Tag Archives: Utah

Zion Canyon: And some people thought I would never make it to heaven


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.


Capitol Reef National Park


Capitol Reef National Park was the 4thof the “Big 5” National Parks that we have seen.  The Park is most important geological feature is a wrinkle in the earth’s crust that extends for nearly 100 miles from Thousand Lake Mountain to Lake Powell. It was created over a long period of time by 3 gradual but powerful forces: deposition, uplift, and erosion. The result is a stunning example of what geologists call a monocline, or one-sided fold in the crust of the earth in what are otherwise largely horizontal rock layers. This fold runs north and south through the Utah desert. Waterpocket foldwas form about 65 million years ago when the earth’s surface buckled upwards. This was around the time the dinosaurs went extinct.

The climate in the region changed fantastically over millions of years. During the past 280 million years ago this region changed from ocean to desert to swamp and river bed. During this time 10,000 feet of sedimentary rock consisting of limestone, sandstone, and shale was deposited.

That was followed by uplift between 50 and 70 million years ago when an ancient fault was reactivated during tectonic activity. This lifted the land to the west up by 7,000 feet higher than the land in the east. The land did not crack, rather the layers folded over the fault line. 20 million years ago it was uplifted again.

After that erosive forces shaped the landscape. Much of this sculpture work occurred between 1 and 6 million years ago. Moving water and gravity were the main erosive forces. Powerful rains, flash floods and awesome freeze/thaw cycles loosen and crack the rock after which much of it is washed away. Often this left behind stunning canyons, cliffs, domes, and natural bridges or arches made of rock.

The original European explorers thought it looked like an ocean reef and thought its white domes looked like the American capitol and hence gave it the name Capitol Reef.

People have lived here for long periods of time.  As a result the park contains Ancestral Puebloan petroglyphs and a preserved Mormon homestead.

Charles Dutton the famous geologist who first scientifically explored much of the American Southwest in the 1880s described it like this, “…the light seems to flow or shine out of the rock rather than to be reflected from it.”

All American Road: Scenic Byway 12



We woke up and ate breakfast in our hotel and stopped briefly in town to take a couple of photos from Kanab. Then we headed north along highway 89, continuing our exploration of the extravagant Colorado Plateau. Driving in the morning was an exquisite pleasure.  Driving I have decided, while looking at mountain creeks and forests is the perfect place for happy little clouds and happy little thoughts. It was clearly a place to do what DeWitt Jones says we should do: “celebrate what’s right with the world.” Here that was easy.  I thought of Azar Nafisi and her two wonderful books, Reading Lolita in Tehran and Republic of Imagination which I read. One last year; one this year. Brilliant and inspiring. I thought of Marilyn Robinson in her Gilead trilogy. Minsters in a small Iowa town bringing much-needed gentleness to religion. If I had read this series before I lost my faith who knows how different my life might have been. But above all I thought about what a beautiful day it was. A beautiful day in the neighbourhood as Mr. Rogers might say.


Highway 12 connects Highway 89 with Capitol Reef National Park about miles away. According to my guide book, “This road boast what may be the most spectacular and diverse array of landscapes found along any road in the country.” This, I found, was no exaggeration.

The road starts south of Panguitch where Highway 89 intersected with highway 12. Our first stop just a couple of miles into the journey was at Red Canyon State Park immediately beside the road. I have already posted photos from there.             Red Canyon State Park is cut into the fantastic red mountains of the Paunsaugunt Plateau sprinkled with dark green coniferous trees. It has weirdly carved erosional rock forms that form a stunning array of turrets, hoodoos, pinnacles, or spires. Such features are found at many places along this magical road, but perhaps most sensationally right at the beginning of the road (from the west) or near the end (from the east). I took many photographs of this amazing place. It was very difficult for me to tear myself away while there was still room left on my camera’s memory cards.

We also drove through Cannonvillea quaint Bryce Valley town. It was settled by Mormons in 1876 and named after one of those settlers George Q. Cannon. They have an annual Old Time Fiddlers and Bear Festival. Now that is a strange combination. Fiddlers and bears?


There are constants in this country: red stone, flawless silence, impossible blue skies, and beauty without end. It often looks lifeless. But if there is water, there is life.

Sadly, this is one of the National Monuments that Donald Trump wants to desecrate. He says it is too big. So he wants to cut it down to size. 20% is all that will be left. This is national disgrace, but that won’t stop Trump.

