Monday, September 28, 2009

Utah for Levelers 2: Seeing Zion and Bryce


 Now that Ken Burns has us ready to savor the wonders of a national park, I'll continue with more on Utah's.

 Just because they are very high or very deep is no reason to miss Zion National Park or Bryce Canyon, arguably Utah's greatest attractions. Wherever you travel never give up on seeing a site you care about - there's almost always a Leveler way.


Zion, accurately called mukuntuweap - straight up land - by its Paiute inhabitants, is laced with steep, narrow trails for visitors who want to get up close and personal with its many impressive formations.

You don't have to spend 12-15 hours hiking "the Narrows" or risk life and limb reaching Angels' Landing.

If you stay at the lodge inside the park you can bring in a car. Better, take the shuttle. During the park's peak season, they run between eight stops from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m.

To get a feel for what the Narrows trek would be, take the walk along the Virgin River, the little waterway that did all of this. You'll have good views of the Temple of Sinawava and any climbers who might be making the two and a half-day ascent to the top.

Those are climbers midway up on that whitish ledge at the far right!

Tip: Bathrooms and shuttles are at the start of the Riverside Walk.

                                     Better the paved path along the river.

Riverside Walk is paved and handicap accessible. Elevation changes are gentle and there are a number of benches along the way where you can catch your breath while admiring the spectacular scenery. If you were doing the Narrows, you'd be slogging over those river rocks. You are at 4,000 feet here so take your time.

Tip: To see the rest of Zion, take the shuttle and get off at every stop. Walk as far as is interesting and/or comfortable then turn around and go back to the shuttle stop. While you're waiting (8-10 minutes at the most) for the next one to come, talk to other visitors and find out what they think is worth the effort.

Bryce Canyon is just the opposite: you are looking down. What you see are hoodoos - rock standing like man - to the native inhabitants whose legend was that they were people being punished.

There's a lodge and shuttle here, too, plus ample overlooks for you to see the fancifully named formations. The "easiest" trail into those formations is Navajo, a 1.3-mile long trek I dubbed "the huff and puff" trail, that takes about an hour to hike.

Note: My knee replacement made it through just fine but my flatlander Florida lungs got quite a workout.

Start of Navajo Trail

Although it is quite a feeling to enter those "fairylands" through "Wall Street," a high, narrow slot canyon, there's another Bryce thrill that doesn't require major elevation changes.

What it does require is getting out of bed early. Very early, like before dawn.

Tip: Get dressed, grab a blanket from your room, drive to Sunrise Point and and watch the sunrise over the hoodoos. You can park quite near the railing.

The colors the formations change is beyond belief and very fleeting. That and the silence of dawn followed by the scritching sounds of small critters dashing about to feed before the sun wakes and warms up larger predators is something that will stay with you long after you've forgotten where you put the photos of it.

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