Category Archives: National Parks

Bighorn Sheep in Colorado

A bighorn sheep ewe, on the right, prepares to lead the herd on its trek across a highway in Rocky Mountain National Park. The ewe waits until most of the herd members line up and then she begins the procession. The sheep make the journey each day to and from two lakes in a meadow in the park.

Not far from Estes Park in Colorado, bighorn sheep graze in a meadow near two lakes, “Sheep Lakes,” in Rocky Mountain National Park. The herd makes its way to the lakes from the mountainside each morning and then returns to the mountainside in the late afternoon. It’s a beautiful commute. Park rangers and volunteers manage the tourists and the cars on the narrow highway to allow the sheep safe passage.

When the bighorn sheep are ready to cross the highway, park rangers and volunteers clear the road. The sign says no walking, but it also means no parking. This Hummer driver was confused!

My husband and I were among the gawkers in early August for the sheep’s late afternoon procession back to the mountains. I joined the paparazzi jostling for a view from the packed parking lot. Because we had to stand well away from the sheep, I envied photographers with big lenses. One woman pointed to a female sheep hurrying back across the meadow to the herd at the closest lake. Where had the ewe been? What had she been up to? Her lamb ran out to her and then trailed after her. “Mommy, where did you go?”

In the mid-1800s, thousands of bighorn sheep lived in the Estes Valley, but their numbers were decimated by hunters, by degraded environment and by diseases introduced by domestic sheep. At one point it was thought only about 150 sheep lived in the park, high in the mountains. The bighorn sheep in the low-lying areas were gone. It wasn’t until recent decades that through conservation efforts and reintroduction of new bighorn sheep that the population started to increase. About 600 bighorn sheep live in the park now. The herd near Sheep Lakes seemed to be all female adults and their offspring. You can read more about the RMNP bighorn sheep in a link below.

I saw one sheep move up the hill from the lake, and a few stood behind her. Soon, most of the herd was behind her. She waited there, alert, watching us silly humans in the parking lot. Even though we were probably a hundred yards away (I’m bad at estimating distances), she was wary. The rangers and volunteers make sure humans stay back because sheep can be easily stressed. However, later, we saw bighorn sheep grazing by the side of the highway along Big Thompson River, butting heads and knocking each other into the road. They didn’t seem bothered by the traffic at all. I was worried for them!

Eventually, the entire herd at Sheep Lakes gathered behind the lead ewe and then the sheep made their way across the road, where traffic had been cleared. Of course, just as with humans, one grazing sheep was oblivious to the departing herd. She looked up, saw she was alone, and then bolted to catch the herd.

You can click on all of the photos to get a better look. You’ll need to backspace to return to this page.

A bighorn sheep lamb nurses from its mother as the herd lines up and prepares to return to the hillside after a day in the meadow.

Bighorn sheep graze at Sheep Lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park.


A crowd gathers to watch and photograph the bighorn sheep as they graze at Sheep Lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park. The most popular time is when the sheep migrate to and from the hillside over the meadow, which they do once a day.


On the left, a ewe hurries back across the meadow to the herd. In the upper right, her lamb rushes out to greet her. “Mommy, where did you go?” In the bottom right, the lamb follows after its mother.


Bighorn sheep graze on the hillside along the Big Thompson River in Colorado.


About Bighorn Sheep in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Here is a section of a map showing the Sheep Lakes area, where a herd of bighorn sheep graze every day.

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Filed under Animals, National Parks, Natural History, Nature, Travel

Living at the Edge of an Active Volcano

Offering to Pele, HawaiianVolcano Goddess Postcard postcard
This bouquet of anthurium and ginger flowers  is a gift to Pele, the Hawaiian Goddess of fire, lightning, dance and volcanoes.  The bouquet was left at the edge of the summit caldera of Kīlauea in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii.  Kīlauea is one of the Earth’s most active volcanoes and is considered one of its most dangerous. Kīlauea and its Halemaʻumaʻu caldera were traditionally considered Pele’s sacred home, and Hawaiians visit the crater to offer gifts to the goddess.

My husband and I visited Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park in February 2011, but we were a month too early for the latest big show at Kīlauea when a crater floor collapsed in early March.  Scientists reported lava blasts 65 feet high in the volcano, and more than 150 small earthquakes have hit the region since the collapse.

