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Published: July 28th 2017
Geo: 37.3, -113.051
After waving goodbye to the debauchery of Vegas, we checked in with our new family for the next 7 days. Our tour leader was another bright and chipper American, with a thick drawling accent that evoked the charm of the Deep South. We drove. North out of the city and headed for the hills and canyons of Utah. Our travelling companions were a Venezuelan mother and daughter who now resided in Miami, two Milanese Italians, two Germans who had been au pairing in Vermont and a former New-Yorker who now lived in Washington DC. It was a real eclectic mix of languages, and ages, and it looked set to be an interesting trip.
We wound our way along snaking roads, with huge drop offs on either side. It was a five hour journey to our first destination of the tour Zion National Park - but the tour leader, Jen, kept us up to speed with the geology and geography of the area as we drove. We passed through Arizona, stopping at a huge out-of-town Walmart to pick up essential supplies (for essential supplies, read beer, toothpaste and flip-flops!).
As we left Arizona, and put our watches ahead one hour to Utah time, we noticed a dramatic change in the colours of the landscape. From the ambers of Arizona, we suddenly found ourselves in the deep reds of Utah. Here, the volcanic activity is more recent and bright red hues sweep the rocks layered on top of limestone peaks. It truly is a stunning sight, and a beautiful drive. Here the plant life also became more diverse, from the cacti of the Arizona and Nevada deserts, we were now encountering deciduous green trees and grasslands. The area was cultivated and turned into land that could be farmed by the Mormons, and 50% of the population here is still Mormon.
We soon arrived at our lunch spot for the day. It was our first experience of cooking and preparing as a group, and it was an awkward beginning, each person being too polite to take too much food, and doing an uncomfortable dance around one another while trying to make sandwiches. However, it was a delicious lunch, chicken and salad wraps - a far cry from the fast food that we have experienced so far on our travels. "Go to California," they said, "The food is healthy there!" I beg to disagree. Perhaps in the image-obsessed Los Angeles that might be the case, but certainly not in the areas we have been to. It's pizza, burgers and "fried stuff with cheese." The Americans, we have discovered, have a mild obsession with cheese. "Do you want cheese with that?" Is a common question, and the addition of double cheese or triple cheese to a simple turkey sandwich is a regular occurrence. When I say I don't want cheese, it's as through I've said I don't breathe Oxygen! In one deli we went to, it was impossible to buy a sandwich that did not have at least one slice of cheese on it, and pizzas come with double cheese as standard.
After lunch, in a truly stunning spot - a meadow, surrounded on all sides by rising peaks of fiery red - we continued the 3 miles to the entrance to Zion National Park. Here, a shuttle bus takes you around the floor of the canyon, carved over time by the Virgin river, stopping at trail heads that fan out like a spider's web from the main road. Originally settled by Native Americans, the area was then discovered and claimed by the Mormon missionaries. It was the Mormons who gave the area its name. Looking for their promised land, they found this area and named it Zion, after the name of the holy mountain. Because of the high Mormon presence that has passed through the area, the landmarks have a mixture of Native American names and ancient sounding Christian titles.
The drive on the shuttle bus was an incredible scenic drive. Thanks to the presence of the Virgin river, the valley floor is vivid with life. Green trees nestle into the canyon climbing up the sides and clinging onto the deep red rocks that tower over the riverbed. Deer wander through the trees, wading across the rivers to reach the green grass that grows on the canyon floor. California Condors cruise 3 miles above the rim of the canyon. Snakes slither across the paths, searching for a sunny place to rest and warm themselves up. Contrasted with the blazing sun, forget-me-not sky, and deep red rocks, you can see why the Mormon settlers deemed it to be paradise.
We hopped off the bus at the aptly named Big Bend. Here, the river swoops off to the right while the craggy rocks above paint patterns in the sky. From here, it is easy to see two of the famous areas of the park - Angels Landing and the Great White Throne. After having our breath taken away by the beauty around us, we jumped back on the bus bound for our next stop - the aptly named Weeping Rock. It was a very steep, but thankfully short climb up to a large mouth-shaped hollow in the rock. It was a devastatingly beautiful location, the mountains curving around and opposite the top of the trail. As we approached, we saw the feature that gives this place its name. A thin layer of water was trickling over the edge of the rocks, reflecting the sunshine onto the wall behind. The heat of the day was searing, and standing under the droplets of water was the refreshing break we had craved since entering the park.
After our refreshing mini shower, we climbed back abroad and headed for the last stop in this beautiful park. We planned to hike to the emerald pools: lower, upper and middle. In the perfect season, the pools are full of tempting emerald green water and are fed by the rivers that cascade as crystal waterfalls over the edges of the canyons. However, once again we hit the parks in the dry season and the waterfalls were just a trickle over the edge, while the pools were very low, although still emerald. All of this was surrounded by thick undergrowth, although the path was clear. What made this a difficult hike was the steep rocky path which we had to climb in order to get to the upper pools. In places the path dropped quite quickly and we had to jump or clamber down in order to traverse its rocky outcrops. However, the views as we ascended were simply stunning. Each bend that we rounded was more beautiful than the next. The edges of the canyon were illuminated by the sun, with the red and pink layers seeming to change colour with every passing minute. As the sun tracked across the sky, we were sheltered into shade by the rocks around us. By this point, we were travelling as a whole group and took our time climbing, getting to know one another and taking pictures, so our 4 mile trek took us around 2 hours.
After a brief foray into the gift shop, we made our way to our home for the evening, Zion Canyon RV and camp ground. It was an incredible setting. The canyon walls surrounded the camp in three sides and as we pitched our tents, we were treated to stunning views of the rocks as the sun began to set. Dinner was a group BBQ cooked out on the griddles, and was delicious. By the time 9pm came around we were all exhausted from our hike and our journey and so headed to bed. To say that the beds were comfortable would be an untruth. They were inflatable mattresses which blew up to a rather meagre couple of inches and didn't really support me throughout the evening. Add to this mix a huge windstorm which blew up at around 3am, and the buffering of the tent in the wind kept us awake for a while into the early hours. However, the initial stages of getting to sleep were beautiful - crickets were gently chirping and the rest of the camp was completely silent. The weather was so hot that we didn't even need to sleep in our sleeping bags and left the tent doors open, so that we would awake gazing at the stunning landscape that we had fallen asleep to.
States added: South Carolina
Tot: 2.252s; Tpl: 0.042s; cc: 14; qc: 27; dbt: 0.0271s; 2; m:saturn w:www (126.96.36.199); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.3mb