"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Monday, April 28, 2014

A Peak Week at Zion (and more)

This past week Rick and I had the pleasure of hosting a couple of good friends from back East and giving them the grand tour of everything we love about this area. We've known Steve since our contra dancing days in Greenfield, MA (almost 20 years ago! Eek!) and now we know his wife Wendy since they were married a few years back. They arrived on Monday and it was a whirlwind of activity until they left early Saturday morning. We loved every minute.  

We started their tour of the area with an overview of Zion provided by a shuttle ride through the canyon with stops and hikes as we were so inspired. We got really lucky and snagged the first row of seats in the second half of the two part shuttle bus. The view was so much better than any other seat in the shuttle. So much of Zion is about looking up and if you're not in these four seats, all you see is the ceiling. 

(Oops. Sorry Rick)
Out first stop was the end of the line, the Temple of Sinewava and the Riverside Walk down to the mouth of the Narrows.  It was early in the day so the canyon wasn't too crowded and we could walk at a leisurely pace.  (On other occasions this hike has felt like rush hour in Chicago.)

The Virgin River flowing through Zion Canyon

The Virgin River

Looking up from the floor of Zion Canyon

After a picnic lunch along the river we boarded the shuttle and headed back toward the Visitor's Center. It was a very windy day, so our stops ended up being kind of brief. We had been protected from the wind in the narrower end of the canyon, so we hadn't noticed it before.  

Rick, Wendy & Steve in Zion Canyon 

In an effortless group decision we chose to hike the Kayenta trail to the Emerald Ponds trails, and were once again protected from the wind.

Wendy on the Emerald Pools Trail

The hike left us feeling pretty satisfied with the day, and after a short stop at the Human History Museum to see the video, we loaded up in the car and headed back to the RV. Wendy and Steve are staying in one of the three little cabins at Zion River Resort. The day concluded with a nice supper and planning for the next day, which was going to be a long one.

Bright and early the following morning we loaded up the car with a picnic and headed east, up the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway. The highway hairpins its way up the canyon walls and through a long tunnel that transports you to the east side of Zion - a totally different world.

View of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway from Canyon Overlook

We parked immediately after the tunnel in the small lot opposite the trailhead for the Canyon Overlook Trail and headed for the great serendipitous event of the week.

(Quick back story needed here: Before Steve and Wendy left Massachusetts they had san email from a contradance friend who told them that a local New England fiddler, Rachel, was the artist in residence at Zion for the month, and encouraged them to look her up. It wasn't exactly a top priority, but we were open to finding her if the circumstances were right at some point. We actually thought we caught a glimpse of her in the woods as we road the shuttle, and she seemed to be involved in a photo shoot of some sort. She was holding a fiddle - that's how we guessed it was her.)

Flash forward to the Canyon Overlook Trail. About halfway through the hike we turned a corner into a large grotto-like area and who is there but Rachel and a crew of seven photographers, videographers and journalists. We cried "Hey, are you Rachel? We know you (almost)!"

Artist-in-residence Rachel with crew

We discovered she was about to play a waltz while being filmed and we volunteered to provide ourselves as two waltzing couples, right there in the beautiful suspended cave above the canyon. The sound of her fiddle filled the grotto while we waltzed and everyone felt very honored by the moment.

Wendy & Steve recreating the serendipitous waltz after the crowd was gone.

After some more chatting and marveling at our good fortune, we hiked the rest of the way to the Overlook, which was almost as exciting as the serendipitous waltz.

Rick on the Canyon Overlook Trail

Back to the car and we headed east out of the park on Rt. 9, and north to Bryce Canyon NP on Rt. 89. A breathtaking drive from start to finish.

And then Bryce!  We took the scenic drive to the end and picnicked.

The Natural Bridge Arch in Bryce Canyon NP

Overlooking Bryce Canyon

Then we parked back at Sunrise Point and hiked the Queen's Garden Trail.  

Along the Queen's Garden Trail.

Wendy taking an "action shot" of Steve on the trail.
Lenore on the Queen's Garden Trail

The Queen's Garden Trail

Phew! Our return drive got us into Springdale at about 8:00 and we elected to eat at the (historic!) Pioneer Restaurant. Good food, reasonably priced, and a friendly host who gifted us with a 20% coupon for our return visit!

Day three: Rick suggested we go to the least visited parts of Zion: the Kolob Canyons…

Kolob Canyons
... and Kolob Terrace Road to Lava Point. Although these locations are at the north end of the park and geographically very close to one another, they are not connected (except for a dicey dirt road - not recommended), so two separate drives are required. We divided the day with a lunch break back at the RV.

The bird watchers in Kolob Canyon

Kolob Canyon Road and Timber Creek Overlook Trail provided us with some great avian, fauna and flora observations.

Spring blossoming in Kolob Canyon

Collared lizard on Timber Creek Overlook Trail

Steve & Wendy at Timber Creek Overlook

Kolob Terrace Road turns north off Rt. 9 very close to Zion River Resort, in Virgin. It's one of our favorite excursions, and like most of Zion, offers new vistas every time you see it, depending on the season, the weather and the hour. The road leads to Lava Point where you can get a great view of Zion Canyon from the north.

View of Zion from Lava Point
There is a campground at Lava Point, but it was closed, so we drove up to the Reservoir to use the facilities that are available there. On the way we stumbled upon some great birding, spotting a flock of red-shafted northern flickers, a few western bluebirds, a spotted towhee, a couple of osprey, and a western kingbird

Aspens near Kolob Reservoir

OMG, we were all sleeping like logs every night, and we hated to see the week end. But come Friday it was time to take Wendy and Steve back to the airport in Las Vegas. None of us is wild about the City of Stars, but we planned to make the best of it. On the way down (another incredible drive, passing through the remarkable Virgin Gorge) we made a detour to the Valley of Fire, a place every bit as amazing as Zion and Bryce, but just a bit smaller.  (Come back for the next post for more on that.)

The plan was to stay overnight in Las Vegas, and the next morning Steve & Wendy would be on a very early flight, and Rick and I would drive back to the RV park in Virgin. After an unfortunate mishap with our hotel reservations (AAA's fault) we found an alternative hotel, got some dinner and tried to chill so we could "enjoy" Las Vegas a bit.  Well, with good company, and a positive outlook, almost anything can be redeemed, and our evening was no exception. Our only goal was to go to the strip and see the Bellagio Fountain, which we succeeded in doing, with pleasure. Top that off with some gelato, and we were ready for bed, but not before fond farewells and promises to do this again sometime, somewhere.

Thanks Wendy & Steve for being part of our best week at Zion ever!

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