The Big Island of Hawaii's Pu'u O'o crater is seen on Sunday, March 6, 2011. The crater floor collapsed on Saturday causing new eruptions along the east rift zone. (AP Photos/Tim Wright)

Despite the danger, or perhaps because of it, Kīlauea is the most visited tourist site in Hawaii.  From the house where we stayed in Hilo, we watched a new cruise ship arrive every day full of  tourists who were bussed to the volcano for a quick visit.

Steam rises from the summit crater of Kilauea Volcano in early February 2011. This is a view from the Thomas A. Jaggar Museum observation deck.

The crater appears harmless from the observatory deck at the Thomas A. Jaggar Museum, but the volcano can erupt suddenly as Hawaiians discovered in  1790 when a group was caught in an unusually violent eruption. Many were killed and some of their footprints in the lava can still be seen.

Plants take hold in a relatively recent lava flow west of Kalapana, Hawaii. This lava moved into a neighborhood of houses, destroying some and isolating others. You can see a plume of steam from the volcano in the background.

The Pu’u O’o cone now erupting so spectacularly has been continuously erupting in the eastern rift-zone since 1983, making it the longest rift-zone eruption of the last 200 years.

Lava surrounded this house, leaving it intact, but it has been abandoned.

When we visited Kīlauea, we didn’t see any activity other than a little steam in the summit crater, a hint of red in cracks on the crater floor and a parade of steam vents along the road. There was a faint whiff of sulfur in the air.  (If you want really sulfurous air, you need to visit Yellowstone National Park.)  Okay, I was disappointed.   I was hoping for a quivering red-hot river of lava. I wanted spurting fountains.   I’m sure any area with active eruptions and toxic gases would be kapu (forbidden) to tourists.  I was hoping for a sudden lava spurt before rangers herded the tourists to safety.
One of the roads in the park was closed because of recent lava flows, and now with the most recent eruptions more of the park is closed.  The closed road used to continue to another entrance to the park near the town of Kalapana, but that part of the road is now covered by a lava flow.

We drove to Kalapana, where lava has flowed into neighborhoods as recently as a month earlier, destroying some homes.  Steam rose from the most recent flow. Homes are surrounded by the mounds of black lava flows, some are still inhabited, others abandoned.

Bouquets of orchids adorn every table at this Kalapana cafe, set in a lush tropical forest. Just a few miles away, lava has destroyed the forests and 200 homes in recent years.

Just a few miles away from the area of damaged and lost homes, people live in the lush tropical town of Kalapana. You can sit among the palm, banana and mango trees, surrounded by hibiscus shrubs, without a hint that Kīlauea rages just beyond the treetops.  What is it like to live in paradise with the possibility of destruction — literally hellfire and brimstone — so real?
The Kalapana area gained notoriety when the 1990 Kīlauea lava flow from the Kupaianaha vent destroyed and partly buried most of the town and some nearby subdivisions. The lava flow that destroyed Kalapana erupted from the southeast rift zone of Kīlauea. Along with the destruction of Kalapana were those of the nearby town of Kaimū and Kaimū Bay, both of which now lie buried beneath more than 50 feet of lava. More than eight miles of highway and at least 200 homes and other structures have been destroyed by lava since the mid-1980s. The lava flow also created a new coastline. Since 1983, several hundred acres of new land has been added to the Big Island.

People live at the edge of the lava flow from Kilauea.

Hawai’i Volcano Fast Facts:
Kīlauea is one of five shield volcanoes that form the island of Hawaii, which is the youngest of the Hawaiian islands.  The volcanoes erupted somewhat sequentially, one overlapping the other. These volcanoes are (from oldest to youngest):
  • Kohala—extinct (northernmost)
  • Mauna Kea—dormant
  • Hualālai—active but not currently erupting (Last erupted in 1801 and is expected to erupt again.)
  • Mauna Loa—active, partly within Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, the world’s most massive volcano.
  • Kīlauea—active, has been erupting continuously since 1983; part of Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park and one of the world’s most active volcanoes. (southernmost)

Kīlauea is the second youngest of  the volcanoes that have created the more than 100 islands in the Hawaiian archipelago, as the Pacific Plate moves over the Hawaii Hotspot.  Lōʻihi Seamount is the newest volcano in the chain.  It lies 22 miles off the southeast coast of the Big Island at 3,000 feet under sea level.

