Colorado plateau (Utah / Arizona) trip, April-May 2016, Part II

May 14, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

This is the second part of our Utah / Arizona trip. The first part is here

Day 4

Zion National Park

The weather is beautiful, albeit a bit chilly, and we have out winter jackets on. Our hotel is right near the park entrance, so we leave the car behind, pack snacks and water into the backpack and off we go! First thing first - just like in Arches we'll start with the most demanding hike on our list - Scout's Lookout. Scout's Lookout is the stopping point on the way to the really cool one - Angels Landing. It is, basically, Angels Landing sans that steep narrow climb at the end. Also, instead of panoramic view it affords a view to the side of the cliff. The trail is about 2 miles one way with 1100 feet elevation, so it is not short by any means, and kind of steep in several places. Once certain elevation is gained the view becomes more expansive

_4261572_4261572Zion National Park, UT

and we see some wildlife around, particularly in the form of a large red squirrel

_4261512_4261512Zion National Park, UT

The first part of the hike is getting up, and Anne gets tired by the initial climb, but we push forward (upward?) and enter a narrow Refrigerator Canyon, until finally we reach the annoying Walter's Wiggles, 21 steep short switchbacks. On the map you don't see this kind of features - these switchbacks look like a tiny dot! This is not a pleasant surprise, we feel tired, but gotta go on. Turns out the switchbacks are the last effort before Scout's Lookout. I know the view doesn't compare to the nearby Angels Landing but it is very nice indeed, with a blue sly, the river below, and the mountains with occasional snow caps...

_4261542_HDR_4261542_HDRZion National Park, UT

Curiously enough, we don't feel the "cliffside anxiety" here much, although the cliffs are steeper and the way down is longer :) I guess we just got used to rocks, or maybe climbing up makes the perception different from approaching an abyss from the top. Anne is making her way swiftly on the slope to find a nice place to sit and we have some rest, and I go hunting for pictures...

_4261535_4261535Zion National Park, UT

Notice that the winter clothes we had on in the morning are all gone... to the backpack.

_4261553_4261553Zion National Park, UT

Scout's Lookout is a nice resting area for people going to and from popular Angels Landing, and local chipmunks are taking full advantage of snack opportunities, going between people's feet and through they're backpacks. Those guys are everywhere!

_4261534_4261534Zion National Park, UT _4261560_4261560Zion National Park, UT

We see people going up to Angels Landing. It doesn't look too bad, but of course judging an ascent is always easier from below. It is amazing how narrow this part of the mountain is really. I wonder how all these people fit on the top, I would hate to stand on the slope waiting for people to finish...

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The way back is (obviously) easier and we have more opportunities to enjoy the surroundings. 

Lunch in the local cafe (since our intent is to see everything today, while weather cooperates, we won't go to the restaurant), a little rest on a pleasant lawn with the view of surrounding mountains, and we're off to the next attraction, Emerald Pools. There are 3 of them: Lower and Upper Emerald Pools are waterfalls and Middle one is a pool. Today none of them is really emerald, but they are really water full after yesterday rains. The hike is not particularly long distance, but at times pretty steep.

The Lower pool is very beautiful

_4261614_4261614Zion National Park, UT

Middle pool doesn't invoke awe, but it's a nice, sort of quiet and pensive place.

_4261623_4261623Zion National Park, UT

The walk to the Upper pool is steep and rocky. The waterfall is located such that all the air and splatter are reflecting off the mountain wall. Today the fall is really strong, so whoever approaches the pool gets a nice cold shower! Toma and Anne do get close and pose for the picture, but then retire a little bit and admire the view from a little further away. There is a large boulder that is definitely large enough for a person to hide behind, although I get a bit wet before reaching it. This boulder gives me a chance to prepare the camera (fisheye lens are necessary) and quickly step from it and take a picture. I try it 5-10 times but only one shot I made did not feature water droplets on the lens (of course the depth-of-field of fisheye lens shows them distinctly).

_4261630_4261630Zion National Park, UT

Down from Emerald Pools, the time is ticking towards evening. We do, however, have enough time for River Walk, an easy and very pleasant hike on the bank of Virgin River towards Zion Narrows. On some days, we've read, one can actually walk on the dry bottom of the river a little bit inside the Narrows. Looking back at today's day we agree that it was the most, strictly speaking, pleasant day of our trip. The nature is gorgeous, the wind is calm, the mountains are majestic and the air is fresh. A conclusion of a truly enjoyable day! The weather has been by far the most enjoyable, and we have great time walking. We take out 1 warm layer from the backpack - it did start getting cooler.

