Visiting Utah's National Parks
Well, here we are on Monday night...the evening before
we have to get up at 4:00am for a pickup at 5:00am for our 7:00am
flight. Nothing like
getting the day started early so you can savor the joys of travel.
It is about 9:00pm…Lila and I finally sit down after attending
to all the various details that we had to resolve before leaving for
almost three weeks. Lila
even called the airlines at 8:00pm to check on our flights…all’s
good for the next morning.
We have been relaxing for about eight minutes when we get a call
from Delta Airlines. A very pleasant and bubbly voice asks to speak to Mr. or Mrs.
Letow. I think…isn’t
this nice…because we are flying first class, a Delta representative is
calling to tell us what our meal is going to be for breakfast or maybe
they just want to tell us what the weather will be when we arrive at
Salt Lake City. But alas, we are informed that our flight has been
cancelled…but they did get us on an early flight that will arrive
later and we can now visit Atlanta for two hours…are we lucky or what?
After some negotiating we successfully arrange a somewhat later
non-stop flight…only two hours later…now why didn’t Delta think of
that? So I immediately call
Dave, the man who drives us to the airport…he is not home, but I leave
a message telling he can sleep later as we will be leaving the house
around 8:30am instead of 5:00am. Thirty
minutes later…it is now around 10:00pm…Dave calls and informs me
that he cannot take me to the airport at that time as he has a conflict.
So I immediately jump into action and arrange other transport.
I then decide to call Hertz and tell them not to expect me at the
prearranged time, as I will be arriving a little later...easy to do and
they proceed to tell me that my rental cost for the period is now $150
higher than I had been previously told.
That was because I made my reservation so far in advance and for
that purpose my rate was not guaranteed so they have the right to change
it…read increase it. This
is really great since I called six weeks ago to check on my rate and was
told that it was still the same…so I ask why was it not guaranteed at
that time. Evidently I did
not ask it to be guaranteed…so there.
Well it is now after 11:00pm…emotionally worn out and cannot
wait for our trip to begin. After
this restful evening we go to bed to await the events of the next day.
The next day offers no new exciting issues…we get up and get
everything ready, our transport arrives and we are off to the airport. At the airport an amazing event occurs…there are no people
present, no people crowding check in and pressing through security...we
night before I make every precaution to remove my pocketknife and my
corkscrew and all the other “fighting” instruments from my backpack
and leave them in my checked baggage.
Well, I get through security with no problem because of my
careful forethought and I am even selected for the secondary hand
inspection just before boarding the aircraft.
As I am going through security I am making love to my Starbucks
coffee and the inspector asks me to drink some coffee…that was very
considerate of her, I thought.
I guess that you did not realize that I had two
pocketknives…I usually leave one at home…didn’t this time…it was
in my backpack (I must really be getting old).
Surprise, surprise …it was not even detected…so much for all
this security. I was very good on the flight and four hours later we
were in Salt Lake City, Utah. With
snow capped mountains surrounding the city and a temperature of
forty-five degrees, we just barely escaped the ninety-seven degrees
settling into Washington, D.C. We
picked up our car and we head south.
Our trip was planned for visits to five national parks…Utah is blessed with scores of parks, monuments and forest lands managed by the federal government…in fact, ninety-five percent of Utah is federally managed land. And exceptionally beautiful land it is…a joy to see and to visit…but more about that later. The parks we planned to visit are as follows:
Canyonlands National Park (www.nps.gov/cany)
Arches National Park (www.nps.gov/a
Zion National Park
Canyon National Park
Reef National Park
From Salt Lake City we drove directly to Moab, Utah as it is located
close to both Canyonlands National Park (below right)
and Arches National Park (below left) …and
is about a four-hour trip. We
planned a four night stay in Moab…two parks to see and many trails to
walk and we could have probably used a full week, but as you all know
Lila and I are very busy people and could not get away for that long.
Also, this is our fourth visit to these parks so we always get to
see some new areas during each of our visits.
From Moab, we headed south through the Valley of Gods to Monument
Valley, about a three-hour ride and stayed one night in Kayenta,
Arizona. Kayenta is in the
middle of an Indian reservation and we were there during our only spell
of bad weather…a terrible wind and sandstorm.
It was not only difficult to be outside it was downright impossible.
We had dinner and after driving for so many hours I had really
wanted to walk and see the town. Well,
it is very hard to see the town of Kayenta, as there is absolutely
nothing to see. But, I was
desperate…I needed to walk, to let off some energy and it was, after
all, Saturday night…so after some evaluation of our many options we
went to Basha’s. Now I hate to admit it to you, but we went and we walked.
What is Basha’s…it is the supermarket.
And so we spent our evening’s entertainment on a Saturday night
in a supermarket …now can you beat that?
The next morning we left Kayenta for Zion National
Park via Glen Canyon National Recreation Monument at Lake
Powell, Arizona…. about a five hour drive through the southern section
of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument (1.9
million square miles) that was set aside by President Clinton in 1996.