A couple walks on a trail near the Thurston Lava Tube in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. The terrain in the park ranges from lush rain forest to shrub land to dry almost desert-like conditions.

Kīlauea means “spewing” or “much spreading” in the Hawaiian language, referring to its frequent outpouring of lava.  About 1,000 gallons of molten lava flow out of active vents every second.  Nearly 2 billion cubic yards of lava rock have come from Kīlauea since its current eruption period began in 1983.

Video of Kilauea Volcano erupting in March 2011.

Kīlauea Iki trail traverses Kīlauea Iki Crater.  Click on the photo to get a full-size view of the crater, taken from Kīlauea Iki Overlook.  You can see a glowing red vent issuing a plume of steam on the crater floor.

Hawaiian Islands Map.

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It’s Grand!

Rock squirrel at the Grand Canyon

This rock squirrel hangs out at a scenic outlook at the Grand Canyon. He's got his eye on another vista -- your backpack full of snacks.

We made a detour to the Grand Canyon on our drive home in September from California (Yes, I’ll be wringing posts out of that trip for some time to come!)  It was well worth the four hours’ deviation from our dash (just ask a certain highway patrolman in New Mexico) back to Kansas City, even though we’d visited the Grand Canyon before.   We visited the South Rim, which is about 80 miles north of Flagstaff, in northern Arizona. The North Rim is where that transparent walkway juts out over the canyon. You will not be getting me on that!

Backpack thief!

Rangers caution against giving the rock squirrels any food. It isn't good for them, and they can bite. This rock squirrel (Spermophilus variegatus) thinks he can sneak in, grab a granola bar and scamper away.

You feel very small and insignificant standing near the edge looking out at a vast display of millions of years of erosion.  One of these days I may actually make the grueling hike to the bottom.  My sister and her family have done it.  Others I know have rafted the Colorado River, which looks like a skinny ribbon at the bottom. It’s supposed to be a spectacular trip.  If you’ve done either, please comment below and tell me about your experiences. If you’ve been to the rim of the Grand Canyon, please comment.  If you’ve never been, add your thoughts. If you think it’s a just an overrated ditch, let me know, too. 

Here’s what the Grand Canyon National Park has to say about the Grand Canyon:

A powerful and inspiring landscape, the Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size; 277 river miles (446km) long, up to 18 miles (29km) wide, and a mile (1.6km) deep.


While standing at the edge of this breath-taking sight, I got a cell phone call from my son.  I’d forgotten my phone was even on, and even though I was glad to hear from him, it didn’t seem quite right to be talking when I should have been deep in contemplation. But that didn’t stop me from getting an update on his job search. (He got a job!)  I was one of the few speaking English there, too. There were probably a dozen languages being spoken.   Five million tourists visit every year. I was thrilled to be among that number.

Link to the National Park website: Grand Canyon National Park   Part One of the California Road Trip Saga is Surf’s up.

Tourists at the Grand Canyon.

Tourists at the Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon. Everywhere you look, it's grand!

Pronghorn antelope.

Pronghorn antelope graze near the Grand Canyon.

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More Awesome Utah (and a little Las Vegas)

Trees somehow manage to grow in deep sand in this courtyard of sandstone "fins" in Arches National Park, Utah.

Trees somehow manage to grow in deep sand and shade in this courtyard of sandstone "fins" in Arches National Park, Utah. The wind rushed through, blowing the sand into our eyes, eyes and mouth.

This is my second post about southern Utah.   It’s just too awesome to be covered in one post, and you may see more about it in the future…..  The link to the first “Awesome Utah” post is at the bottom.  It contains details of the journey, links to websites and a variety of fascinating facts. You can also scroll down to find it.  This post is mostly photographs in no particular order.  See below for a link to a collage card I made of nine Utah iconic views.  Utah Collage Card from Zazzle.com All photographs are copyrighted.  Some are available as greeting cards and other products at “It’s a Beautiful World!”

These geologic features in Arches National Park are known as "fins."