_4261683_4261683Zion National Park, UT _4261661_4261661Zion National Park, UT _4261693_4261693Zion National Park, UT

We reach the Narrows and, predictably, the river is full and there is no way to walk past the trail. But we can certainly enjoy the views from the trail end, contemplate and take in the surroundings.

_4261696_HDR_4261696_HDRZion National Park, UT _4261704_4261704Zion National Park, UT

The day ends, we get the last glimpse of the park on the way back.

_4261732_4261732Zion National Park, UT _4261744_4261744Zion National Park, UT

Dinner in the nearby Thai restaurant (turned out to be pretty good) and back to the hotel, through an unpleasantly surprising drizzle. The rain was not in the forecast for today, although, of course, it is nice that it did not come earlier.

Day 5

OK, we have a problem with the weather forecast - now it shows not only snow for Bryce tomorrow, but also rain today! Precipitation is also in the forecast for other nearby attractions. We decide to run away from it, and Toma has a fresh idea - run south! On the table are the options of going to Las Vegas - surprisingly only 2.5 hours from Springdale, or Grand Canyon - 4.5 hours to the South Rim (North Rim is still closed). After some deliberation she leaves it up to me and I choose Grand Canyon. It fits better into our trip, we are better equipped for it, and Las Vegas is more likely to warrant a dedicated trip. So, without further adieu, or rather, with a warm "adieu" to Zion National Park, we're on our way to Grand Canyon. I can't find my e-book - either I dropped it on the way from the restaurant (it was raining and dark and we were running a bit) or, if it's somewhere in the room, I just can't find it. This is what Anne used to read Harry Potter for the umpteenth time and she is upset. This is already the second piece of equipment (together with the tripod) that I lost in Utah :(

The drive is long and, generally, uneventful, although we do pass some amazing views, including going nearby 

Vermilion Cliffs

_4271767_4271767Verimillion Cliffs, AZ

and trough

Marble Canyon.

_4271779_4271779Marble Canyon, AZ

By the time we reach

Grand Canyon

it is lunch time. We have some sandwiches and snacks for lunch, watch a short movie about the canyon and then, finally, walk about to see some views

_4271795_4271795Grand Canyon, AZ

I don't know what's with these blooming clouds but it's starting to rain again! It's not light either, we have to seek shelter, fortunately Yavapai Museum is right there and we have some time (it took about an hour to fully pass) to look through the books, listen and talk to a park ranger and look out of the panoramic windows at the canyon. I was lucky enough to see a California Condor flying some distance away (wouldn't have recognized it without the movie we saw at Visitor Center). Anne has a chance to pick a book to replace Harry Potter for the duration of our journey and, to our surprise, she picks "Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon" - a more than 700 pages opus, inscribed as "Gripping accounts of all known fatal mishaps in the most famous of the World's Natural Wonders." Charming! It even has a skeleton on the cover. The book will serve as an object for many jokes afterwards: "Be careful near the edge if you don't want a chapter in that book..."

But, either way, our repose is not unfruitful, as we have learned various things about Grand Canyon and its history. Among more current of them is that the weather promises to bring thunderstorms tomorrow. We decide that the afternoon will be a bit rushed and we have to move in a more directed fashion. We drive to the western part of the park to complete it today and leave the eastern part for tomorrow morning, be it as rainy as it may.

_4271838_4271838Grand Canyon, AZ

Raven is sitting on a handle, this should be a good shot when it flies, and it is:

_4271848-2_4271848-2Grand Canyon, AZ

There is an opinion that Grand Canyon is "too grand" if you will, that the vastness hides the beauty of the details, and, though to some extend it's true, the layers of patterns are not to be missed and the details is something a telephoto lens can help with...

_4271854_stitch_4271854_stitchGrand Canyon, AZ

_4271954_4271954Grand Canyon, AZ _4271857_4271857Grand Canyon, AZ

Rain catches us periodically so our umbrellas see some use.

We see a family of Mule deer on the way to the hotel, there are 6-8 of them and we drive slowly past. Very cute! 

We also see a pair of Elks from the road. I did not stop in time, and didn't want to go back on a road without a shoulder in the rain, but, thinking back, I should have. The Elks are very tall and beautiful, although they still lack antlers.

I already changed the hotel reservation in Bryce and reserved a room in Best Western Premier Squire Inn in Grand Canyon. This hotel is definitely the fanciest Best Western we've been to, beautifully arranged. The restaurant looks very nice too though it takes forever to get food here.

Day 6

Grand Canyon National Park

Yesterday we saw the overlooks in the central and western parts of the park, today we'll see the ones in the eastern part, finishing at Desert View, incidentally the closest to the park's exit. Well, let's see what kind of thunderstorms are awaiting us in Grand Canyon today. The morning looks very nice though a bit chilly, in the lower forties. But, go figure, there is a cloud nearby that looks like it's got potential. Closer to the canyon it actually starts snowing. The snow is unusual, not of snowflakes but of lumps about 2-7mm in diameter, though not exactly hail - the lumps are not made of ice, but of snow, they are soft and very light.

