Zion National Park  
A Day Trip to an Alien World

Josh Black
© Copyright 2020 by Josh Black

Photo of Zion Arch

A week before travelling to one my favorite destinations, New York City (primarily a business trip, taking an extra day or two to play tourist is almost always a given) a quick visit to spend time with family surfaced. Instead of the mundane sitting around the house, watching golf or lazing poolside a recent conversation about travel lead to an idea, flicking the switch in my head to explore someplace new, someplace away from urban life.

My native city is urban. My present hometown is a massed population. It is all I know as a home base. Afterall I live in an urban setting and was about to travel to the densest urban space in North America. Urban-ness feels right to me. I’m not one to get a claustrophobic “itch”, from city life. There is comfort hearing the blur of sounds, some piercing, honking car horns, first responder vehicle sirens, periodic power tools adding to the cacophony. The subdued, under layering voices of mother nature, a busy bee making it’s rounds to the flower bed outside, perched on my third-floor balcony. Small birds saluting the morning sunrise and the creaks and cries of the wood framed building I live, settling on the small parcel of land it rests upon, all these sounds are comfort. It confirms we are one world.

After making mention to my dad, we fast decided to make a day trip to Zion National Park in southern Utah. Dad lives in the Las Vegas area. A quick flight, from my home in the “City of Angels” to “Sin City”, we made an early start, driving a slightly longer route out of town. We bond best on the road. It is a shared enthusiasm. We appreciate the unplanned flow of conversation, sequestered at 60 miles an hour. The excitement of what may be around the next bend in the highway. Highways we have travelled many times continue to present new vistas. Sometimes we roll along at dawn, a different time of day than usual, or there may be a freshly painted mural on a highway overpass. It is a confirmation the world is ever evolving.

His neighborhood is adjacent to the Lake Mead national recreation area. We drove along the road, periodically catching peek a boo views of the lake. We made the detour to drive through Valley of Fire state park. A prelude to Zion. It did not disappoint. The vibrant hues, oranges, yellows and reds in the rock formations are well worth an easy detour when visiting Las Vegas. The open road just out of visual site of the frantic bustle of the neon oasis is a calming feeling. The open desert is a special place. Far from any ocean, rain-shadowed by mountains, deprived of regular rainfall, the desert is seen at altitude as a blank, dull landscape. When coasting along at the ground level, we see the undulation of the dunes, variety of arid climate friendly plants, proof mother nature is adept at adapting to seasonally harsh climates. A bighorn perched on a rocky outcrop. The snake gliding across the blacktop ahead, confirms the vibrancy of life in a desert landscape. The occasion we pull over, to stretch our legs, change driver and navigator positions, the smallest creatures abound, beetles scuttle by, army ants busily working and a hare pops it’s ears just above its burrow the other side of a flood channel, a hawk circles above. If you are deciding between Hoover Dam or Mount Charleston, as a day trip consider Valley of Fire instead. It is often less crowded compared to two destinations tourism hawkers continually promote. The contrasting oranges and reds of the ancient volcanic rock is well worth the drive east of the Vegas city limits.

On we pushed through a sliver of Arizona on interstate 15. We were on a mission to arrive in the park since we weren’t prepared to overnight. We also simply enjoy driving from one destination to another and be present with where the roads (and conditions) take us. Unless we are engrossed in a conversation, then the company we keep is just as appealing. It is a common bond we share, the last ten years we’ve the good fortune to road trip across and through different regions around the U.S. The deep south, swamp-logged southern Florida, the meandering Mississippi river, from the upper Midwest down to the extremity of the broad delta system in Louisiana, the rugged Sierra mountains of California and Nevada. The Great Lakes region and many more points, “A to B”.

For future reference we made note, there is a broad spectrum of lodging options in the near-by towns: Springdale and Rockville. We did learn the organized camping sites in the park is very, limited by what we observed. Good to know for future expeditions to Zion. And yes, there will be future visits.

