Back in April, for our first anniversary, we took a weekend trip to the National Parks of Bryce and Zion, in Utah. We also saw a couple of smaller parks in the same area, Kodachrome and Coral Pink Sand Dunes. And of course we drove through just the mere beauty and wonder that lies in between.
We started the trip on a Thursday night, and we stopped for our first night in Bryce. The start was a bit rocky – as we got to our hotel, the hotel was pitch dark and there was a sign on the door that they are closed for the season. We made reservations online, and we had the confirmation, and we didn’t quite understand how this could happen. Luckily, a brand new Best Western was open across the street, and the stay was wonderful, after all. Some things work for the better, you know, even when they might seem that they start for the worse.
The next morning, Friday, we had breakfast at a local staple: Ruby’s Inn. This is a historic resort that bears the name of the old settling outside of Bryce Canyon Park. The name of the settling was changed to Bryce Canyon City not long ago. Breakfast was delicious, and the service was great, but what struck us was that at every table in the room you could hear a different language. From French to German to Japanese – we were for sure in Tourist Land!
Friday, we spent the whole day exploring Bryce Canyon. It’s a drive-in kind of a tour (or should I say “drive through”), so you just get in the car, and drive along the roadway, stopping every so often to an overview, to see the formations on the canyon. There are trails along the way, picnic sites and campgrounds, but we didn’t stop for any of those. We spent the whole day just driving, taking in the sights and stopping to shoot. Pictures, that is!
I had seen pictures of it before, but being there is another experience altogether! You are at the top of all these abysses, looking down on beautiful sculptures of red-yellow-and-white rock! Not two formations are alike and not two valleys resemble each other! The amazingly rich creativity of nature is just breathtaking! The hoodoos look much like sand castles, of piled up dirt, carefully dripped on top of each other in small piles till a huge pile formed, all cemented in millions of years of weather and waiting.
You see birds flying over the precipices, and nesting, snow (at that time) on the highest peaks, friendly deer crossing your path, and above everything, you hear nothing but silence! The wind was echoing in the rocky valley, and you heard nothing else. Maybe the occasional screaming bird, amazed at what’s underneath it, perhaps!
Not two overviews are alike! They all bear descriptive name, like “Sunset”, “Sunrise” Points, “Natural Bridge”, “Ponderosa Point”, “Black Bird”, “Rainbow Point”. They are all amazingly beautiful, and I am not even attempting to describe them, because no amount of words are enough to tell you about their serene exquisiteness. Pictures will have to do for now, until your next personal visit, so you can understand!
After the tour of the canyon was over, we headed towards the Kodachrome Basin State Park. This is a campground and a drive-in tour that bestows yet another new view of the red rocks of the Utah Desert. Again, we were amazed at the various rock shapes, sizes, and colors, as well as the vegetation that somehow finds a way to survive this disarmingly arid place!
We had dinner that night at The Lodge – inside The Bryce Canyon Park. The place is almost like carved in the landscape around it – all rock and wood, with dimmed lights, wooden tables and large fireplaces. It was a cozy ending to a beautiful day.
At dinner, our restaurant manager asked us “are you doing Bryce first, and Zion second? Or are you coming from Zion?” – I guess it’s common to visit both parks in one trip, since they are less than two hours apart from each other. She also said “Well, Zion is the opposite of Bryce – at Bryce you’re at the top looking down. At Zion, you’re at the bottom, looking up”. I didn’t know it at the time, but that is in short the best description, in the fewest words, of the two parks.
The next morning, our anniversary morning, we could not believe the weather! A year before, we were in Greensboro, NC, on our wedding day, absolutely roasting, me, in sandals and a spaghetti strap dress. Now, a year later, we were in Utah, looking at snowy peaks and wearing winter jackets, scarves and socks and shoes! The temperature did rise during the day, and towards Zion, but it was brutally cold, for April 16, in Bryce!
On the way out of our hotel, we went to get ice, from the ice machine in the hallway. This German lady and her daughter came after us, to watch what we were doing. She asked “what do you do with the ice?”. We said we were making zipped bags of ice for the cooler, to keep drinks cold. She said, matter-of-fact-ly in a wondering tone: “You just get ice from this machine? Just ice?” We assured her that the machine did nothing else but give us ice. She nodded her head in disbelief: “It’s a big machine. Just for ice!!”. Remembering my European roots and how foreign of a luxury ice is back there, I can only imagine now how ridiculous we seem to people there for having this big a$ machine that does absolutely nothing else but produce … ice! Doesn’t feed anyone. Doesn’t heal anyone. Just eats up power (I am sure lots of it!) and makes … ice … Eye opening indeed!
En route to Zion National Park, we stopped at Coral Pink Sand Dunes. It’s a bit of a drive to find them, and you go through nothing but brush and desert. We stopped on the way just to capture some of the drive, and my husband stepped around this massive boulder in the middle of nowhere only to immediately warn me that we must get back at the car now, and we must leave. He was looking down at some creature eaten up by God knows what (bugs? Roaches? Coyotes? Rats? Snakes?) beyond recognition! Looking back now, I regret not taking pictures or looking at it myself, but at the time, his face, twisted with disgust, and the rising heat and the fact that there was not a soul around us, nothing but sky, sand, sage brush and silence, gave me enough panic to turn around and almost run!
Whenever I wonder in the desert, I am never bored! There is always something unexpected and wonderful about them!