A short drive off of Scenic Byway 12 took us to another special place—Kodachrome Basin State Park. I hesitated about driving 9 miles out of the way from Cannonville past the sign at a forsaken gas station that read, “Too Pooped to Pump”. How foolish that would have been not to take that diversion. I would have missed the splendour of this astonishing park. One of the little gems of Utah, often missed by those in pursuit of the “Big 5.”  Just like tourists in Africa often miss out on Africa in pursuit of their Big 5.

Not only that, but once we arrived we considered not going into the park since we had to pay the park fee even though we would be here just a short time. I think it cost us $15 or something like that. We were about to drive back when Chris, ever the wise one, said “lets pay”. It would have been criminally negligent to have gone. It was astoundingly beautiful, like so much in Utah on the Colorado Plateau.

Kodachrome was named in the 1940s after a revolutionary slide film prepared by Kodak. Some people think it is stupid to name a park after a film. As a photographer who loved to shoot Kodachrome for years, until its supremacy was dethroned by Velvia produced by Fuji. What is wrong with naming a park after a brilliant film? Maybe nothing.


Visitors to the park are drawn to it by it unusual geological forms such as a series of upright cylindrical forms. There is a series of them called sand pipes. They vary in height from 6 to 170 feet.  More than 60 of them have been identified in the park and we had a picnic very near to one of them.

Geologists are not in agreement about how the pipes were created. One theory goes sort of like this: What is certain is the pipes provided a unique landscape that we enjoyed immensely, especially as we had a lovely picnic. A stellar jay came to visit us, expecting we might be willing to hand out food to a poor supplicant. Sadly, when it perched on a branch right beside our table, like an incompetent photographer, I scared it away when I went to get my camera from the car, much to Chris’s disappointment. She had her camera ready, but it was gone. A competent photographer, like Chris, would have had the camera at the ready. Nonetheless we had a wonderful picnic and Chris did not maim me for my ignorant stumbling away from grace.


The story of the park is the story of geology which is the story of the earth. The one thing that is constant with the earth is change. That sounds paradoxical but it is not. Nothing stays the same; even massive rock. Everything changes and over time reveals the secrets of its history to observant seekers. Each layer of rock is like a new chapter of a book. Some layers tell a story of when the land was covered by a large inland sea. Other layers speak of raging rivers long since becalmed. Some layers speak of the unspeakable—immensely violent forces of nature that often seem so benign. Each layer tells the story of relentless forces of erosion—wind and water that can carve the hardest surface. All they need is time and gravity and then nothing can stand in their way. And this story never ends. New pages are added literally every day. We just have to learn to read those fascinating pages.

The towering chimneys of Kodachrome Basin change in color with the day’s changing moods. Against a clear blue sky like today, they look tinged with red, like so much of the American southwest. This contrast led the National Geographic Society to get the permission of Kodak to name the park after their film.

The stone sand pipes protrude from the surrounding sandstone out of which they have been carved like one  of Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures that we saw in Florence. They seem to stand like guards over the park. It was indeed a great day in the neighbourhood.


Utah: Life elevated

I love Utah. This is natural–in more ways than one. Utah has more national parks than any other state. It also has many national monuments. All of that is because it is such a spectacular place. I have found heaven—it is Utah.


Utah abounds in gorgeous.Utah is famous for its “Big Five” National Parks.  It has more national parks than any other state. There is good reason for that. Yet, some of the state parks are also sensational.

These photos are all from a tiny state park, called Red Canyon. Named, of course, for its wonderful, red rocks


In  particular I love the spectacular red rocks on the Colorado Plateau that covers much of Utah.


Life elevated” is the state motto.  They also say, “linger longer.” I can see why.

Land ownership by the government in both Arizona and Utah is extremely controversial. Partly that is because federal and state governments own so much of the land. Nearly 80% of all land in Utah is owned by the federal and state governments. That drives conservatives crazy! Conservatives think this land should be privately owned. Liberals think it should be owned publicly for the benefit of all. I agree with the liberals.



President Obama ordered the Land Management Bureau, which manages the public land for the benefit of all, to stop issuing coal mining leases. Just this year, the new President, Trump, unsurprisingly cancelled that order.  Trump does not care about the environment. He cares about appearingto do all he can to encourage American jobs. I know jobs are important.

I just don’t believe we need to abandon efforts to fight climate change to do that. Jobs don’t trump the environment. Trump trumps the environment. Coal mining does not provide a lot of jobs and it does provide the means to increase greenhouse gases enormously, just when we ought to be cutting back. Added to that, it is highly unlikely that those coal-mining jobs will ever come back. Robots are not going away anytime soon. Robots, not government regulations have taken most coal mining jobs. People want cleaner power. Even the Chinese want cleaners power.

Utah is certainly worth protecting.


I am not sure there is any more beautiful place in the world than Utah.