Seeing Red in Zion National Park

It all started in early March during a phone call with my 40 years- long- time friend, Jean. It had been a particularly long winter for both of us. Add the cold at her home in Juneau, Alaska and she was really at her wit’s end. “I want to go to Zion National Park but nobody will go with me!” She wailed. I paused, thought for a short moment I found myself saying “I’ll go with you.” BAM!- 48 hours later we had the trip booked. April 25th we met in Las Vegas with thousands of other winter refugees looking for a break, picked up our rental car, and were off. (Hey- did you know that a Prius makes no noise when you start it up? We thought the darn thing was broken!)

Entering Zion is like entering the Yosemite of the Southwest.  Replace the silver granite splendor of the Yosemite Valley with sandstone cliffs and spires of all hues of oranges and tan and you have the wonderland of Zion.  It’s a hiker’s paradise and we took full advantage, even in the drizzle of the first day.  Besides the glory of being out in such splendor, I found the cheery attitude of the other hikers equally wonderful.  People were generally jazzed to be out of their Covid prisons.

The last time I was in Zion I was 10 years old on a camping trip with my family.  The only memory I had of that trip was swinging my skinny legs in a cool river on a 100-degree day.  That very river, the Virgin River was one of the first things we saw when entering the park.  I found such nostalgia in walking along that river looking back at my childhood self-such a sweet memory.

We hiked almost all the trails in the valley that were open (several were closed due to rock falls).  The most well-known and dangerous hike is Angels Landing, a 1500 foot huff up to the most iconic view in the park.  The last quarter mile or so is a tedious climb where you have to hold onto chains to prevent falling to an early death (as 13 hikers have since 2000).  In places, you are walking on a knife ridge only a few feet wide.  Add to that there is the coordination of the masses of hikers that are going up and down on a one-way trail.  Somehow the spirit of friendly cooperation prevailed and we got up and down with no incident. The view from the top was breathtaking. Looking down we spotted condors riding the thermals below. 

We did take the second sprizzly day to explore beyond Zion canyon.  Kolob, on the western side of the park, is higher in elevation and equally dazzling.  We were warned, however, by park staff not to attempt the main hikes due to the muddy, slippery trails.  Good advice. We hiked the ½ mile roundtrip from the viewpoint and it was like walking on toothpaste.  In the afternoon we explored the quaint town of Kanab and environs and finally the impressive Best Friends animal Sanctuary- more on that in a later post.  The return drive through the west canyon Drive was one of the most jaw-dropping gorgeous roads I’ve ever been on

Canyon Drive

On our final day, we hiked the Narrows, one of the most famous hikes in the world.  You have to slog through the headwaters of the Virgin River. The river flows through a slot canyon of soaring sandstone walls, waterfalls, and hanging gardens. Since we were there relatively early in the year with the water being at times up to the waist and 42 degrees F we rented dry suit waders in town, special water shoes, and a stabilizing stick to prevent a dunking.  At first, we were with quite a band of others but as we headed up the crowd thinned as we headed upstream.  In all, we hiked about 8 miles in and out. It was at times quite a challenge pushing against the current and stumbling over a rocky bottom but hey, what an unforgettable experience!

Ironically the most challenging part of our Zion visit was navigating the Zion NP shuttle.  During this time of Covid, they offer limited ridership for social distancing.  You have to secure your tickets at 5 PM the night before from the Recreation.Gov app.  There is about a 15-minute window before all the tickets are gone.  This can be an extremely frustrating experience.  If you are up in the park during this window with no cell or WIFI it’s even more hair-tearing.  They do allow walk-ons after 2 PM. You do have the option of renting an electric bike beyond the park border in Springdale or securing a private shuttle but these options are expensive.

Despite the shuttle challenges and the surprising number of other visitors, we found Zion to be an amazing experience.  It was a perfect week long escape after months of lockdown and so good for the soul to be among such grandeur.

It was great to get away, take some risks, and feel the pleasure of life again.  Try it. The world is waiting for you.

A page from my messy journal

Honoring the Earth on Earth Day 2021

I live ten minutes from Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey.  The order of monks that reside there have been so gracious to share the trails of their large natural area with the public.  It’s a treasure- one of the few places left closeby where one may take a quiet ramble in nature. I set off solo early in the morning for an Earth Day hike.  It’s pleasant with friends but by oneself you have the opportunity to notice so much more and the birds and other wildlife are much more willing to present themselves.

