I got to the Narrows they all kept going, whereas I couldnít (to get through the Narrows means wading in the river therefore you need the right shoes and a walking stick. I had neither.) So I walked back, through the ever widening canyon, but narrower for everyone else who carried onwards through.

Weeping Rock Zion from Angels Crossing the pass to the peak of Angel's Landing Another epic view of Zion, looking southwards from Angels

I hoped back on the bus, I was the only one on it this time. I hoped off at stop 7, and walked the short half a mile up the hill to Weeping Rock past beautifully named trees such as Velvet Ash, Big Tooth Maple. Gambel Oak, Sand Sagebrush, and Box Elder up to a big section of rock half way up the cliff face. The face had much of its rock fallen away and where this occurred water large droplets of water were seemingly coming out of the rock; more evidence of erosion in action. A rich seem of green foliage had made its way around where this water was coming out (remember that Zion is in the middle of the desert) and had made the place a very cool little oasis. I took a few photos, walked back down to the bus stop, hopped on the next one, to disembark at stop 6.

Looking northwards towards the Narrows from Angels

I was feeling a little strange today. I wasnít feeling great, was I lethargic, or simply a bit tired after the previous days of natural landscape excitement, or was it something else (like not being able to go down the Narrows with everyone else) I wasnít sure but I knew that I wasnít focused. I walked about 600 feet down The Grotto track. It seemed really boring so I thought to myself what on earth am I doing here? I backtracked my way to the bus stop, but crossed the nearby bridge to the start of the Kayenta Trail, a track that connects this bus stop with the next one closer to the visitors centre. Midway into the Kayenta Trail there are three emerald pools at different levels up the cliff face that I had marked out to visit the night before. I crossed the bridge, over the fast and free flowing silty North Fork Virgin River below (there had been much rain the night before and the river was really running fast full of white/golden sand Ė great for erosion) and found myself at a T-junction.

There, at the T-Junction, was a ranger talking to punters about the Kayenta Track to the left or Angelís Landing to the right. I had heard from a quite a few people since being here in the US that Angelís Landing was awesome, but strenuous, hazardous and intense. As I said I wasnít feeling right today and I stood there umming and arghing thinking to myself what to do, finally I just thought Ďdonít be wussí your only here for a day, go and do Angelís Landing, so I turned right at the T and started the 2.5 mile trek up. The trail got steeper and steeper as I went. It plateaued at one stage but then took a zig zag path straight up again. Once at the top of this section it then got even steeper with chains embedded into the rock to assist climbers. This part of the trail was not for the faint hearted. There were sheer 1,000 feet drop offs on the either side that with each step that just got bigger and bigger, but strangely I now felt really energised. My spirit had turned positive and I was rock hopping like I was as a child around the rocks at Avoca Beach just north of Sydney like I used to. I didnít need the chains most of the time. There was this young-ish Tom Cruise look-a-like American guy and he and I were kind of racing each other up. I felt like I was floating from rock to rock, my balance was sound; the height below had no bearing on my movements or mental state. It was really fun. I felt totally in my element. My American mate and I were passing people with ease, some of them I could tell were wobbly at the knees, others firmly gripping onto the chains, others stopped and contemplating whether they could on any further. My new friend and I got to the top of a steep section and in front of us there was a slight dip down, but on the other side, can you belief it, an even steeper and more hair-raising section to climb. The only words I spoke to my rock-hopping buddy were Ďit just goes on and oní he grinned at me and politely agreed. It was awesome though and we were off again skipping and climbing up, up and away. The climb just seemed to go on and on before eventually we reached the pinnacle. It was beyond spectacular, it was epic. Most of Zion NP was on view, the river bending its way through the rock below, 2 to 3 maybe 4000 feet cliff faces in all direction around. There was a crowd of about 20-30 people milling around and finding awesome vantage points at the top, there were squirrels scampering around (and making our climbing skills look amateurish). I was feeling great, alive surrounded by others loudly exclaiming the same thing. We had all defeated Angelís Landing and we all felt great because of it.

The road into Zion

I spent about 20 minutes at the top before making the descent; my American rock-hopping buddy had already left for other challenges. I trekked back down the first part with two young women from Hawaii who were making me laugh, but soon I overtook them and got in the ĎIím going down floating like bee zoneí until I reached the bottom. The ranger, when I was listening in before making the walk, was taking to two people and said to them Ďwell you seem fit so itíll probably take you about 3 and half hoursí. When I got to the bottom, and to the start of Kayenta Trail, I checked my phone and it had taken me two and half; I felt chuffed, but my knees and back didnít.

It was now quite hot, and as you could imagine Angelís Landing had exhausted quite a bit of my water supply. I still had some but was a little low. I started out on the Kayenta Trail; it was only about 2 miles so I thought it would be easy after Angelís. Easy it was to some degree, but it was mostly walking out in the hot midday sun until I reached a sign that informed me that getting to Upper Emerald Pool meant adding another 1 mile. Ugh. Of course I had to do it. It was up the whole way and still in the sun. There were two places along the walk where there was a stream of water running by so I dunked my hat into it both times and cooled myself down a little.

