Friday, April 17, 2009

Watchman Campground, Zion National Park

Late arrival: 11pm

I find my way unknowingly to the Virgin river, led by the soft, white light all around me. Midnight haze. Cottonwood arms reach, stretch. Their silhouettes introduce the rushing water like a star on stage. White water washes, rushes, cleans away my fear and doubt. I follow the jagged horizon as it cuts up and down through the sky, dividing the constellations into new formations. A smoky scent from campfires comforts me, and moonlight graces each tree top like pixie dust. Shining bands of silver stretch out over me. I feel safe here, like inside the arms of an old friend. 

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Riverside Walk

Vehicles are not allowed to drive the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, and the shuttle system makes an easy, eco solution to getting around to all the trailheads. On the way to hike the Riverside Walk, we stop at rock climbers paradise: Big Bend, towering walls of Navajo Sandstone that line the river. Two climbers scale the crack of sheer cliff. One slips and dangles (luckily) 100s of feet against the rocks and then methodically pulls himself up. Something about his fragility and minuteness reminds me once again of the power of nature. 

Onto a little geological history...

Navajo sandstone was formed from sand dunes 200 million years ago, shifting winds blew the sand one way, then another, leaving diagonal lines in their formation. Crazy monsoon rains compacted and moved the dunes every rainy season. A shallow sea covered the dunes, and then dried, leaving  shells behind. The lime from these shells seeped down into the sand, cementing the dunes into sandstone. Rivers cut through the sandstone, depositing iron, which stained the bottom layers red.  Whala! Beautiful, crimson rock faces and canyons. 

We stop to eat lunch under a big cottonwood along the river, and then hike back up to the shuttle and onto the last stop: Temple of Sinawava-- 2000-foot sheer rock walls. This easy hike follows the Virgin River, and we get a close up view of lush plant growth there. Springs seep through the porous Navajo sandstone walls, creating hanging gardens and swampy ecosystems. It's hot today, and the kids complain a bit, but I focus on how the light hits the sharp cuts of sandstone cliffs illuminating the warm colors. Orange. Rust. Pumpkin. Auburn. And against these fiery hues, contrast the pale green cottonwood leaves. A richness illuminates me.  And before we know it,  the kids have made it to the treasure. A sandy beach along the river where they cam romp and make mud pies!  Continuing on this trail is the Narrows--a narrow, slot canyon trail that IS the river. A few people attempt to go on, but we focus on a returning river hiker, dressed in full water-proof gear and shoes, warm, dry, and all smiles.  We know that we'll return someday (sans kids) to hike into the river of this gorgeous slot canyon (with gear,) over the slippery rocks, and past the lush growth, to be a part of it all. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Weeping Rock

This easy, easy lush trail winds up and past all different kinds of trees, plants, and wildflowers. Scrub Live Oaks. Maidenhair Ferns. Velvet Ash and Cottonwoods. Golden Columbine and Shooting Stars. A tiny, evasive endangered snail lives along the moist, hanging gardens. But we can't even spot one! We push the tired kids up and up until we reach an overhang gently drip-dripping from above. Up along the cliff, thousands of droplets glisten and dance upon us. Cool mist. Tingly skin.  From a spring, water seeps through more than 2,000 feet of sandstone until it meets a layer of shale. Wind blows spray from the Echo waterfall  into the grotto where we stand. We smile and laugh and rejoice in the wetness, the coolness, the gift of water and Zion geology all at once. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Ice Skate on Mossy Rocks

Take the shuttle to Zion Lodge--a lovely, rustic National Park lodge . Kids play under a massive old cottonwood, dwarfing them in size, and in calmness. We're excited to hike to Upper, Middle, and Lower spring-fed pools and waterfalls. More chances to romp in the coolness and witness more of this unique Sandstone canyon.

We cross the scenic footbridge, and then make a left, immediately heading up toward the Middle Pool (even though the kids think we're JUST going up 70 feet to the Lower pool!) It's a bit of an elevation gain (150 ft) but the kids get focused, stopping for striking views of the canyon and to stick their fingers in the cool spring water that dribbles from rocks along the way.

I welcome in the sun-drenched sandstone ridges--the ancient layers of sand and later shale--still visible like interwoven designs. The trail winds up and around to the Middle Pool. A perfect spot for lunch. We hike up river. Shoes off. Feet drenched in cool mountain water. We slippery-slide "ice skate" on the flat, mossy rocks like ridges of sand burned into time. Nova says, "Finally, we find somewhere where we belong!" A girl after my own heart. 

I observe water striders glistening across a still pool in the river. Their big and round geometric shadows create such a different image, an alien shadow crawls beneath the water. I think about the shadow I leave behind me. I know my here it must be  light and airy and living off freedom. Freedom of a big open sky and more seconds in my day. More time to breathe and laugh. I want to carry this shadow with me always. 

Onward to the Upper Pool. A rounded-out sandstone bowl. Light mist of water gently drops into the liquid crystal below. An ancient meeting place. Then and now. People gaze upward, completing the connective circle below. Cool air brushes off the water, sends a chill down into me. I pull on my beanie, and revel in its warmth. The warmth of a beautiful place. Friends. Family. How lucky am I? I wrap myself up in it all. 

We hike down to the Lower Pool.  Waterfall raining down on me. Surprise! Gentle mist turns to showers and I'm soaked! Ahead, worn sandstone cliffs transform  into thrones. Edgeless and aristocratic. Graceful tunnels eroded over time. Patience. If we all had this much. I feel a sense of timelessness here. One drop of a waterfall. One day in a time span of 200 million years. Zion welcomes us in. And I'm glad we waited.

