What a difference a day makes. The day before I was struggling with traffic and generally tired of all the driving. Bryce and Zion energized me with new, unique scenery and bizarre rock formations. As I mentioned, Bryce and Zion National Parks were not on my original itinerary. A co-worker had mentioned a vacation he had at Bryce and Zion and, when I was looking for things to do in the one extra day that I had, these parks came to mind.
Bryce Canyon National Park turned out to be one of my favorite places. I entered the park early in the morning and stopped at the visitor's center to check out the hikes. I chose the Fairyland Loop and went down into the canyon, weaving around the hoodoos for four or five miles before returning to the canyon rim and back three or four miles to the visitor's center. At the time, this 8 mile hike was the longest hike I'd ever done. Along the way you pass Bristlecone Pines, some of the oldest trees ever discovered. They are not as impressive as the Sequoias and are kind of scrubby looking but some have been dated to 4,844 years old and are recognized as the oldest non-clonal organism known on earth. What these trees must have "seen" over their lifetimes as the water and air sculpted the multi-colored landscape of brilliant yellows, reds, and oranges is mind boggling. It is some of the most amazing landscape I have ever seen. Very cool.
The weather varied quite a bit as I hiked. It started overcast, moved on to some light drizzle, before semi-clearing letting some blue sky through. The clouds took some of the punch from the colorful landscape but it was still fascinatingly awesome. I left Bryce and headed for the red rock canyon land that is Zion National Park. Even the asphalt used in the roads entering the park is red. The views here are just as amazing as those in Bryce but in a different way. The road I took into the park took me through the Zion-Mount Carmel tunnel. The tunnel is 1.1 miles long and slants downward. It was dug over 70 years ago to help connect Zion to Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon. There are periodic 'windows' cut in the side of the tunnel that let in the sunlight and fresh air in. What is it about tunnels that excite me so much ... I always what to yell WHEE!! I don't know why.
Once in the park, I did a short one mile hike called the Riverside Walk up a narrow river canyon. The hike is a popular hike that is a mixture of paved trail and river wading. It's really too short to call a real hike but I was worn out from the eight miles I had done that morning at Bryce and I took it slow.
A few years ago, Zion started banning all private vehicles on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive during the peak summer season and started a shuttle bus service to take visitors into this part of the park. I heard a story from one of the bus drivers that he had never seen any wildlife on this road when cars were permitted but only two days after the cars were stopped large animals like coyote were once again seen along the road. It only takes a short time for nature to take back what has been taken from it.
After a visit to the visitor's center for some postcards, I left Zion and ended up in St. George, Utah where I had a large dinner and spent the night. My visits to these two parks was too short. I'm sure I could have spent days there exploring and just admiring the beauty of the landscape. I hope to go back some day. Pictures are here.
My vacation was dwindling - only three more days until I would be home. Next stop: Las Vegas and Death Valley.