Thursday, 11 November 2010

Bryce to Zion National Park

Another bitterly cold start- minus 5 deg F, with wind chill, feeling more like minus 10!  Could n't wait to get back into the weird wonderland of Bryce Canyon once more , before the short drive into Zion Park.  Bitterly cold but blue sky.  We parked up with the intention of walking another of the several trails, and set off from Bryce Point but after about a hour, we decided to turn around, as the next section of the trail was again in shadow and the wind was ripping through.  We opted for the sunnier and more sheltered Queens Garden trail, which we'd already done the day before, but was so attractive and packed with amazing sights, that it could stand to be repeated.  Again more beautiful photos but this time with blue sky, rather than the snowy greyness of yesterday.
With more snow forecast here for the afternoon, we headed south and down to a warmer elevation.  Our ultimate destination, St George is at 3000', rather than over 8000'.  A short, two hire drive took us to Zion National Park, about 80 miles away.  This is a deep narrow canyon, with curiously named towering cliffs, beloved of climbers, and there were three of them toiling up a precipice.  In the base of this canyon, and this is what makes it so attractive, is the meandering Virgin River, which gushes and flows through, creating an oasis for aspens, maples and cottonwood trees.  At this time of year, the canyon is a blaze of autumnal colour, vibrant yellow aspens and deep red maples.
  In the Spring, there are waterfalls tumbling down the cliffs, and filling pools.  Even though it was so out of season, and a chilly day, it was much busier than Bryce and the Grand Canyon, and you feel it more because there's only one easily accessible trail, the Riverside Trail.  I would not want to do this at a busy time, but today it wasn't too busy.  Only drawback was the limited number of trails, the majority necessitating a hair-raising, steep climb up the cliffs, to what I'm sure must be impressive views, but after what we'd seen on our travels, I didn't feel a burning desire to do a steep climb up, followed by a worse, steep climb down.  But, in spite of that restriction, we were still very pleased to have seen Zion in all its autumnal glory.
With more bad, snowy weather forecast for the next few days, we felt we'd been lucky to visit Bryce Canyon so late in the season, and glad to be heading somewhere warmer.  So two nights at the Holiday Inn Express, St George.  After the comparative isolation of the last few days, St George seemed buzzing and vibrant.  Lonely Planet describes this area as being as dull as dich-water, but we felt that was a bit unfair.  People are polite and very friendly. 
The day after we set off for Snowy Canyon State Park, which was on the door-step, and mentioned as a little gem by LP guide.  A much lesser known, and understated park, with a fee of only $5, but it turned out to be a great place to wander and experience desert walking, with very few visitors, apart from guys in RVs parked up, overnight nearby.  Again a number of well-marked trails through varied terrain.  We went on the Hidden Pinyon Tree trail, recommended by LP, and it didn't disappoint.  The trail weaves through and over tight passage ways and boulders, opening up into views of the "snowy" white limestone mountain in the distance, petrified sand-dunes, red cliffs topped with "black varnish", and lava outcrops.  All along the trail are up to 20 markers, describing the plants and features that you come across, one of the most curious being the "creosote bush", which is older than the giant redwoods, and have many medicinal and household uses for the Native Indians.  I rubbed it beween my fingers, which then had a distinct smell of TCP!  Amazing plants- don't appear too showy and colourful, but had so many uses for those "in the know".  I love these little information sheets!  These State Parks are just wonderful, and the Americans look after them so well.

Lunch at another Cracker Barrel (which we'd googled-how sad are we!) and then, believe it or not, Ian went shopping with me.  New Balance trainers for $45 and a couple of things from Ralph Lauren outlet, at a great price.  Ate at a Red Lobster that night.  Everyone we saw drinks water or soft drinks.  The stranger sight is guys propping the bar, drinking coke!  We were the only ones having a beer, which can be really expensive, but it seems that the drink-driving laws are strictly enforced and offenders will be"prosecuted aggressively".
So "I'll have an Iced Tea, please"!

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