Arriving at the west entrance to the park, we decided to drive along the main road until the moment struck us to change course. We ended up driving to the east entrance without a thought about where to go next. The scenery was alien. We agree on a lot of topics however there was no swaying the point, the Zion landscape is otherworldly. Dad is a lifelong science fiction reader. He made an interesting assessment of the wild wilderness in this particular section of southern Utah. It looks like a Martian landscape. The rock formations resembled a molten surface frozen in time. It is quite a site to see. The rock arch we passed along our route reminds me of the famous Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. A lone pine along the ridge top sits just about the center of the arch, almost like an exclamation point.

During a brief roadside stop to take photos, I had a conversation with fellow park explorers. We agreed the landscape is like no other we had seen. Some of the rock hues were red, like the Grand Canyon, then snaking along the roadway around the bend in the road, a grayish-metallic tone dominated the organic color palette. One could quickly forget the horizontally undulating terrain is our home world “blue oasis” spinning in the vastness of space and, not some extra-terrestrial scape.

The highlight of the expedition was the fact it was pouring rain. At the elevation, about 4,000 feet (1,200 meters), it was a brisk 45°F (7°C). The scenery distracted me from the cool, damp conditions. The landscape made for perfect flows for the rainwater to cascade down broad rock faces. Future visits, I will welcome rainy conditions, it is absolutely a beautiful landscape. The water coursing down the rock faces into the creeks is truly a must see. A desert rainstorm is a special sight. Rare and unpredictable, there is a certain smell in the air when the storm blows in. One can feel the static electricity in the air build. The storm may not produce a lightning storm, though the energy between the sky and ground is felt from head to toe. The smell of the dampness in the desert is ephemeral. It comes as quickly as the soft, swollen sands, dry up and once again become parched.

With certainty it was easy to figure around the next curve, along the main highway, more waterfalls (although very temporary) were feeding swollen usually dry creek beds. There are easily hundreds of impromptu waterfalls in all directions. A sudden whitewater rapid coursed through the deep channels in the parklands. A rainstorm validates the well-worn landscape, carved over millennia. Here we were on one of those rare days mother nature did her carving of rock.

In a short distance, it felt like we were time travelers to an alien environment. Not an hour before entering the park lands, it was patchy, puffy cotton ball clouds and pale blue sky. Upon arriving at the east gate, the sky was a steel gray, no sun to be seen. At the east gate, we decided was the “end of the road”. Back tracking down the windy highway through the park’s main route, we were continuously “oohing” and “aahing”. Little did we know there was one more epic vista in store for us. Driving into the Zion foothills, in the tiny hamlet, La Verkin, UT was a quaint café, River Rock Roasting Company. We made a stop for a cup of joe for the road back to Las Vegas. We decided to pause awhile, sit down in the café, enjoy.

I decided to wander out to the café’s back deck. A view to remember indeed. The overlook peers across the meandering Virgin River, which flows through the park upstream, into the Colorado River. All the rainwater we watched cascade down the alien slopes was coursing through the canyon below.

It was a day trip to remember for the ages. A return visit to Zion is a certainty. A grander expedition to the high plateaus of Southern Utah is definitely in the works.

On to the Big Apple!

Writing was a casual hobby developed at an early age, all my writings were unfinished, until a creative writing class in college I hadn't shared any of my writing with anyone.  After receiving positive feedback from the professor, I still wasn't convinced my skills could warrant publication.  Fast forward a couple decades, still unpublished I picked up writing again as an active hobby the last year or so.  The toughest part was committing the time to just write.  What to write about?  Anything, something.  I have heard many people say, write about what you know.  So, I started writing some short pieces and self-published on Medium.com without expecting to make it a moneymaking enterprise, simply to experience the feeling of my work out there for the world to read.  After writing un-credited business content for my employer in a field I'm thankfully no longer engaged, I decided now is the time to write often, about "what I know".  A few pieces about music and travel did result in a positive feeling just clicking, "publish", seeing my creativity out there in the digital world was satisfying.  Despite only double digit read statistics, I felt a sense of accomplishment.  Here it is, my next phase effort to be a true, published writer.  This is a next chapter I'm most excited to explore.

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