Lake Powell, which reveals magnificence in its own right, is a
man made lake created as a result of the construction of the Glen Canyon
Dam on the Colorado River. The
Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is an exceptional beautiful
area that joins many of the parks and during our park visits we pass
through Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument multiple
times…each time is a special moment as the earth sculptures are all
different and just as exciting to see as the parks.
Four days in Zion National Park and we headed through
the famous one-mile tunnel upon arrival and into the beautiful red rock
canyon once again. Upon
leaving we again traverse the canyon and after an easy two-hour drive we
reach Bryce National Park. Bryce
is at a higher altitude than Zion and is usually quite cool as compared
to Zion, which can reach temperatures of 1000F in the summer
months. Three days in Bryce
we saw temperatures reaching an average daytime temperatures in the 60s,
except for the one-day when it snowed early and left a beautiful white
cast on the hoodoos.
Well, then we are off to Torrey, Utah, which is near Capitol Reef National Park, via a five-hour trip through the northern part of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Capitol Reef is not as popular a national park as the other parks and as such Torrey is a quiet little town with few amenities. But there are some jewels located there…more about that later. Three days of hiking and we then return to Salt Lake City (a three and one-half hour trip) for an urban adjustment, before heading back home.
Accommodations and Dining
A few notes about our accommodations
and dining experiences during this trip.
There are only two four-star Bed & Breakfast inns in Utah and
we enjoyed both. The Sunflower
Hill Bed and Breakfast Inn (www.sunflowerhill.com)
is located in Moab and provides all the amenities that one could expect
and hope for in a country type inn.
The interaction with the other guests during breakfast and
afternoon tea, as well as in the hot tub after a day of long hikes made
our visit just perfect. Rooms
are beautifully appointed and the staff looks after every detail.
Moab has become very tourist-wise over the years that Lila and I
have been visiting this town…they now have hiker weeks, mountain biker
weeks, jeep weeks, etc. As
a result there has been an expansion of stores selling tourist gifts,
outfitters taking groups on park trips and especially upscale
restaurants. Two very fine
restaurants are the Desert Bistro and the Center Café.
Both at Zion National Park and Bryce National Park we stayed in
the lodge (Zion Lodge below left, Bryce Lodge-below right)
within the park. These are generally rustic accommodations, but offer an
opportunity for total absorption of the natural park environment.
Especially in the early morning and late evening when the day
visitors are not there, well…you have the park all to your self.
In each of these parks there are a very limited number of suites
available and we generally make our reservations early so they are
available. But you do not
stay in the park lodge so that you could experience fine dining, as this
is not possible. Dining in
the park is a mediocre affair and you accept both the service and the
menu so you can experience the park…in any event it is better than
camping and preparing your own food…well, that is what Lila tells me.
Now Torrey, Utah is the site of the four-star Skyridge Bed and
Breakfast Inn (www.bbiu.org/skyridge)
where we have stayed during our last three visits to Capitol Reef
National Park. With only
six rooms, each is furnished in a beautiful Southwest style.
Breakfast is a special treat as is the Hors d’ouvres and
sangria that is provided each afternoon when all the guests return from
their visits to the park. Again
the opportunity to meet new friends and talk about experiences in the
parks is an unequaled time together.
During the summer vacation period, Café Diablo offers up a
unique selection of southwestern dishes that will tempt every palate as
well as the eyes.
And finally, in Salt Lake City we stayed at The Inn at Temple Square, as we have before and which is adjacent to the Mormon Temple Square conveniently located in center city. Besides its excellent location, the service is first rate and the hotel provides both free continental (read full) breakfast and valet parking. While visiting Salt Lake City we had an excellent dinner at Bombera’s in the Hotel Monaco and saw Swan Lake Ballet at the Capitol Theatre. We also had the opportunity to watch the Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearse for their Sunday morning performance.
|Zion National Park Lodge||Bryce Canyon National Park Lodge|
Visiting The Parks
Well, I now provided you with the
background detail, but why did we visit the parks, given the fact that
Lila and I have previously been to these parks many times.
Our very early visits were usually associated with just visiting
the parks and looking around at the beautiful panoramas that they offer.
Since we are city folks, we only then gingerly started to venture
forth into the parks by leaving the confines of the asphalt roads and
paved walks. Imagine my
amazement that one could begin to enjoy being immersed into the midst of
the fauna and the formations…e.g. a desert swamp, a petrified forest,
springs, waterfalls, and even the possible appearance of wildlife.
A whole new significance to nature began to emerge and heighten
my senses about what I could see, hear and “feel” as I ventured
forth into this new arena. All
at once, I was dwarfed by the walls of the sandstone surrounding me and
then once again startled by the deep canyons that suddenly appear before
me. When I called my
grandson, Kevin during the trip, I was explaining the beauty of the
parks and the fact that Lila and I had just hiked five and one-half
miles that day…. Kevin responded with “How boring!”.
Well, I have to charge that comment to his tender preteen years.