A poem written by Nova inspired by the Emerald Pools:

Water striders
Grasshoppers that swim
Pushing, crawling through the pools
I like how they swim!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Prickly spikes and golden peaks

Cacti. Pinon pine. Indian paintbrush.  An evening hike into the warm stones lining Watchman Trail. Send us gifts. Red and orange sunset hues fall down over us like waves. The last bit of light graces the jagged tip of a mountain peak. It's transformed to gold, and my heart sings.  This last bit of hope. Of warmth. Of illumination stays with me and I feel, once again, the magic of this time. This moment. The magic of the mountains and the sky and the moon. And I know I'm on the right road.

Nova pricks her finger on a cactus, and we spend some time removing each, microscopic spine. With each step into the magic light of dusk, her smile returns. On the lookout for mountain lions and lizards and snakes, on my. Row-row-row a boat atop the dock of red rock. Laugh and dance along the "happy stage," a flat rock along the Virgin River. Laugh by laugh. Tear by tear. Everything lies along this path, and we welcome every step. 

More from Emerald Pools

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Friday, April 10, 2009

Saved by Stories

So the kids and I hike along the rim, awed by the breathtaking views of hoodoo-ville. For me, this moment in the basin is full of contrasts. Rusty, oxidized limestone against the stark white fallen snow. Those same crimson hoodoos juxtaposed against the deep green of the pinyon pines. It's a beautiful menagerie of color and texture and line, and it fills my eye with possibilities. 

The one, not-so-nice contrast is that of my kids. My sweet children burst with complaints about the hike. Too hot (the temp was perfect.) Too far (under 2 miles!) Too steep (320 feet elevation gain. Not that bad.) I put on my "I can ignore this" face. I'm sweet. Calm. Nothing can ruin this trip into hoodoo paradise. But as soon as it starts, the complaining stops. We approach a tower of three hoodoos and we begin to tell stories. We are SAVED by stories. Imagination takes over and the kids forget they were so mad at me. The 3-hoodoo tower is quickly named "The Three Kings," and it is they who guard the next hoodoo fort. "Sand King, Rock King, and Sun King," according to Nova. Grayson names them "Sando, Stonley, and Hou." As we follow the trail and limestone arches, we immerse ourselves in the whos and whats of our red rock story. There are few people, and peace moves through us. Through the rock. The clean air. Cumulus formations. Before we know it, we are in the midst of Queen Victoria herself! We bow before her as she stands regally above us, holding in her hand what the kids think is a book. Maybe a book of her own hoodoo stories. Behind her, they find a king to complete the duo. We eat. Dried cranberries. String cheese. Trail mix. And the hike is complete. 

No, nobody worshipped the hoodoos. But they do tell stories, just like humans. The paeloindians that date back 10,000 years. The Fremont indians from 1000 years ago. The Pauite up until a century ago. And the Mormon settlers that arrived in the late 1800s. We all reflect upon life with our own experiences. Our own visions. The hoodoos make for endless tales. Tales of queens and kings. Castles and forts. And the rusty limestone rocks tells stories of dinosaurs. The birth of mountains, and long lost oceans.  

What we see in our minds. What we see spread out before us. All beautiful contrasts. Beautiful stories that nurture our hearts and minds. How lucky to be saved. Saved by stories.   

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Hoodoo History

Through Zion we travel through a tunnel in the mountain. A tunnel toward Bryce. A tunnel into a time and space where beauty and peace exists.

Climbing to higher elevation soothes the soul. Cool air. Joining jagged peaks that reach to the heavens. Springtime in Bryce. Snow. Less humans and more space. Unfortunately, Dan gets a 24 hour bug and is tucked away in bed all day. I take the kids trouncing through the snow to the rim of Bryce Canyon. We are going to see the queen! The hoo-doo queen!

Hoodoo (1. a pinnacle or odd-shaped rock left standing from the forces of erosion  2. To cast a spell or bad luck)

Quick geological timeline: 200 million years ago: a clash between NA's continental crust and  a strong Pacific seafloor left a shattered North America on top. For 120 millions years, the bends, folds, and compressions of this battle gave birth to the once mighty Sevier Mnts. Over time, rain and snow split them apart and rivers carried pulverized boulders and mud eastward.
65 million years ago, just before dinosaurs went extinct: Western US changes. The oceanic plate pushes up our continental crust: The Rocky Mnts are born! The basin between both mnt. ranges collects layers of mud and silt. 
55-30 million years ago: a mammoth mud puddle called the Claron Basin fills with calcium carbonate: two types of dissolved limestone. A lower pink layer, and an upper white slayer. In this marsh-like environment, plant roots help oxidize iron, and the intense red color arrives. In these salty ponds, algae-like creatures enriched the limestone with magnesium they took from the water, creating dolostone. These ponds transitioned into purer lakes with less iron. What happened to this massive puddle is a bit of a mystery. But scientists are sure that these beds of sediment compressed into rock and lifted to 3000-9000 feet in elevation. 
15 million years ago: This uplift formed the Colorado Plateau. 8 million years ago: The Bryce Canyon  area broke off and been sinking into the Great Basin ever since!

Bryce is not really a canyon. Canyons  are carved by flowing water. In Bryce, acidic rainwater dissolves the limestone, creating the rounded edges of the hoodoos. Then the freezing and thawing of water are the primary  artists responsible for sculpting Bryce's unique and beautiful architecture. About 200 days a year, ice and snow melt during the day and refreeze at night. Water turned to ice expands by 110%, forcing the rock apart from inside the cracks.  Monsoon rains carry away the debris, revealing the "fins," the beginning of a hoodoo. Frost cracks these fins, making holes called windows. The windows collapse, creating the rust-colored pinnacles called hoodoos (named by Spanish conquistadors who thought the native tribes worshipped these rocks, that resembled human figures. Hoodoo-voodoo, get it?)

Okay, so it wasn't a short description, but a necessary one!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009