These geologic features in Arches National Park are known as fins.

We hiked just after sunrise to Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park.

We hiked just after sunrise to Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park.

In Canyonlands National Park, the Green River curves south where it will soon meet the Colorado River and lose its identity.

In Canyonlands National Park, the Green River curves south where it will soon join the Colorado River. At the confluence of the two rivers in Canyonlands, you can see that both rivers were aptly named. The water of the Green River is very green, while the Colorado (which means colored red) River carries its colorful load of red silt from erosion.

Alizard seeks shelter from the sun (and me!) in Arches National Park.

A lizard seeks shelter from the sun (and me!) in Arches National Park. I think it's a "common sagebrush lizard."

Ihiked about a mile round-trip through blowing sand to get this shot of broken arch --just for you!  Broken Arch, which is in Arches National Park, isn't really broken, as you can see.  Not broken yet, anyway.

I walked about a mile round-trip through blowing sand to get this shot of Broken Arch. See what I do for you! Broken Arch, which is in Arches National Park, isn't really broken, as you can see. Not broken yet, anyway.

Why did the cow cross the road?  Looking for grass.  Good lucCattle wander the open range in Utah, so motorists need to be wary.

Why did the cow cross the road? It was looking for something good to eat. Good luck! Cattle wander the open range in Utah, so motorists need to be wary.

The Monitor and the Merrimack, in Canyonlands National Park, were named after "iron-clad" ships that battled each other during the Civil War.

The Monitor and the Merrimack, just north of Canyonlands National Park, are two buttes named after "iron-clad" ships that battled each other during the Civil War.

Aspens

This grove of aspens is near Canaan Peak, elevation 9,196 feet.

The terrain changes quickly and dramatically in Utah.  Near mountaintops, aspens and evergreens take over from shrubby cedar and sagebrush.  In early November, when we visited, all of the aspens had lost their leaves.  According to the December 2008 issue of Smithsonian Magazine, aspens are suffering “sudden aspen decline” in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and elsewhere in the Rocky Mountains.  We didn’t see any sign of that, but it would have been hard to tell whether the aspens were in an early state of disease or insect infestation.

Aspens grow in “clones,’ or groups of genetically identical trunks, Smithsonian reported.  Some clones are thousands of years old, but the individual trees usually don’t live longer than 150 years.  Scientists have confirmed that a clone of aspens in Utah covered 108 acres and is thought to be the world’s heaviest, largest or oldest organism.  This particular clone is known as “Pando,” after the Latin for “I spread.”

These aspens stand at the crest of a mountain near Canaan Peak in Utah.  Beyond are row after row of more mountains to the east.

These aspens stand at the crest of a mountain near Canaan Peak in Utah. Beyond are row after row of more mountains to the east.

We hiked to a series of three pools fed by springs in Zion Nationa Park.  A Zion ranger said that the water from the spring had fallen on the mesa in the time of the Roman empire and that it had taken 2,000 for it to percolate through the sandstone.

We climbed a trail to a series of three pools fed by springs in Zion National Park. A Zion ranger said that the water from the spring had fallen on the mesa in the time of the Roman Empire and that it had taken 2,000 years for it to percolate through the sandstone.

Zion had the most tourists of any of the parks in Utah that we visited, probably because the weather was the mildest in November.  A trio of rock climbers was slowly ascending a sheer thousand-foot cliff while we were there.  The cliffs of Zion are second in popularity after Yosemite National Park for rock climbers to tackle.  Rock climbers are sometimes restricted from certain cliffs In Zion because of nesting peregrine falcons.

It rarely freezes in the city of St. George, Utah, which is less than an hour drive away from Zion.  We stayed in the historic district in a house built of adobe bricks in the 1870s by Mormon pioneers.  Across the street was Brigham Young’s house and grounds, which is open to free tours.  During the summer, a variety of crops are harvested in small amounts on the small Brigham Young estate, such as pomegranates, almonds and cotton.  A huge mulberry tree shades the house, planted by the Mormons more than a hundred years ago.  The mulberry leaves were used to feed silkworm caterpillars.  Cotton was an early crop in the area, which was nicknamed “Dixie.”  Rosemary hedges are common in the historic district, which must be irrigated to maintain its oasis-like quality.