_4281974_4281974Grand Canyon, AZ

Some snow is accumulating to our amusement and bewilderment. We are in Arizona for crying out loud, where everybody including us is supposed to be frying under the merciless sun!

_4281971_4281971Grand Canyon, AZ

Our expedition has become quite curious - we arrive at an overlook and after about 10-15 min the cloud catches up with us and it starts snowing. I can't say it's not working, maybe it's the nature's way of not only making sure we see Grand Canyon (by routing us here with rain and snow in Bryce) but also making sure we don't stay too long in one place and miss other things. Either way, the looks are quite beautiful, with the clouds hanging low above the canyon.

_4281987_4281987Grand Canyon, AZ

We leave a little after noon. The drive to Bryce is about 5 hours. The thing about driving around Colorado plateau is one won't beat Google Maps predictions like one does in New Jersey or Upstate New York. Speed limit is high and there is a lot of spots I had to slow down below the limit to adjust to the curves.

We stop in Page, where we've been before. We have a lunch in an American restaurant, which served pretty nice sandwiches and, probably, the best onion rings I've had, not that I've had many... Heading out we see another cloud that looks like a real thunderstorm. We are passing Glen Canyon Dam again, and this time we see a little side road that leads to a beautiful overlook of Lake Powell.

_4282046_4282046Lake Powell, Page, AZ

The sight is very impressive but we only have 5-10 min. I make the last photographs with the first drops of rain and we just roll onto the highway when we get under this one

_4282035_4282035Page, AZ

I don't know, from our experience it seems that it is, basically, always raining or snowing at several places around Colorado plateau, they might as well fix the forecast as "rain every day" and be largely correct, at least at the end of April. The only 2 days when we didn't see any rain or snow were the ones we stayed in one place. Another interesting thing about the clouds around here is how low they are. They really do seem to touch the ground sometimes. Maybe this is because we are on the top of the plateau, in fact we are close to the western edge of it, so maybe these are pretty regular thunderclouds which just happen to be at the same elevation as we.

Approaching Bryce the nature turns from arid to moderate again, and we get another alert from the car about the temperature outside. For some reason it's configured to raise an alert if temperature drops below 38F. Getting closer to our destination the snow starts. No, not the same snow that we saw in Arizona. This is a real blizzard, thick as ice cream, the type of weather when one leaves the car at home... Going through Red Canyon, part of Dixie National Forest, the view is absolutely gorgeous with pine trees and snowfall and natural monuments!

_4282057_4282057Red Canyon, UT

Approaching

Bryce Canyon National Park

the snow turn lighter. I'd love to see Bryce Canyon in a snow and insist on driving directly to the park. A guy there claims there is really nothing to see because of poor visibility. Frankly, looking back I think there are a couple places in the park that would look great during a heavy snowfall, but we probably would've spent a good hour looking for them and it was past 7PM and getting a little dark. As it was, we decided to go to the hotel.

Driving out of the park we are passing several Mule deer on our side of the road and this time we stop, as quietly as possible, and I get the camera out. There are 5 of them nearby, maybe 15 meters away and they're pretty much unafraid of me. Turns out, a good way to make a picture of an unconcerned deer is step on a branch - the deer looks at me, get stiff for 5-10 sec, and then go on with the chewing.

_4282077_4282077Bryce Canyon, UT

Bryce is located almost 8000ft (2.5km) above sea level. Toma has stomach ache and I feel a little nauseous, either we got it from the previous dinner or the altitude effect (inet claims that both are potential symptoms), so today we decide to skip dinner altogether, have some healthy snacks and drink some tea and water. Not Anne's dinner of choice but today she has to comply.

Day 7

Bryce Canyon National Park

Breakfast buffet is just what we need after our dinner the night before! 

A large bird is busy just outside the hotel back door. A further research reveals it to be a Yellow-headed Blackbird.

_4292083_4292083Bryce Canyon, UT

After breakfast - check out and off to the park. Today is our very last day around here and we are going to Bryce Canyon, hell or high water. Fortunately, the morning looks cheerful and the sun is in the sky and the snow is on the ground and on the pine trees. It's 34F and we have all our winter attire on. Toma even puts on her winter hat, something she rarely does during NY winter. She is a still amazed at the yesterday blizzard and today snowy forest. "Where have I brought you guys!? It's a winter vacation!" - she says. Anne answers immediately, "Yes, thank you! I spend all my winter vacation on Farber courses, now finally I have my winter vacation!" This makes our mood even better.

