After dropping Lora and J. Michael off at the airport, we left Las Vegas and headed northwest on I-15 toward Utah. The barren desert of Nevada gave way to the rugged, diverse beauty of the Virgin Mountains as we crossed over the northwest corner of Arizona.
After passing through Arizona, we crossed into Utah. Then after dipping back down into Arizona we crossed back into Utah a second time. The scenery in southern Utah is fantastic! Not only does Utah seem to have more than their fair share of national parks and national monuments, but just the scenery along the roads is beautiful as well. After crossing into Utah the secont time, we were greeted by pink, white, and salmon-colored cliffs along one side of the highway. This is where Margery started involuntarily saying "Oh, wow!" every time we went around a bend or up over a hill. A little later, the road went up beautiful Kanab Canyon just south of Glendale, UT.
North of Glendale, the canyon opened up to a wide, pleasant valley lined with well-irrigated hay fields and pastures. We saw cattle, horses, and even several elk grazing. So far, Utah is one of our favorite states.
Bauer's Canyon RV Ranch in Glendale, UT would be our home base for the next few days. Glendale is about 1/2 hour from Zion National Park and about an hour from Bryce Canyon National Park. Bauer's Canyon Ranch RV Park is located in a canyon along the East Branch of the Virgin River. The parking pads and interior roads are mostly dirt, but we were pleased to see there was lush grass between sites. There were sprinklers and hoses around the campground that kept the trees and grass well watered. Most of the sites are pull-throughs. Overall, the campground is quite nice in spite of the fact that sites are a little close together.
The next morning we set off for Zion National Park. We entered Zion from the east entrance. On Bauer's website, they had provided directions to their campground for RV owners that, although would involve more travel time, it would alleviate the frustrations of elevation climbs and switchbacks on the road through Zion. We would also avoid having to pay the $15 RV escort fee through the 1.1 mile-long tunnel on the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway. The tunnel was the longest in the U. S. when it was completed in 1930. Although stopping in the tunnel is no longer permitted, there are several openings that reveal vistas of the neighboring peaks. RVs are permitted to drive through the tunnel provided they are less then 13' 1" high. The RVs are not actually escorted, but opposing traffic is stopped to allow the oversized vehicle to drive down the middle of the tunnel where there is maximum clearance. After driving through Zion in our car, we can see why Bauer's provided the alternate route.
In 1847, Brigham Young led a band of Mormon pioneers westward establishing settlements around present day Salt Lake City, UT. Within a few years, Mormon settlers were sent to the southern part of the territory to grow cotton. In 1863, Isaac Behunin built the first cabin in Zion Canyon. Zion means sanctuary and the settlers felt safe and protected within the high canyon walls. However, catastrophic flooding of the Virgin River and poor soil made settlements in this area a risky venture.
In the early 1900s, the scenic qualities of Zion Canyon were recognized as a potential for tourism; and in 1909, the canyon was designated as a national monument. Zion was made a national park in 1919.
Zion Canyon follows the Virgin River and has steep cliffs and rugged sandstone formations. Most of the formations have names suggestive of the Mormon heritage of the canyon such as Great White Throne, Court of the Patriarchs, Sentinel, and Angels' Landing. Unlike the Grand Canyon, which is usually viewed from the rim, Zion is viewed from the canyon floor. There is a 6-mile long scenic road up the canyon; but because Zion is such a popular park, the canyon road is closed to private vehicles from about the beginning of April to the end of October. Shuttles run about every 6 minutes from the visitor center and stop at various scenic spots and trailheads. After looking around the visitor center and viewing the orientation video at the Zion Human History Museum, we hopped on the shuttle and headed up the canyon. The first scenic stop is the Court of the Patriarchs. Here, there are three peaks named Abraham (left), Isaac (center), and Jacob. Jacob is the white peak in the rear on the right. The fourth peak in front of Jacob is Mount Moroni, named for a Book of Mormon prophet and angel.
We continued up the canyon stopping to take pictures. At one of the stops, we took a short hike up to the first of three sets of Emerald Pools, so named for the green algae that tints the water at various times of the year. Margery made the 1.2 mile walk using her trusty trekking poles. Although it was a steep climb, the descent is actually more difficult for her because it puts more stress on her knees.
The pools are fed from overhead waterfalls that are actually seeps from the rock layers. Water trickles down through the porous sandstone until it hits a somewhat impervious layer. It then travels along that layer until it finds an exit creating a spring or a seep.