Tarantula in Zion.

We saw this tarantula by the side of the trail. It's probably a male looking for romance. Females stay in their burrows and are nocturnal.

We saw more wildlife in Zion than anywhere else.  We saw a pair of California Condors, an endangered species (more on them in “Awesome Utah”).  The Zion ranger pointed out a pair of rare golden eagles, too, but I wasn’t eagle-eyed enough to see them. There were Mule deer near a couple of the shuttle stops and along some of the trails.  They didn’t seem to mind human visitors, as long as we didn’t get too close.  A tarantula scuttled along one of the trails.  Tarantulas are rarely seen in Zion, because they are reclusive and nocturnal.  But sometimes, the males can be seen in late summer and early fall when they are out cruising for females. We saw the pictured tarantula along a trail during the day on November 6. Click here to see my  Collage Card of Nine of My Photographs of Utah.

Half of the visitors to Zion National Park are hauling "high octane" cameras and equipment, but this guy is really serious.

Half of the visitors to Zion National Park are hauling "high octane" cameras and equipment, but this photographer is even more serious than most.


Here are some websites:

Brigham Young spent winters in this house in St. George, Utah, in his later years. The guide told us that Young only brought one wife with him.

Mormon president Brigham Young spent winters in this house in St. George, Utah, in his later years. The guide told us that Young only brought one wife with him. Young was thought to have had as many as 55 wives.

We stayed at the Seven Wives Inn in St. George, Utah.  It was built of adobe bricks in 1873. Polygamists hid in the attic here after polygamy was outlawed in the state in 1882.  Benjamin F. Johnson, who stayed in the house, did have seven wives.  In 1983, one of Johnson's descendants converted the house into the Seven Wives Inn, which was the first Bed and Breakfast to be registered in Utah. The Inn is in the historic district, which includes Brigham Young's winter home.

We stayed at the Seven Wives Inn in St. George, Utah. It was built of adobe bricks in 1873. Polygamists hid in the attic here after polygamy was outlawed in the state in 1882. Benjamin F. Johnson, who stayed in the house, did have seven wives. In 1983, one of Johnson's descendents restored the house and established it as the first registered bed and breakfast in Utah. The house is in the historic district of St. George, which includes Brigham Young's winter home.

Joshue trees, a kind of yucca, flourish in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area west of Las Vegas.

Joshua Trees, a kind of yucca, flourish in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area west of Las Vegas.

Nature means something different in Las Vegas.  Here are glass artist Dale Chihuly's "Fiori di Como" on the ceiling of the lobby of the Bellagio Hotel.

Nature means something different in Las Vegas. Here is glass artist Dale Chihuly's version of flowers, "Fiori di Como" on the ceiling of the lobby of the Bellagio Hotel.

This is a Las Vegas version of a fountain -- over the top.  Five small airplanes write in the sky at the beginning of an afternoon water show in the lagoon in front of the Bellagio Hotel.

This is a Las Vegas version of a fountain -- over the top. Five small airplanes write in the sky at the beginning of an afternoon water show in the lagoon in front of the Bellagio Hotel.

These rock climbers are linked together in Zion National Park in Utah.  It's a metaphor for how we are all dependent on one another -- and a good excuse to use one of the photographs from my recent tour of the park!  I won't mention how crazy those guys are!

These rock climbers are linked together in Zion National Park in Utah.

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Let Us Be Truly Thankful

A bounty of currants hangs from a vine along the Virgin River in Zion National Park, Utah.

A bounty of currant grapes hangs from a vine along the Virgin River in Zion National Park, Utah.

“This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.” – Psalm 118:24

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family and friends!

To see my post on “Awesome Utah,” click here.

The Great White Throne towers over Zion National Park, Utah.

The Great White Throne towers over Zion National Park, Utah.

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Awesome Utah

A thunderstorm rolled in, splashed Zion Canyon with a little rain, and soon transient waterfalls streamed in narrow ribbons down the sheer walls of the canyon.
A thunderstorm rolled in, splashed Zion Canyon with a little rain, and soon transient waterfalls streamed in narrow ribbons down the sheer walls of the canyon.

