Sunday, July 17, 2011

Because Mukuntuweap Was Too Hard to Pronounce

…Congress decided to change its name when making it into a national park. It was then that Mukuntuweap National Monument was renamed Zion. This morning, when the automated info-voice on the park shuttle bus explained that Zion was a Hebrew word meaning “refuge,” suddenly this park became my people’s park. If not for the Jews, Zion would still be Mukuntuweap. Also, it was at that moment that the park and I developed a little inside joke, since anyone who’s ever spent time with Israelis can tell you that it’s “tzion” that means refuge. “Zion” is a part of the male anatomy.

Today marked the first time that I’ve ever just visited a national park to visit it. True, last year I spent a day at Great Smoky Mountain as part of a environmental science teacher conference, but that doesn’t count because I wasn’t going there to take in the sights and enjoy the park for what it was. My plans for my day in Zion were unique. This was the only day of the trip when my itinerary said “Go to Zion. Do stuff.” Aside from one hike that I knew I wanted to take in advance, I didn’t really have any firm plans for today. As a result, at times today felt both under- and over-planned.

Driving into the park from the east, so that I made sure to take the famous Zion – Mt. Carmel Tunnel.

Before reaching the tunnel (saying it like that makes me feel a little like Gollum), I stopped to see Checkerboard Mesa, a cliff face with both horizontal banding of different minerals as well as vertical cracking where water had seeped in and frozen. I’d show you a picture but my computer is busy doing everything in its power to prevent me from doing that (see previous post).

A little further down the road, still before taking the tunnel into Zion Canyon, was the hike I had previously planned on… the Canyon Overlook Trail. While the trailhead was well-marked, the trail itself was less clear, and I got lost a few times, fortunately realizing my mistake before falling into a canyon and rolling into the Pacific Ocean (Remember? My continental divide joke? Sigh. Never mind.) The sign at the trailhead claimed that the route was an exercise in scale, and I didn’t quite understand what that meant until finally reaching its end and standing at the precipice of a several-hundred foot sheer drop into lower Zion Canyon.

On the Canyon Overlook hike I also discovered one of what must be the park’s only 2 non-bird animals: Lizards and squirrels.

The latter didn’t excite me too much, except that they loved mugging for the camera, and I almost had the chance to fulfill my lifelong dream of petting a squirrel, but a voice somewhere in my head reminded me that doing so would be against the rules in a national park, so I opted to let the many squirrels that walked up to me go unpetted. But the lizards were interesting. They, too, had no problem walking right in front of me, or climbing up a wall right next to me. But what I couldn’t get my head around was that there were wild lizards living naturally in this park. I can’t even conceive of a lizard living in the northeast, so I guess I must have always thought that they only really existed in captivity. Now I’ve seen them in the wild.

Court of the Patriarchs
After finishing that hike, I finally made my way through the tunnel and found the visitor center. There, I was able to map out the rest of the day. I’d take the shuttle, getting off a few times to see the stuff there, I’d stop for lunch at the Zion Lodge, and after dinner I’d take the Watchman Trail, because apparently that one looks good at sunset.

Well, that was the plan at least. The early hikes I had planned (Court of the Patriarchs, Emerald Pools, and the Riverview Walk) were all done, even with a break for lunch, by 3pm. I couldn’t start the Watchman trail until at least 6, otherwise I’d be sitting at the end of the trail wating for the sun to set for over an hour. So I had 3 hours to kill. I ended up going to see Weeping Rock (a piece of sandstone that constantly drips water that has been filtered through pores in the rock), spending more time exploring the Zion Canyon visitor center, and visiting the gift shop at the Zion Lodge (where I got a super-cool Indiana Jones-style hat!)

After dinner, around 5:30 I couldn’t wait any longer and decided to head up the Watchman trail. The park calls this one a “moderate” hike, but I wasn’t worried about that because the Canyon Overlook trail that I had taken this morning was also rated as moderate. Well, I guess moderate at 1 mile is much different than moderate at 2.7 miles. Maybe it was the 95 degree heat, maybe it was that I had eaten a half hour beforehand, maybe it was because distances on these trails aren’t marked so you can’t tell how much longer you have to go, or maybe it was because I had already hiked over 6 miles during the day, but I ran out of gas after walking around the third or fourth hill and saw the next 2 that I’d have to traverse. I decided that, at this point, whatever lay at the end of this trail, I had never seen pictures of it before so it couldn’t be that spectacular. So I decided to cut my losses and head home a little early so that I’d have plenty of time to upload my pictures and update the blog and still get to bed early, since I’m leaving for Bryce Canyon by 7am (only way to make sure I get a campsite). Famous last words…

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