When I remember back to my preteen years, well, if I could
remember that far back…I did not even know that there were National
parks, nor would I have even cared.
But it does raise the issue of how these national parks can go unnoticed by so many for so long. That is not to say the parks are lacking for an audience, quite the contrary…they are being flooded with visitors each year. But many still do not understand or appreciate the beauty and excitement of being submerged into the rock formations and sculptures that rouses the imagination and awakens the mind. The geological realities of these parks represent the immense beauty and the mystery of their origin. Below left is the Virgin River in Zion National Park and on below right is the La Sal Mountains in the back ground in Arches National Park.
Geology in your Face
I refer to it this way because it is
how the Park Ranger began his lecture of the geological narrative of the
parks. I would like to give
you some of the highlights of that talk…not to impress you with my
note taking ability, but rather to provide you with their historical
impact. First we need
to look back about 200 million years…some of us can remember back then
when life was simple, the roads not so crowded and …Oh, forget it.
Anyway the geological order can best be described by four periods
that explain this cycle…sedimentation, lithification, uplift and
finally, erosion. How about
that second part of the cycle… it took me ten minutes to just be able
to pronounce it…it means compression, compression of the sediment into
a hard substance.
The surge of rivers and streams deposited iron-based substances
into a freshwater lake system. The
reddish color is rust and has built up over millions of years;
horizontal compression of this sediment over these millions of years has
formed the plateaus upon plateaus of sandstone; the formation of the
Rockies deformed these “rocks” and as the earth pulled apart, these
sandstone rocks were moved, tilted and uplifted and displaced vertically
by several thousand feet. Then
with time, erosion from weather and water has continued to chemically
scour the surface; get into cracks and expand, breaking apart the
sandstone and washing it away. And
hence a new cycle begins.
I would love to tell you much more about the geological composition of the Utah plateaus, but I do not know much more. The myriad of colors that we see as we move through the parks is made up of different rock layers deposited at diverse points in time. As an example the earliest formations are called the
“Kaibad Formation”, which appear as cliffs. Then, there is the
Moenkapi Formation, chocolate cliffs with white bands;
Chinle Formation, purplish slopes;
Moencave Formations, red slopes and ledges;
Kayenta Formation, rocky slopes;
Navajo Sandstone, red steep cliffs to 2200 feet thick iron oxide color;
Carmel Formation, limestone and gypsum cliffs.
If I could effectively use words to describe the complexity and innate beauty of this area, I would have avoided this descriptive attempt to talk to the geological structure of southern Utah. I offer the picture shown below; I submit words of description and this limited geological synopsis to hopefully provide some “picture” of what these parks offer the visitor.
I am not sure that I stated the full
answer of why Lila and I returned for this fourth visit to the parks.
Yes, it was to revisit the natural beauty, but it was also to
test ourselves, to clarify our ability and stamina to continue to hike
and venture deeper into the parks.
It has been seven years since our last visit, we were still
working and by definition we were still “young”.
Now retired for over six years, we would have to ask ourselves
the question, “Could we still master some of those trails”.
trail in particular in Arches National Park, the one to Delicate Arch is
quite significant to us. It
is three miles long (round trip) with an elevation of almost 500 feet.
Not too bad, but the trail takes you over a dirt trial, up over
slip rock formations and along a ledge to the arch.
Delicate Arch is extremely well known, recognizable as the symbol
for Utah on their automobile license plates and can only be seen
close-up via this trail. Could
we still do it…that is what we asked ourselves especially as we have
become a little older. So
that was our challenge and we accepted it.
arrived in Arches National Park with much anticipation…actually we
visited Canyonlands National Park the first day, but more on that later.
We set off for the trailhead and took out our trekking
poles…Oh, I didn’t tell you about our trekking poles.
You see we bought the trekking poles to use on our China trip, as
the outfitter for that trip advised their use during the daily two and
three miles walks that we would be making to various sights and shopping
markets. We never did make that trip and our friends, Peter and
Barbara who did, told us that they never really had to walk much more
than ten feet from the bus anyway.
would become of our trekking poles, we could have used them in the
supermarket, but the floors there are pretty level, well, maybe at the
gym---not too good there. Then
we thought why not use them on our hikes…and so it was.
They actually proved themselves to be very useful and we looked
very authentic as well. Seemed
to steady us as we climbed up and down the trails.
Anyway, the trail to Delicate Arch (shown below)--- we did it and it was relatively easy, certainly easier than what we had conjured up in our minds…easier than we had remembered. So with that success, we then started to try even more complex trails, which I will describe shortly, and these were trails that we had not even attempted in earlier visits. And we did these trails…. this is not to say that we hiked straight up these trails with no stopping…. in fact, Lila and I shared many moments of heavy breathing during these hikes, such that we had not experienced in recent years. It certainly did bring back some very fond memories. I actually was very grateful to be able to be able to see these national parks, to walk the trails we did and to share once again the memorable experiences that these National Parks offer.
|Visiting Utah's National Parks (continued next page)|