Not much can top the Grand Canyon in Arizona for an awe-inspiring example of geology, but southern Utah comes close.  It’s one awesome view after another.   Sorry for the adjectival pile-up, but it’s incredible, monumental, expansive, panoramic, spectacular, magnificent, ancient, jaw-dropping, gorgeous…You get the idea. (A map and links to cards I designed, videos and websites about the parks, geology and other fascinating facts are at the bottom of this post. All photographs are copyrighted.  Some are available as greeting cards, mouse pads and other products at It’s a Beautiful World! Thumbnails are at the bottom of this post.)

On November 1, my husband and I flew into Las Vegas, rented a car and headed northeast to Zion National Park.  Joshua trees stood like sentries along the highway that cut through the bright, bleak, arid landscape.

The Virgin River cuts a swath through Zion Canyon.

The Virgin River cuts a swath through Zion Canyon.

We left Nevada, crossed a corner of Arizona and headed up the Virgin River Valley in Utah at dusk.   The trip didn’t take long, but night comes early in November.  The setting sun cast a warm glow on the mesas, but it was dark by the time we arrived at Zion Lodge, where we checked into a cabin.

A pair of California Condors chase each other in the Big Bend area of Zion National Park.  Hopefully, baby condors will result.

A pair of extremely rare California Condors chase each other in the Big Bend area of Zion National Park. Hopefully, baby condors will result.

During the night, we heard rain pelting the roof.  “Uh, oh.”  Zion Canyon only gets about 12 inches of rain a year, and we were lucky enough to witness an inch of it.  We got our first view of the gorgeous peaks as the storm clouds boiled in and drifted like smoke between the crags.

We took a shuttle, required during the high season, from site to site.  We waited at the first shuttle stop until the rain passed, then started up a path.  Soon lightning flashed, and almost immediately thunder cracked like cannon fire.  Standing under the trees didn’t seem like a very safe place to be.  Luckily the storm passed, and sunlight revealed the vivid golds of the cottonwoods and the brilliant red of the maples.

A shuttle passenger told us about a pair of California Condors he’d spotted at the Big Bend area.  We were excited to see these endangered birds, which were re-introduced to Zion.  They have the largest wingspan of any bird in North America, but they were still difficult to see. One condor seemed to be chasing the other from tree to tree.

The California Condors are some of the rarest birds, with only 332 known in existence, including 156 in the wild, as of August 2008.  In 1987, there were only 22 California Condors, all in captivity, but a captive breeding program has increased their numbers. We were lucky to see them.

The "pulpit" on the left and the "altar" on the right are natural rock monuments in the Temple of Sinawava at the end of the road in Zion Canyon.  A riverside trail continues along the Virgin River until the cliffs narrow and further hiking has to be done in the water.

The "pulpit" on the left and the "altar" on the right are natural rock monuments in the Temple of Sinawava at the end of the road in Zion Canyon. A riverside walk along the North Fork of the Virgin River continues until the cliffs narrow. To continue, you have to hike in the water.

I promise I won’t make this a minute by minute account of this trip, but let me just say that my mouth was hanging open half of the time, amazed at the number of exquisitely beautiful ways that rocks can erode.  Southern Utah is called color country, and I was reminded of my tubes of oil paints. So many lovely earth tones, the rocks and the vegetation were so beautifully color-coordinated: Russet, naples yellow, yellow ochre, burnt sienna, lavender, unbleached titanium, olive, green, cadmium orange, rusty, pink, salmon, beige, gray.

Mule deer were the most common animal that we saw in Utah. They were busy browsing day and night.

Mule deer were the most common animal that we saw in Utah. They were busy browsing day and night.

Here are the parks we visited or at least drove through, making a big loop, November 1-7:

  • Zion National Park
  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Grand Staircase National Monument
  • Capital Reef National Park
  • Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (the White Canyon area)
  • Canyonlands National Park (Needles and Island in the Sky sections)
  • Arches National Park
  • Dead Horse Point Utah State Park
  • Zion National Park (again)

Zion National Park will celebrate a hundred years as a protected area in 2009.  After leaving Zion, we drove through the Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel, which at 1.1 miles, was the longest tunnel in the United States when it was dedicated on July 4, 1930.  Traffic can only go through one way at a time, because of the tunnel’s narrowness.