Coral Pink Park is a completely different desert than any of the other ones I have seen in Utah! Whereas everywhere you see rocks, here, the rocks turned to powder as if a magic fairy shook her wand and turned everything to dust! Everything is soft and almost shapeless. Reminds you of the Sahara, except it’s pink not yellow. Or white. Lots of folks were camping around the dunes – which is very interesting to me. I usually look for a stream and for some shade when I camp. But these were folks riding ATV’s, so, they were looking for open dirt spaces! Sand dunes will offer that!
This is where my story might get dramatic, but I don’t apologize for this! This is why I have sat so long on this story – because I have not been able to find the words to describe Zion and its first impact on me! Nothing I have seen or heard of before about it could have prepared me for the next two days!
We did spend some time in the city of Zion, which is very quaint and like no other small town I have seen – part desert scene, part Native American, part Hispanic, part old Western charm, it’s a melting pot of everything Southwestern and more. Everything we had to eat was different, fresh and delicious, and some of the best Mexican food we have ever had! Just walking the main drag, admiring the beautiful mountains and the unusual vegetation was refreshing. But the highlight of Zion and of this trip was The Park, of course.
“Zion” has come to mean to a lot of people sort of a spiritual homeland, a home coming, a safe heaven. I am not sure why, maybe it’s just reading too much before I actually got there, but that’s exactly the feeling I felt when I entered it. It was awe-striking, it was heart stopping, and jaw dropping. Butterflies in the stomach and tears in your eye. Amazement that such beauty exists and that such perfection! You felt small, and protected and spellbound and like you don’t want to leave ever, because where else would you want to be?!
You first come to the Checkerboard Mesa, a monolith of amazing proportions, that almost blocks the access in the park. And that’s just the illusion. In Zion you feel about a hundred times that you are at the end of the road, and you just come to yet another curve in the road. The road keeps winding, digging through the valley, digging through massive rocky mountains and pulling you through at the other end of it, in the small city of Zion.
I am not sure how to describe what I saw with my own eyes. I had this feeling when I first saw the “mountain of cotton”, Pamukkale, or the ancient city of Ephesus, in Turkey, several years ago, and also when I saw The London Bridge, The Tower of London, Quebec City, and when I climbed on top of the World Trade Center, or when I saw The Statue of Liberty for the first time. This sort of amazing feeling that I am out of my body, that this body that grew up in a small Romanian city and read about these amazing things in books and newspapers cannot possibly stand now in front of these almost fictional sites! It was a feeling of being out of touch, and yet enjoying the reality of it!
I didn’t say much, the whole time we were in the park! I just could not stop taking everything in and taking pictures! Just like the manager said: you were at the bottom looking up, and I have never seen mountains that high and so … naked! There is nothing but rock! Huge, amazing amounts of rock , one on top of each other. You can see the history of the planet in the hundreds of colors of layers in every wall that blocks your view … You are so close to them, and they are so huge you feel like they’re leaning on top of you and they’re going to tumble any minute now! But you know they’ve stood there for ages, and they won’t!
There are two tours in Zion – one that you drive yourself through, on the valley floor, and another one where you have to take the shuttle which drives towards and passed Zion Lodge and through the narrow canyons. The shuttle is taking people on the second loop to reduce pollution and road congestion from too many cars. We did the first tour on Saturday, and the shuttle ride with the stops on Sunday.
On both tours, you had the chance to hop out and either walk trails, or have a picnic. There is also a sizable campground inside the park, as well. On day two, when we rode the bus, we stopped at two places that will stay with me forever, although the whole park is imprinted in my memory!
The Temple of Sinawava is a last stopping point on the bus tour. There is a huge waterfall jumping into the Virgin River, right before you head on the trail towards The Narrows – a dangerous and most traveled trail. The wall of the waterfall reminds me of a church’s altar with the plunging organ in the background – I suspect hence the name. We saw wild turkeys, squirrels, lizards and yet more black birds here, as well, right off the trail.
Another beautiful spot is The Weeping Rock, another gorgeous waterfall – we were terribly lucky, we found out, that the water was pouring out of the rocks on this one! Utah being mostly a dry state, there is a very slim chance you get to see waterfalls going unless it’s right after winter – so, we were in luck! We climbed the trail up to The Rock, and we walked behind the water fall, almost getting soaked. But just being so close to rock, so sturdy, and water, so ephemeral was an amazing feeling.
All the stopping points and overviews have a religious resonance here, as you might expect, perhaps: “Altar of Sacrifice”, “The Sentinel”, “The Great White Throne”, “Angels Landing” (where you can see rock climbers hang on to a perfectly vertical 6000 ft drop and condors diving into the valley), “The East/ West Temple”, “Court of the Patriarchs”. And it all feels surreally divine.
It’s when I see such beauty in nature, such perfection, such detail and such ornate and minute arrangement of colors and sizes and shapes that I have no doubt that this world is not and can never be just an accident! It’s at a time like this that I feel small, insignificant, and yet blessed, that I am, too, part of the whole that was created along with this beauty, as a work of a greater power … And I just bow in meekness!
Laurence Sterne said: “I once asked a hermit in Italy how he could venture to live alone, in a single cottage, on the top of a mountain, a mile from any habitation? He replied that Providence was his next-door neighbor. “
Now, I understand!
One last look at Zion: The Zion Mount Carmel Tunnel - you see that very small "hole" in the massive wall? It is a window inside the tunnel. The tunnel runs the length of this mountain, but it could not, of course, fit in one shot! Please click on the picture for the whole album of this amazing trip.