The Pools of Disappointment
After visiting the world’s worst ventilated vault latrine we made a slow drive back into Zion Canyon, stopping along the way to take pictures of the sun hitting the tops of the mesas. Walking off the pavement I was quickly reminded that desert plants are unfriendly – even the grass is pointy and sharp.
We reached the main park about 9AM and boarded a shuttle to the interior (cars aren’t allowed). Halfway up the canyon we abandoned the shuttle and started the Emerald Pools trail, a three mile loop.
The trail was busy with foreign tourists, predominately German, at least they were the most vocal. I also heard Portuguese, Russian, and an assortment of Asian languages that I’m poor at identifying. At one point we walked past a Spanish-speaking group and Terry commented, “They’re speaking Spanish, they must be American.”
As with most historical place-names, the Emerald Pools didn’t really live up to their name. “Sorta-green Mud Pits” would have been a better fit. Luckily the trail itself provided nice scenes of waterfalls and cliff faces.
We followed the loop back to the road and re-boarded the shuttle, now packed with other stinky, sweaty people. The audio track on the bus’ intercom advertised a hike at the end of the shuttle-run into an area called “The Narrows”. It sounded fun so we decided to head there.
The first part of the hike was a one-mile paved path filled with people and the most aggressive squirrels I’ve ever met. They would approach each person’s feet, stand on their hind legs, look up expectantly, then shake their head disapprovingly and run to the next person if not presented with some offering.
Having survived the onslaught of human bodies and panhandling squirrels, we reached the end of the paved path and discovered that “hiking The Narrows”, aside from sounding like a euphemism, really means “walking several miles up the river, in the river.” Everyone around us seemed more prepared for this adventure, equipped with walking sticks and water shoes.
Undeterred, we started slogging up the knee-deep river. Between the strong current, shifting sand, and slippery, uneven rocks, maintaining balance took considerable effort. But Terry is a robot, programmed to mechanically cover any terrain without pause, so I trudged after him doing my best to stay upright on weak, human legs.
The Narrows was much more canonical than the Emerald Pools – the wide cliffs of the park closed in to the width of the river. It is a pleasant experience, standing in cool river water, holding your hand against a cliff that shoots up hundreds of feet above you, and knowing about the transformation taking place as the river water cuts its way through the rock, almost fast enough to watch.
As pretty a hike as it was, the views eventually became same-y and our bodies sore, so we turned around and made our way back to the trailhead. I had managed not to slip or fall for all the miles we had walked, but within a few bends of being back on dry land, my luck abandoned me.
My foot caught on a rock and I fell into the river. I managed to catch my camera before it was completely submerged but watched helplessly as my water bottle floated away – the future raft of some enterprising squirrel. Luckily, a friendly hipster (he had a Snidely Whiplash mustache and was wearing skinny shorts) shouted to his friend who rescued my water bottle and returned it to me.
The walk back to the shuttle contained little joy for me. I was worried about my camera, my shoes were full of sand that was rubbing against blisters, and the people we encountered all seemed to be walking way too slow while taking up way too much of the path. My mood improved considerably once we made it to our car and I was able to get my shoes off.
Gas Station of the Handy-Capable
I hadn’t expected Utah to be as pretty as it turned out to be. The area between Zion and Bryce was split between low mountains and a land type I can only describe as “green savannah”. It made for a nice drive.
We stopped at a combo gas station/Subway outside the entrance to Bryce Canyon that appeared to be the only non-greasy-spoon restaurant for a considerable distance. Inside we witnessed an impressive display of indifference. The high-school-aged worker walked away from finishing my sandwich to talk with a visitor and completely ignored Terry, staring blankly as he asked about fountain drinks.
I further aggravated Terry by ordering the last of the macadamia nut cookies.
While I was filling up the car, the attendant, who looked like a real life version of Sloth from The Goonies, sprayed my legs with a power washer, said “Sorry”, then proceeded to do it three more times. I still don’t know if he was trolling me.
These Purples Go to Eleven
Re-fueled, we headed into Bryce Canyon and arrived at the end of photography’s golden hour. Unfortunately, my camera was acting funny from having taken a swim, so I left it in the back seat to dry out.
Bryce Canyon at sundown is stupidly pretty, so much so that Terry and I both lost the use of English and were reduced to grunts and pointing. The Rayleigh scattering of the mountain sunset produced an impressive range of purples and pinks that I don’t remember ever seeing in nature. Zion had been a park of “big, red things close together”. Bryce was a park of “very big, very colorful things far apart” that just seemed much grander and breathtaking.
I’m still mad about my camera.
We completed the park loop in darkness and found a camp site, setting up our lone tent among a field of RVs and camper trailers. My walk to the registration pavilion took me past several groups of novice campers, cooking hotdogs over the plastic packaging they had just thrown into their fires. Tasty.
Terry cooked our meal for the evening, maple sausages and fried eggs, because vegetables don’t exist in the spectrum of camping-appropriate foods. We settled in and I tried to contain my schadenfreude when Terry discovered a leak in his giant, 2/3rds of the tent sized, air mattress.
Surrounded by the mass of campers, the evening was surprisingly quiet – a few chirping crickets, the occasional bird, the screeching of air escaping Terry’s mattress, and my quiet laughter.