At Bryce Canyon National Park, you view the canyon from the plateau’s rim, rather than at the bottom as you do at Zion.  You can take trails to the bottom, but we didn’t because it was cold and windy.  At Zion, you start from the valley floor, hiking to the top of the mesa — if you get that far.

Hoodoo close-up.

Hoodoo close-up.

Everywhere in Bryce Canyon are hoodoos, which are pillars and spires of rock, usually in a fantastic or odd shape, created by erosion. The hoodoos are a wide range of hues of reds, pinks, salmon, yellow and white.  The Bryce Canyon hoodoos have been called grotesque, eerie, even whimsical. One definition of hoodoo is “to cast a spell,” which they definitely do.  Was I enchanted?  Absolutely.

Technically, Bryce isn’t a true canyon, because it wasn’t carved by flowing water, such as a stream or river, but etched by acidic rainwater and altered by freezing and thawing.  The acid dissolved the limestone, rounding the edges of the hoodoos. Freezing and thawing of water did most of the sculpting, which happens about 200 days a year.

Bryce Canyon is full of fantastic hoodoos.

Bryce Canyon is full of fantastic hoodoos. Here is a view from Inspiration Point.

Heading east, beyond Bryce Canyon, we climbed into mountains, where the beauty of fall had already passed.  The aspens had all lost their leaves and were ghostly skeletons on the mountainsides.  We drove mile after mile down into valleys, where water and wind had carved more mesas and buttes.  We passed through a few small mountain and high desert towns, but then for a couple of hours, we saw no sign of humanity except the black ribbon of asphalt that curved through the ancient landscape.  We only saw a little of the Grand Staircase National Monument, but enough to see that it’s aptly named.  We also saw some of Capital Reef National Park, which does look like an ancient ocean reef stranded on land.

The strata of millions of years were visible as the forces of the earth create rock and then wear it away in an endless cycle. Sometimes, a lone building would stand in a deep shadowed valley by a narrow river, lined by a profusion of trees and shrubs.

Mountaintop.

Near Canaan Peak, 9,196 feet, between Henrieville and Escalante, Utah.

A homestead in a dry land.

Mormon pioneers in the 19th century carved out farms and orchards along rivers in this very arid land.

The road rose and fell, curved and cut through ridges that looked like a row of mastodon teeth or the undulating vertebrae of an ancient serpent.  We took the road along the White Canyon, crossing over Glen Canyon, as we headed toward Moab.

Glen Canyon.

A section of Glen Canyon near Hite, Utah.

We stopped for the night in Monticello, Utah, where we ate at a family-run business.  The hostess/waitress/owner asked how we came to be so far from home.  Maybe she forgot about all of the amazing scenery just outside her door!  Her young son solemnly asked whether he could remove our empty dishes.  I hated to disappoint him when he asked us whether we wanted dessert, but we were stuffed.

You don't see many cattle in this arid land.  The few there are wander freely on the range, and you need to be careful that you don't hit them when they cross the road.  These are cattle at the historic Dugout Ranch, south of the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

You don't see many cattle in this arid land. Most are free range, wandering across the land. Signs along the highway warn you to watch out for them. Here are cattle at the historic Dugout Ranch, south of the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

The Needles of Canyonlands National Park march across the horizon.

The Needles of Canyonlands National Park march across the horizon.

The north section of Canyonlands National Park is the mesa in the center.  This photograph is taken in the Needles district of the park in the Pothole area. Shallow potholes in the rock in the foreground, when filled with rain or melted snow, provide homes for a variety of animals.

The north section of Canyonlands National Park is the Island in the Sky mesa in the center. This photograph is taken in the Needles district of the park in the Pothole area. Shallow potholes in the rock in the foreground, when filled with rain or melted snow, provide homes for a variety of animals.

You feel really small at Arches National Park.

You feel really small at Arches National Park.

This balancing rock at Arches National Park reminds me of a Disney cartoon. The rock on top is the size of three school buses.

Balanced Rock at Arches National Park reminds me of a Disney cartoon. The rock on top is the size of three school buses.

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park is the unofficial sympbol of Utah.  See the tiny person underneath.  We hiked uphill a half a mile to see it from this vantage.  Others hiked several miles to hike underneath.