The main Guadalupe Loop is a steep one- about 1.5 miles up.  At the top of the mountain is a primitive shrine to Our Lady Of Guadalupe where visitors can meditate, admire the view, and leave offerings- Catholic or not.  It’s the kind of a hike where you can leave with a storm in your brain and then come down with head full of sunshine. 

It’s good to remember where we come from especially now- the earth needs our attention and love more than ever.

Here is a poem I wrote along my hike…

Continue reading “Honoring the Earth on Earth Day 2021”

Seeking Solace in Nature

IMG_1585In the aftermath of the Las Vegas shootings last week (on top of everything else going on in this country) I needed a big hug from nature.

Off I went with 3 other women friends to walk in the Opal Creek Wilderness Area.  This place has been a refuge for me for years.  It is tucked up in the Cascade Mountains about 30 miles due east of Salem, Oregon.

This is one of the largest old growth forests left in the United States and the largest in the Western Cascade Mountains in a watershed virtually untouched by loggers saw.  As a result, stunning Opal Creek runs sparkling clear through its rocky course through this forest wonderland of giant Douglas fir, W. Hemlock, & W. Red Cedar.

IMG_1601The Shiny Rock Mining company operated in the midst of this forest in the 1930s from the “town” of Jawbone Flat. In its heyday, about 50 souls lived & worked there.  The relics of the town still remain.

By the 1980s, timber companies were eager to log the area.  Friends of Opal Creek, an activist organization dedicated to preserving the watershed to a wilderness area, was formed.  I joined up.  For the next few years, I made many 4-hour roundtrip drives to lead educational hikes to the public along with other docents in an effort to expose and educate the public about why we should preserve this gem of an area.

The strategy worked.  Eventually, with public pressure, Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon IMG_1608pushed legislation through Congress in 1996 before he retired forming the Opal Creek Wilderness Area.  The Shiny Rock Mining Company deeded over their holdings to the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center whose mission it is to educate children and others on the value of old growth forests.

Today it is a sanctuary for many including myself and a myriad of flora and fauna.  Walking through this forest cathedral, the four of us absorbed the healing power of nature and our souls were washed clean, at least for a while, from the cascades of Opal Creek.

It was good to know, there is still beauty in this world.

IMG_1615

There is Still beauty in this World

Seek it in the wild forests

IMG_1574Where the only news you will hear

Are the songs of birds

And the shatter of chipmunks

 

Let the music of cascading waters

Soothe your soul

As you tread  in a green world

Lined with lush moss, rocks, and ferns

A winding trail beneath your feet

 

IMG_1617 (1)When you look up through

The cathedral of conifer branches

And the stained glass window of the vine maples in their sunset hues

Know that nature will endure

Beyond the world of man

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: A Walking Heritage, The Camino de Santiago

cmaino mapFor centuries Catholic pilgrims from all over Europe & beyond set out to walk often hundreds of miles to the shrine of the apostle, St. James whose remains were said to rest in the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela in Santiago, in northwestern Spain. Though many routes crisscrossed Europe, the most well-traveled route stretches 500 miles from St. Jean Pied de Port in France over the Pyrenees through Basque country and then onto Galicia.camino albergue

The scallop shell, often found on the shores in Galicia, has long been the symbol of the Camino de Santiago. Pilgrims wear them on their packs & they are on all the way markers for the trail.

In modern times the trail has been popular with hikers and bikers all over the world for a variety of reasons, Some travel just for recreation, others during a transitional time in their lives & many for spiritual reasons.  It is still popular today among Catholics.  In 1987 it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Along the way, pilgrims stay in “albergues,” similar to youth hostels.  At each albergue you get your pilgrim passport stamped.

camino startIn 2013 I walked 250 miles of the Camino with my long time friend, Deb,marking my 60th birthday.  We skipped the middle part since we only had 2 1/2 weeks.  It was a pivotal experience in my life. We started in France with many other pilgrims beginning the long trek from the charming medieval village of  St. Jean de Port crossing the Pyrenees the next day.

Some of the many memorials along the way.  Deb is leaving a special stone in the Pyrenees in memory of her father.

camino pass
The pass above Pamplona

Scenes along the Camino….

The End of the Journey- for most, the Cathedral de Santiago, for me – Museo by the Sea (in new shoes.)
Heritage