I finally reached Upper Emerald Pool. There were about 40 people there; a beautiful thin stream of water was running from high up off the cliff face above (basically a waterfall) into the pool (which had nothing of emerald about it due to the rains. It was very silty). I sat on a rock in the shade for about 15 minutes cooling down as much as I could before taking the trail back via the middle and lower pools. Middle wasnít much at all but lower was lovely and cool and the dripping of water off the rock had made pockets of lovely red/purple mud puddles that kids were loving getting dirty in and that got all of over my boots much to my delight because the colour was so beautifully rich and intense.

After another 20 minutes walking I was down at the bottom. I got onto the next bus that arrived with the 4 stops that it took to the visitors centre seemingly taking an eternity to play out. I was by now out of water and food and only thinking of the cool 1 litre of water in the eski back at the car and after hopping off the bus this is what I headed straight towards. I gulped down half of it in one go. Grabbed an apple and munched on it.

I jumped into the car turned the air con up to full and made my way up the most scenic road I think I have ever driven on, through the tunnel and out the other side. As I was driving I kept seeing incredible lines in the rock formations out in front of me. So I did a naughty thing and held my phone on the steering wheel and snapped away. I thought to myself that perhaps Iíll do a series of drawings from these images counteracting all of the lines I see in the rock as Iím sure the images will only contain fragments of the stuff that I was looking at. So Iíll piece together the fragments into some weird patchwork of counteracting lines into a drawing, perhaps even mirroring my weird frame of mind for the day.

Soon, the phone was put down, the landscape had become banal and I was driving on autopilot back towards Kanab. It was only about a 40-minute drive from Zion to Kanab and on good roads. Last night I was reading about Moqui Cave, which I had passed on the way out of Kanab this morning, including some user reviews that said that it was worth a look. Firstly, itís a cave, I like caves particularly the entrance and exit zones of them, second, apparently inside is one of Americaís biggest collections of ultraviolet-fluorescent minerals (sounds strangely compelling, well it does for me anyway), and third the reviews said it was cheap to get in.

So I pulled off highway into the parking lot, hopped out of the car and entered the cave to be greeted by a very friendly (almost too freakishly friendly) young man. He took my $5 entry fee and gave me a very quick overview of the cave layout, and a brief introduction to how the museum and collection of artifacts were formed. The cave was made up of three deep tunnels of about 20 feet in height with longest being about 150 feet in length. One of the caves used to be a Ďspeakeasyí bar during prohibition in the 1920s and the bar was still in there as an exhibit, very cool. The caves were also very noticeably cool in temperature, a pleasant change from the heat of the Utah sun. The cave also has a collection of about 50 dinosaur feet prints excavated from in the cave and around the region. The prints didnít look right. Someone had painted an oil varnish or something on them so that punters could see the prints better but this just made them look fake, which Iím sure they werenít.

Anyway, in the biggest cave, down at the end, was the display of ultraviolet-fluorescent minerals. This cave had no lights except for UV and as I neared the display cases the glow from the rocks became more and more intense. At a distance I thought to myself Ďbig dealí but as I neared I became entranced. In one corner of one of the cabinets the museum had set up a standard light that every minute or so switched on and then off for about 10 seconds revealing the rock under normal well-lite conditions, and yes sure enough they looked just like rocks that I had been viewing over the past few weeks, but when the light went off and the UV back on they dramatically changed and became fantastically coloured. I took many photos and did a second lap for another look.

As I exited this part of the cave the very friendly chap who worked there came over and I impressed on him how extraordinary the rock mineral colours were, he agreed and then commenced telling me that he was mormon (ekk!) before going on to tell me a story about a polygamist. (So hear goes, feel free to skip this section if youíre not interested in Utah Mormon polygamy.) In the 1950s Laura and Garth Chamberlain bought the cave. Their grandfather was one of the first settlers in the region (a part from the native Indians) and renowned polygamist with 6 wives and something like 50-60 kids. He was mormon of course. The grandfather, being an early settler in the region, was powerful man. At around the same time (at the end of the 19th century) Utah was pushing to become a recognized state of America but if they did this then people like good old grandpa would be seen as polygamist law breakers in the eyes of the federal legal system and would have to be arrested. Instead, grandpa, and many others of his ilk, gave themselves over to the law, were jailed with a nominal sentence and had to pay a fine of $100 per wife. After 5 months in jail grandpa was released on the condition that he must purchased a separate house for each woman. Utah to this day is very much known as the mormon state. Why was I not surprised at hearing this story? It just made the cave more strange and worth the $5 entry fee.

I lasted about 20 minutes in Moqui Cave before I was back on the road headed the few short miles into Kanab. Back at the hotel I had something to eat, made a short walk to Honeyís Marketplace, bought some supplies, marveled at Americaís excellent costumer service yet again (so very different to Tasmaniaís, got a lot to learn Tasmania) and was back in the hotel shortly afterwards and off to bed.

Zion today I will sum up in one word, epic. 28,000 steps (Iím catching your record of 30,000 Sam), 160 floors, and over 20 kilometers walked. No wonder my back was aching and bed never felt so good.

Part of Moqui Cave