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park is the unofficial symbol of Utah. See the tiny person underneath. We hiked uphill a half a mile to see it from this vantage. Others hiked several miles to hike underneath.

Landscape Arch in Arches National Park is one of the longest natural bridges in the world -- as long as three football fields.  Pieces keep falling, so that the thinnest area is only three feet wide. Find out more about Landscape Arch in a link to a movie about Arches National Park below.

Landscape Arch in Arches National Park is one of the longest natural bridges in the world -- as long as three football fields. Pieces keep falling, so that the thinnest area is only three feet wide. Find out more about Landscape Arch in a link to a movie about Arches National Park below.

The soft red sandstone of Arches easily erodes, returning to the original sand of millions of years ago.  The wind whips it up, swirling it around, until it gets into every orifice on your head.  The geologic features of Arches and the other parks in Utah are a testimony to the ancient forces of the earth.  These features come in an amazing array of styles from spires to fins to crags to buttes and mesas, as well as arches.  There are more than 2,000 known natural sandstone arches in Arches National Park. They take eons to form, but can quickly collapse.

In Arches National Park, this arch near Landscape Arch collapsed in August 2008. Hikers found the rubble the next day.

In Arches National Park, Wall Arch, near Landscape Arch, collapsed on August 4, 2008. Hikers found the rubble the next day. Wall Arch was the first major arch to fall in 17 years.

Guidebooks suggest getting to Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park at sunrise for the best view.  The park was more than thirty miles from our hotel in Moab, the temperature was in the thirties, there was snow on the ground, I didn’t bring warm enough clothes — as usual. Sunrise?  Not gonna happen.

But I couldn’t sleep.  We were dressed, packed, ate breakfast, checked out and on the road by 7 a.m.  It was freezing, so I shot up the more than half-mile trail to the arch, hoping to get there as fast as I could so I could get back to the warm car.  I started snapping photographs as soon as I saw the arch.  It was about 8 a.m., and the early morning sun cast a fluorescent orange glow on the arch.  Golden light splashed the valley below.  It was an incredible view.  I could hardly make myself leave.  I forgot I was cold until we started walking back to our car.

Mesa Arch glows just after sunrise in the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

Mesa Arch glows just after sunrise in the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

We hiked to this strange geologic feature in Canyonlands, which looks like a crater. It could be a meteor crater from 60 million years ago or a salt dome.

We hiked to this strange geologic feature in Canyonlands, which looks like a crater. It could be a meteor crater from 60 million years ago or a salt dome.

The Canyonlands and Arches area gets about ten inches of precipitation a year, half of it in snow.  We saw some of the snow that morning and had to brush it off the signs.  After Canyonlands, we went to Dead Horse Point State Park, which is nearby.  The point sits on a plateau at an elevation of about 6,000 feet above sea level. You can see 300 million years of the earth’s geologic history. On the canyon rim you can see the Colorado River below.  There are 8,000 feet of geologic strata visible from the peaks of the 12,000-foot-high La Sal mountains reaching to the river below.

I’m gratified that you’re read this far.  I’ve barely scratched the surface…..But I’ll give you a break.  We missed so much, too, including Monument Valley and some great Native American pictographs.   There wasn’t enough time — and time is something you’re very aware of in southern Utah, even when it everything seems so timeless.   Zane Grey’s pioneering 1912 novel, “Riders of the Purple Sage” was set in this area.

Many movies were filmed in southeastern Utah, so that these photographs might look familiar to you, but no movie or photograph can capture the majesty of the place.  I’ll write “More Awesome Utah” in a week or so with some Las Vegas thrown in for contrast.  Be sure to check out the links to websites and videos below the photo at Dead Horse Point, where 19th century cowboys corralled wild horses, which sadly died from thirst.

The Colorado River takes a sharp turn at Dead Horse Point State Park.

The Colorado River takes a sharp turn at Dead Horse Point State Park.

Links to websites and videos:

Here is a collage card I designed of nine beautiful Utah scenes.
Click on the card thumbnail.

Utah and surrounding states.

Utah and surrounding states.



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Filed under Animals, Bird-watching, Conservation, Environment, Life, National Parks, Natural History, Nature, Personal, Photography, Random, Travel