Last year we visited 2 of Utah’s 5 National Park. Zion Canyon lies at the heart of Zion National Park. It might be the most popular of Utah’s wonders. It certainly was on the day we visited last year, but partly that was because it was Easter and entrance to the park was free. We loved that, though we loved the crowds less.
At thee visitor center I noticed a poster with a quotation from one of my heroes–Edward Abbey. It said, “Wilderness is not a luxury. It is one of the necessaries of life.” I agree.
We stopped at a few lookouts to take photographs of the mountains from beside the road. We were allowed to drive through the park, but to explore the canyon area we had to take the shuttle. The buses came by frequently so this was no burden. In fact it relieved us of the burden of driving. It made numerous stops and we could easily hop on the next bus. I loved the park; I loved the transportation system. It was another example of the commons!
Zion Canyon was carved by the Virgin River. That seemed impossible for it was such a gentle shallow stream, but appearances can be deceiving. Mountain streams can turn nasty during heavy rainfalls. No doubt over eons that is what carved this wondrous canyon. John Wesley Powell described this well: “All of this is the music of waters.” In a desert the great sculpting force has been water. Go figure.
The Virgin River is the driving force behind the wonders of Zion National Park. Looking at that gentle stream this seems inconceivable, but it is true. The flowing waters over millions of years cause the cliffs to disintegrate. When the canyons deepen forested highlands and lowland deserts are established. A wide array of plants and animals follow. The water creates green oases of lush plants in an otherwise red desert.
People have enjoyed the canyon for thousands of years. From early on people saw it as a sanctuary in the desert. The very name, “Zion” refers to the “Promised Land.” I thought that apt. And some people thought I would never make it into heaven!
It is difficult to fathom that in this desert landscape, water is the force behind everything that we see. North of Zion, rain falling in the highlands of the Colorado Plateau races downhill and carves the relatively soft layers of rock into the magnificent shapes that we saw today. Of course, that work of sculpturing is never over. Nature is never satisfied with its creation. It refines and amends relentlessly without ever stopping.
Millions of years ago streams, oceans, volcanoes, and deserts deposited thousands of feet of mud, lime, sand, and ash. The immense pressure of that pile of debris and sediment and the heat created by the accumulating layers of sediment turned lower layers into stone. Later underground geological forces raised up the Colorado Plateau creating a 130,000 sq. miles of uplifting rock 10,000 feet above sea level. Rain and the streams and rivers worked its way into the cracks in the rock, loosening grains of sand and widening those fractures especially when the water froze in those cracks and widened them by the force of its expansion as ice. The forces of erosion created the wonderful canyons we saw today.
Of course these processes continue to this day. Rivers still deposit sediment that still turn to stone. From time to time earthquakes punctuate the Plateau’s upward journey. Erosion then continues to pry pieces of rock, some of them huge, from the cliffs. Whether we like it or not, this canyon someday will melt it away. Like all creations of nature it is doomed. The only constant is change.
At one of the stops of the shuttle we saw some mountain climbers climbing up what appeared to me to be a sheer cliff. I was scared just watching them. We were told that the climb ordinarily took 2 days, but one intrepid climber had climbed solo without ropes in half a day. That man must be mad. I took a number of photographs of them and even with my 300 mm zoom lens, the climbers looked like tiny specks. One climber I realized when I saw the images on my computer was standing at the top waiting for his buddies to get up to join him.
On the way out of the park we stopped for more photographs. I never get enough in such a magnificent place. We saw a mule deeralong the way as well as Bighorn Sheep. In fact we saw a small herd of sheep coming up and down the mountain right beside the road. I noticed that the female sheep had horns.
I took a lot of photographs today. In other words I had a fantastic time. It was another of those days, like last year in Arches National Park, like the time we visited the Grand Canyon, like the time we visited Monument Valley, and others, where I was enthralled by the natural world around me and I tried as best as I could to capture it in photographic images. I know I am too poor a photographer to do that, but it is sure is fun trying. This was a fantastic day. It was an experience of a lifetime. It was almost heaven.