November 21, 2012 Zion National Park
Facts, comparison and history could be told about Zion. But I can’t tell you those things. I could, but that would just mean spending more time inside, reading, listening.
What I can tell you is how it makes me feel. What it’s like to be touched by the cold canyon air in the morning.
This mild November makes it easy to be here. I’ve been here before at the same time of year and awakened to find my sleeping bag zipper frozen shut. But not now. By 9am the sun has warmed any place it shines. The shadows stay cool.
To be 400 feet up one of the red rock walls in a mid day sun is to be slowly melted, like the chocolate chips melting inside a baking cookie. Shape holds for a while, then sweat drips down your neck and your posture slumps.
The sun twists and bends around the curves and caves of the canyon walls. Yesterday it dropped behind Angel’s Landing lookout point as we reached our high point on Touchstone wall on the opposite side of the Virgin River. Shade was relief, but we knew it was temporary. Cold was already seeping down the Narrows.
From Angel’s Landing, the canyon view runs south to north, roughly. To the south, buttress after buttress protrude into the canyon, each echoing and attempting to outdo the one before until they become just shadows, silhouettes of themselves. Look straight down from the landing and Big Bend makes nearly a complete circle around you. Braids of the Virgin River show former flood levels and river courses.
My favorite thing about being here in fall is the color contrast. Cottonwoods on the valley floor turn their leaves to yellow. From yellow to copper and then some fall off. The remaining leaves look like a wind ornament of brassy pennies hanging from the branches. Behind the trees are the true magic of the place. Walls.
Burnt walls, red walls, red walls streaked with black water marks. Pocked with exposed sandy pink spots where rock has exfoliated. Rock walls topped with layers of sulfur yellow, capped with white petrified sand dunes. Their faces full of fissures. Those are what we like to climb- cracks.
Some still look like sand dunes, their shifty nature frozen in place. Each curve in the canyon leads to another side canyon. 2000+ feet cliffs bear names like “Altar of Sacrifice” because of the red rock that resembles blood spilling from its flat white top. Higher up on the mesas, junipers and pinyon pine whisper in the morning wind, heavy with berry.
Like all of Utah, the landscape seems mysteriously endless. You could never in a lifetime explore it all.
It takes very little time to become entranced with this place, Zion. It’s unlike Yosemite or other great Parks. There is one road, a free shuttle system most of the year to keep cars out, no stores or distractions in the canyon. It’s wide enough to feel freeing, yet tight enough to be intimate.
We’ve climbed for three days and today is a rest day. Apple pancakes for breakfast at our BLM land campsite on the edge of a mesa outside the park, yoga by the river. More time by the river. The river made this canyon. Currently it carries out about 3 dump trucks of sediment each day in its ankle deep waters.
Our greatest dilemma is that we’ve not had a shower for about a week. At least we both stink, equally. The river is frigid about 46 degrees, but we were forced to jump in when we found the showers closed this morning. It helped our psyche, but did little for the smell. Thank goodness we caught them open, for the last hour of the season, this afternoon.
In between climbs yesterday, we stopped to watch a herd of Big Horn Sheep for a half hour. They ate leaves off tough looking bushes. It was so quiet you could hear them tearing them off. A few males attempted to mount a female, to no avail. Then they generally hung out, lounging. Like us. On the red rock ledges. In the sunshine. Under a bright blue sky.
The stars are fewer every night with the waxing moon. Night is just cold enough to be toasty warm in our down cocoons. And each day we awake, to an endless realm of possibilities and unknowns. Setting goals of climbing hard, but allowing ourselves the freedom to be distracted by the wonders around us.