Polaroid Photo

Pictures from the road...

Traveling Will & Robin

Current travels: Three months in the wilderness of Siberia, Mongolia, and the South Pacific

Topic:

Sat
10
Jul '10

To Zion

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National Parks are way better by bike!

I was 22 the last time I toured the Southwest. I had just graduated college, and although I had a job offer at my desired software company, I had no desire to start nine-to-fiving any sooner than absolutely necessary, so I told them I couldn’t start until July. After I spent a couple of weeks using "decompressing" as an excuse to sleep until noon and get drunk with whichever of my miscreants friends were still loitering around campus, my girlfriend and I packed our camping gear into my car and we headed west for three weeks. After some time in those northern empty states — South Dakota, Wyoming — we dropped into the southern empty states, starting with Utah.

Driving through the Utah desert I fell in love with the desolation of the place. The first time I saw a “Next services 126 miles” sign it sent a jolt of awe through my body; I spun around, taking in the entire 360-degree view, realizing that what I saw around me was it. The view before my eyes extended virtually to infinity, unmarred by man’s touch for much farther than the eye could see.  This is the landscape that I’ve returned to on this trip. Aside from the occasional flash of fear that comes from wondering what if I need help and no one will stop for me, this landscape primarily gives me a sense of perspective. Every time I watch the road bend to avoid a towering pillar of red rock, I think, “That’s right, rock. We’ll accommodate you”. Every time I look into the distance and see an improbably balanced arch or column, I realize that we couldn’t have build it if we tried.

I left Cedar City and nearly coasted the 20 miles of downhill I-15 that I road. When bicycles are allowed on the interstate it’s for a good reason — there aren’t any other roads around — and there is plenty of shoulder; I essentially had an entire lane to myself. The problem, since you asked, is debris: debris comes from cars, and more cars means more obstacles to avoid. Therefore I was doubly happy to get back onto the two-lane roads that took me towards Zion National Park. I then climbed back up, up, up through the deep red canyons and passes that are the hallmark of the area.

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Finally hiking the Narrows (just before I soaked my camera)

In 2002 we had shown up at the backcountry permit desk ready to spend three nights backpacking and camping in the park. When the enthusiastic ranger, barely older than me and looking vaguely ridiculous in his Smokey Bear hat said that in that time we could through-hike the Narrows — the stretch of the Virgin River flowing between 60-foot tall vertical walls — I jumped at the chance. My girlfriend, the voice of caution and sufficient planning, pointed out that our packs weren’t waterproof, we didn’t have all the recommended gear, and this wasn’t what we’d planned for. Needless to say, the idea was scrapped. Eight years later, alone and on a bicycle, I finally got my wish, at least in the form of a day-hike.

The hike was fantastic. Imagine hundreds of people tromping through a river bottom, flanked on both sides by wonderfully colorful rock walls and surrounded by the most beautiful pink and red mountains you can dream of. My plan to wait until it got deep to put my camera in my waterproof backpack had the inevitable consequences; while trying to cross the thigh-deep river I lost my balance and went in, killing the camera (one can now conclude that a walking stick is recommended equipment for a reason). All the joy fulfilling a post-collegiate fantasy brought me, however, the rest of the Park easily matched. I enjoyed my other hikes immensely, and everywhere I went the views were postcard-perfect. Had I a working camera at the time, I’d be treating you to the best mountain sunset picture I’ve seen, bold craggy cliffs suffuse with red and gold light, glowing with all the light of a thousand Martian suns. As it stands now, I may just have to learn to paint instead.

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Another reason to love Zion

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