After reaching the upper end of the shuttle route, we made the return trip to the visitor center to pick up the car and return to the campground. We left the park the same way we entered - by the eastern entrance, which is about 9 miles from the visitor center. Many visitors to Zion enter by the more popular Springdale entrance and never see East Zion. This section of the park which lies along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway is, in our opinion, better in some ways than the more popular Zion Canyon section of the park. While the canyon is rugged with 2000+ ft. high cliffs and monoliths, the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway passes through Navajo sandstone slickrock. The colors and textures of this area of Zion are very striking. In most parts of the U. S., we are used to seeing sandstone in parallel layers alternating with silt, clay, or shale having been deposited at the bottom of some ancient sea, lake, or river. The layers may have been tilted by some past upthrust, but they are parallel. In the southwest, the Navajo sandstone is from ancient desert sand dunes. Consequently, in Navajo sandstone, the layers of texture which come from different hardnesses of the stone and the colors which come from different minerals are at many different angles. The sand was deposited at the side of a dune at one angle; then the wind changed direction, eroded some of the original sand, and began piling new sand at a different angle. The weight of layer upon layer and the infiltration of minerals eventually hardened the sand into stone. The photo below shows some of the interesting colors and textures found in the rock in East Zion.
Take time to browse through Photo Album 020: Zion, Bryce, and the North Rim for more photos of Zion National Park.
Our next destination in southern Utah was Bryce Canyon National Park. As is typical for Utah, we found the road to the park to be quite scenic. Route 12 to Bryce passes through Red Canyon. Red Canyon has red-orange sandstone formations similar to Bryce, but on a smaller scale. It's sort of a preview of Bryce.
After the beautiful drive through Red Canyon, we arrived at Bryce Canyon National Park. Bryce is not really a canyon, but a series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters carved from the eastern edge of a plateau. Bryce is famous for its geological formations called hoodoos. Hoodoos are spires of rock that are created by the erosion process. The rock at Bryce is primarily soft, crumbly limestone. Frost wedging (freezing and expansion of water that has seeped into the rock) and occasional monsoon-type summer thunderstorms are the chief agents of erosion at Bryce. The hoodoos are constantly breaking down while new ones are being formed. The northern end of Bryce has more hoodoos...
Photo Album 020: Zion, Bryce, and the North Rim has more photos of and information about Bryce Canyon National Park.
After we left Bryce, we drove east on Utah Route 12 to take in more scenery. This route travels down a valley past the bottom side of some of the Bryce formations. It also skirts past the northern edge of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Dixie National Forest. Although it was late in the day and we didn't have time to explore further, we did enjoy the scenery as we drove through. There were several formations similar to the one shown in the photo below that reminded us of Greek temples.
The next day, we drove northwest of Glendale to Cedar Breaks National Monument. Cedar Breaks is a semi-circular amphitheater about 2000 ft. deep and 3 miles across. It is similar in appearance to Bryce Canyon with its pink and white formations of Clarion limestone.
The name Cedar Breaks comes from early pioneers who came to this area. They mistook the junipers that are plentiful in this area for cedars. The term "break" was used for any abrupt change in topography.
Unfortunately, many of the spruce trees on the plateau at Cedar Breaks and in the surrounding Dixie National Forest have died as a result of attacks by the spruce bark beetle. When beetles attack healthy trees, the trees respond by producing an excess amount of sap that plugs the holes the beetles make in the bark and kills the beetles. However, years of fire supression may have inadvertently encouraged a root fungus that weakened the trees. Recent drought has further weakened the trees to the point where the beetles reached epidemic levels. Since most of the spruce trees have now died, the beetle population has also declined. Some of the beetle-killed trees outside the national park are being salvaged by logging. A few spruces survive and a few new ones have begun to sprout, but it will take years for the forest to recover. Because the National Park Service is mandated by Congress to preserve the natural process and since the beetle attack was a natural process, it has been allowed to run its course.
One thing we noticed at Cedar Breaks and at other national parks and monuments is a changed attitude about fire. Forest fires were once viewed as bad and were supressed for many years at any cost. This has lead to an unnatural accumulation of undergrowth, downed trees, etc. which actually make fires worse when they do occur. Suppression of fire has also thrown nature out of balance in other ways such as in the case of the spruce bark beetles. Fire is now seen as an agent of renewal and is only suppressed under certain circumstances such as when it threatens structures, safety, or when it threatens to get too far outside forest boundaries.
