This day looked like it was going to be fairly strenuous and action-packed. So what better way to start off than with a good old substantial breakfast. Although the motel didn’t have a breakfast room, there was a very convenient family-run place just over the parking lot. We can’t remember the name at all, we remember it being fairly basic but comfortable inside. It had the usual array of American breakfast fare. We both consumed an unhealthy quantity of carbohydrate-based foods and coffee, and set off for Zion National Park.
So the first stop was the Weeping Rock stop again. This time, we decided to take the somewhat longer and more strenuous hike up to Hidden Canyon. It certainly lived up to its name. You get some fine views over the main canyon as you climb up, and then eventually you loop around a couple of corners, scramble across some fairly loose bits of rock and you are there, in a fairly flat bottomed and very narrow slot canyon halfway up a mountain. It made for interesting photos, especially as the canyon walls overhang in several places.
As we were entering the canyon we passed a group of four lads coming the other way who turned out to be British, and supporters of Wimbledon Football Club. There aren’t many Wimbledon supporters at the best of times, and this was one of the worst times in their history as they were planning to move to Milton Keynes ( our home ). In fact, they have now moved and are also rebranded as the MK Dons. So it just goes to prove how small the world is. We travelled several thousand miles and climbed a mountain, and there we found about 0.1% of the total of all fans of this club.
After a fairly harrowing descent back into the main canyon, we caught the bus down to the Zion Lodge stop and decided to hike up the various trails to the Emerald Pools. These are, as the name suggests, three vaguely green-tinted pools at various levels up the canyon side. The path up got progressively steeper as you passed by the lower, middle and then eventually to the upper pool. As it was now getting towards the middle of the day and the sun had moved round, most of the hike was in direct sun, and we were getting a bit frazzled. Just as well we had done our normal trick of stuffing every available pocket in the bags with water bottles.
The pools turned out to be a worthwhile hike. You get a sense of claustrophobia as you are surrounded by steep walls, which definitely seem to be undercut as well. Presumably in the spring, you get wet as waterfalls flow over the rims and into the pools, but in August there isn’t much water flowing. We hiked back down and by this time it was definitely time to eat again. We plumped for a self-service café at the Zion Lodge and sat outside in the sunshine. It was a bit windy, so our food and napkins were all trying to escape down the valley while we were eating.
The Three Patriarchs
After lunch we continued the bus descent and went for another short stroll up to Court of the Patriarchs Viewpoint. The light on the Three Patriarchs was much better this time around. We got some decent photos and then rushed down the path to catch an incoming bus. Our final walk for now was to jump off at the point where the canyon road separates off from the main highway (Utah 9). From here there is an easy slight downhill walk back to the Visitor Centre. It plods its way down through a much wider area of canyon floor with still impressively steep canyon walls and a good view of the Watchman mountain at the bottom. It was a good way to round off the visit, just to take a few “grand vista” photos and stretch the aching leg muscles a bit.
We took one final visit into the Visitor Centre and then jumped back into the trusty vehicle for the drive round to Bryce Canyon. On the way out of Zion, you pass by Checkerboard Mountain. It’s a sort-of cone-shaped mass with buff coloured sides, on which some roughly square cracks have appeared. You have to use the imagination to see it as a checkerboard, but never mind. The highway out of the eastern side of the park is pretty and is a good route to take. Not that there’s really any other way of getting east from Zion.
Off we go
It took less than two hours to get round to Bryce Canyon, and so we did a bit of ad-hoc hotel selection from the Moon Guide and drove into Ruby’s Inn to check out availability. Ruby’s is the famous hotel at Bryce, and is now owned by the Best Western chain. To call it a hotel is probably a bit of an understatement. It is a massive confusion of accommodation blocks, utilities, shops, restaurants, and other bits and bobs. Once we found the reception area they were more than happy to accept us. The eminently reasonable price, made the decision easy. We took the half hour drive round to the block that had our room in it, dumped the bags inside and went off for the now traditional park orientation visit.
Bryce Canyon National Park ( www.nps.gov/brca ) is one of the smaller parks we visited, but probably one of the most scenic, and certainly the best for taking jaw dropping photos. A couple we know have a large poster print of a sunset shot at Bryce. It was taken from Sunset Point I think, and this was one of our main motivating factors in going there. We wanted that shot, but taken on our very own cameras. So after collecting all the free leaflets and papers we had a quick walk around the Visitor Centre. And then we decided to pass away the evening by taking photos from the rim of the Bryce Amphitheatre.
Unlike Zion, the shuttle bus at Bryce is optional rather than mandatory, so we stuck with the RAV4. We parked behind Sunset Point and wandered to the adjacent viewpoint to see what we could find. What we found was a big hole full of very pointy and incredibly vivid coloured pinnacles of rock called hoodoos. “Do you do hoodoos?” At sunset, the best view in the house is from Sunset Point ( hence the name ) and the nearby Inspiration Point. We went to both.
It is a view that is really quite difficult to take in, and equally difficult to describe. You don’t get much sense of the scale from the rim of the amphitheatre. What you do get is a confusion of pointy bits, each casting shadows over their neighbours. You could seriously sit there for hours and just watch the patterns of light moving around with the sun.
It really is one of the most awesome places. The rocks come out in various shades of terracotta, pink, amber, purple, red and white depending on the minerals in the rock and the angle of attack of the sun. As most photographers know, you need to move quickly at sunset because your shot doesn’t last for long. Here, it is especially important not to dither. If you look away for a few seconds the shadows have all moved round a bit and the view is different.
We wouldn’t claim to be good photographers. I think if you really wanted to do it justice, you would have to spend 1-2 weeks. You’d have to check out the view at sunset from various angles to get an optimal configuration. Our little snaps give an impression of the scale, but we weren’t really well prepared enough to take anything you’d call beautiful.
This being more or less halfway round the trip, and with Ruby’s being a well equipped sort of place, we spent the rest of the night sorting out domestic niceties, so it was off to the launderette ( via the shop, to obtain detergent and a pocket full of quarters ). We had an interesting early evening reading the free newspapers ready for the next day, whilst watching our underwear spin round in circles and explaining to others where we got our detergent and pocket full of quarters from. We’ve never used a launderette on holiday before, but then we’ve never been on a 22 night holiday before either.
There’s a finite limit to the number of t-shirts and socks you can carry through an airport with you. We figured we may as well clean up now, while we had the time and location. This more or less saw us through the rest of the trip. In fact, I think I took a couple of clean shirts and some fresh socks home with me.
Dinner was a fairly quick but acceptable meat-based affair in the main restaurant. It was accompanied by the traditional cold, wet beer, and this was followed up by a return to the room to iron all of those freshly laundered t-shirts and shorts. By the end of it, this had been a long day. We both crashed into the king-size bed and slept like a pair of logs. We lead such an exciting life sometimes.