_4292096_4292096Bryce Canyon, UT

Bryce Canyon Amphitheater is breathtaking. Yes, we knew about the hoodoos, but what's amazing is not just shapes and the sweeping panorama - it is the lines and the colors! With the sun not yet in zenith some of the figurines look like they're glowing...

_4292114_4292114Bryce Canyon, UT _4292186_4292186Bryce Canyon, UT _4292217_4292217Bryce Canyon, UT _4292108_4292108Bryce Canyon, UT _4292154_stitch_4292154_stitchBryce Canyon, UT

A guy at Inspiration Point mumbles, "You just can't take a bad picture here". And he is absolutely right, the only place I've seen comparable is Antelope Canyon. Some shapes resemble a column of soldiers, some - a mediaeval castle wall...

_4292200_4292200Bryce Canyon, UT _4292208_4292208Bryce Canyon, UT

It's clear that we will not hike down the canyon today either - the trails are very slippery. We visit all the views around Amphitheater and intend to turn to the exit when Toma makes a mapping discovery - the road continues further south with many more overlooks to see, including Rainbow Point, the highest point of Bryce National Park at 9000ft (2.75km) above see level! Speaking of altitude, while neither of us has any problem from yesterday evening I do experience a curious sensation - every time I hold my breath for a photo shot for several seconds I have to breathe rapidly a bit afterwards...

While the hoodoos are not gathered in such great quantities, further overlooks are also great with never-ending variety of shapes. Bryce Canyon yielded the most photographs from this trip, and they were the hardest to discard any; so it really does look like we saved the best for last. Anne grumbled a little about winter clothing, but she admits this is an extremely beautiful place. 

_4292358_4292358Bryce Canyon, UT

The combination of reddish ground and green fur trees looks fabulous.

_4292308_4292308Bryce Canyon, UT

We are in Utah after all, so, of course, we see a nice cloud nearby and, sure enough, it starts snowing! Not an unpleasant snow though - it's dry, soft and very slight.

Route 15

Nothing lasts forever and we have to wrap up our trip. Google map claims it is a 6.5 hour drive to Salt Lake City and I know by now not to treat its estimates lightly. We have lunch and start on our way.

The mountains I saw a shadow of on our night drive to Arches are now in full view from Route 15. Toma has the camera and can't stop using it.

_4292408_4292408Rt 15, UT _4292443_4292443Rt 15, UT

We pass through a thunderstorm (like anybody doubted that)

_4292417_4292417Rt 15, UT

There are three accidents on our way to Salt Lake City and the drive takes about 7.5 hours, and it's almost dark. We drop in at Cheesecake Factory - there is about 50 min wait - and walk around Temple Square. It is very clean, abundant with tulips and other flowers, Anne is running around excited, she is making pictures until her camera is out of juice. These photos are made by her:

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We spend about half an hour and return to the restaurant to wait our turn. We return after dinner to make a couple of more shots.

_4292526_4292526Salt Lake City

In a true Delta Airlines fashion, seating arrangement is not available at all for our 12:40AM return flight, so we'd like to have a bit of time to pick the seats. Turns our the airline simply distributes them itself. Ours are 3 together - yay (?) - turn out to be on the very last row, right across the isle from the restroom and just a wall away from stewardesses making coffee. Looks like we won't get much sleep on the way back either. Well, one of us actually does - Anne sleeps like a baby throughout the take off, flight and landing. Happy return! Now the work starts as I have about 1700 shots to go through, and that's after already having discarded the obvious duplicates and fails, and it doesn't account for the pictures made by Anne and some smartphone snaps. Our itinerary ended up looking a bit different from the plan:

  1. Salt Lake City - Arches - Dead Horse Point
  2. Island in the Sky - Newspaper Rock - Natural Bridges
  3. Gooseneck - Monument Valley - Antelope Canyon
  4. Zion
  5. Grand Canyon
  6. Grand Canyon
  7. Bryce - Salt Lake City

Photographically speaking, this turned out to be the most productive trip ever for us - about 700 pictures after processing, all here. I even created a shorter collection of selected photos (about 400) so I can share them easier. Although I fully expected ultrawide and fisheye lenses to be the tools of choice, most of the photos were made with el cheapos 14-42 and 40-150, which explains excessive chromatic aberrations in many shots. Maybe I need to do something about it...

So the outdoor vacation is over. We managed to visit a lot of beautiful places on each day of it, although we've also seen rain, snow and windstorms, and on one day, all three! What we have not seen is that of which everybody warned us: excessive heat and lack of water :). As such we declare this expedition a big success! A popular poll of my family opinions revealed Zion and Bryce Canyon as the crowd favorites. Now we have to plan a return trip :)

 


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