After several days in Glendale, UT, we moved south to Jacob Lake, AZ to Kaibab Camper Village. Kaibab Camper Village is located in the relatively dense pine forest of the Kaibab Plateau. The campground management gave us a site where other RVers had been successful at getting a satellite signal and, sure enough, we were also able to shoot up through the trees and get a signal from both the internet and the TV satellites. Hooray!
Although the sites were a little close for us (as usual), we enjoyed our time in the pines at Kaibab Camper Village. There were a surprising number of big rigs there. They were probably people like us who wanted to visit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, but didn't want to go without hook-ups in the Grand Canyon National Park Campground or who couldn't find a site big enough in the park. Although the Kaibab Camper Village has full hook-ups, campers are discouraged from using water because it is scarce on the plateau. In fact, this campground had to truck in all of their water. There was no road noise here - we were in the middle of nowhere. No cell service either. Oh, well. Now we were roughing it. :)
We got up the next morning and started out on the 44-mile drive across the Kaibab Plateau to the North Rim. The plateau is primarily conifer forest dotted with meadows. Once inside the national park, we took the 20 mile scenic drive to Cape Royal. We stopped at the overlooks along the way. One thing we liked about the North Rim is that it seems to be more intimate than the South Rim. At the South Rim, there are a few formations, but they are mostly below you. For the most part, the view is very distant. At the North Rim, there are more ridges and formations closer to the rim. These formations lead the eye into the view and seem to give a better impression of depth.
There are fewer people at the North Rim, but there are also fewer facilities and overlooks. Therefore, it doesn't really seem less crowded as advertised. Also, the overlooks themselves are smaller because they frequently extend right out into the canyon. Although this puts you right at the edge, we frequently had to wait to get an unobstructed view. An interesting phenomenon was that the majority of visitors to the North Rim were Americans. In contrast, we were absolutely floored by the number of visitors to the South Rim who spoke French, German, Russian, Dutch, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. English-speaking Americans were definitely in the minority at the South Rim.
We also drove to the Grand Canyon Lodge where there is a 1/2 mile walk to the overlook at Bright Angel Point. Margery had made the walk to the overlook at Cape Royal, so she decided to rest her knees and let Paul make this one by himself. The trail to Bright Angel Point is paved, but it is narrow and steep at some points. It also has a steep drop-off along one side most of the way. All along the trail you can hear parents telling their kids "pay attention," "take my hand," "stay back from the edge," "don't walk backwards," "pick up your feet," etc. The photo below shows the view from Bright Angel Point. Directly across the canyon is Grand Canyon Village where we were about a week and a half ago.
This photo looks back up Bright Angel Canyon to the north from the trail to Bright Angel Point. Bright Angel Canyon follows an active fault line that runs across the canyon all the way to Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim. Hikers on Bright Angel Trail can sometimes feel slight tremors caused by movement of the fault.
Margery was particularly disappointed that we didn't see the much-heard about Kaibab squirrel during our visit to the North Rim which is the only place they live. However, we did see a coyote, albeit more of the back end as we drove out at the end of the day. :)
More photos of the North Rim can be seen in Photo Album 020: Zion, Bryce, and the North Rim.
After visiting the North Rim, we moved on to Page, AZ, which is at Glen Canyon Dam. We stayed at Page-Lake Powell Campground and RV Park. Page-Lake Powell Campground has nice, wide, gravel sites and full hook-ups (including cable at extra cost). Between sites there were small trees, which helped a little with the heat (it was 100+ degrees).
Although we only planned to stay in Page one night, it was less than a 2-hour drive from Jacob Lake so we arrived early enough in the day to take a short, scenic drive to an overlook of Glen Canyon Dam.
Construction was started in 1956 and the dam was completed in 1966. It took 17 years for Lake Powell behind the dam to fill completely for the first time.
When construction of the dam started in 1956, the town of Page, AZ did not exist. Page began as a small community of construction workers on Manson Mesa above the construction site. By 1974, the Bureau of Reclamation (which was responsible for the construction of the dam) decided to allow Page to stand on its own. Today, Page is a town of about 8,000 people. Page, AZ was named for John C. Page, who had been a Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation.
From Page, we will be traveling back up into Utah. We're coming up on our first year of full-timing and although we have tried to pace ourselves, it is really difficult to not plan like vacationers. Thus, we feel a little like "If It's Tuesday It Must Be Belgium." We have not given ourselves enough time in Utah, and we will need to return to fullly enjoy its beauty. The nuances of the colors and patterns of the hills change as the sun passes over them throughout the day. The scenery is never the same!