When are we going to Utah?
Not this year - it's too far, it's too hot, the drive will be
totally boring ....
But everyone says we have to, and we keep saying we
So we did. Paul researched the routes and Victoria
researched the weather, and after putting it off for one
more year, we went.
We left on a Sunday, and choose to stop first at
Champoneg State Park in Oregon, a park we had often
rejected for being too RV friendly. We usually go first to
Silver Falls, being mildly addicted to waterfalls. But we
had left even later than usual, furthering our credo that
there were no schedules, comfort was the rule, we were
not going to be in any hurry. As an omen, the camp was
a most pleasant surprise. It was RV friendly, but there
were few folks there, and amenities are amenable. It had
the Willamette River. There are miles of trail along the
river, and through the woods, and the river was calm and
the cabins across were most inviting to the camera. The
rythym for the next weeks began to form: a lovely dinner,
a short walk, a pleasant nite, Paul's early morning walk,
breakfast and a major walk. Then staying or moving on.
We left next morning after a long walk, stopping at
Rogue River State Park. We never want to stop here. We
always stop here. In the very old old days, when we were
pressed for time and left Seattle at some ungodly early
hour, we would get to northern California for the first
nite. In the not so old days, we left a little later and Paul
couldn't see straight by the time we got to southern
Oregon, and there was never anywhere interesting that
hadn't closed for the season. Rogue River was always
right there just off the road, and we could be totally tired
and we knew that the camping would be really easy, no
unhooking, no leveling, easy power and water. With the
right combination of sun and fog it could even be pretty.
It's OK for an early morning walk, but after breakfast only
a short walk because the next stop is much too inviting.
Next was the Fowler Campground on the McCloud River,
one of our favorites. It is always close to empty when we
get there in October, and we have our choice of spots in
relative seclusion. To walk west and south takes you to
the Lower Falls in 15 minutes, where you can hang out
forever as the light and the water keep offering new
perspectives. You can walk past the falls, doing a longish
loop above the river looking down, and returning along
the river looking in. Walking east you hug the river,
going first to the Middle Falls, walking up to look down at
the falls and river below, and continuing to the Upper
Falls. We walked through the sunset, did the early
morning and major daytime hikes, spent another night,
and another morning.
We left the McCloud and moved on down, through the
bird santuary, wishing again that the migratory patterns
would shift if only for one year so we could see more of
them. There were a few more this year, but we didn't
stay long. We continued on to our way station along the
Sacremento, at Woodson Bridge, a campground filled
with gorgeous oaks and few people. The campground
comes at the right time; we can spend most of the day
along the McCloud, see the birds, get there at night for
an easy pull in, walk at night under the oaks, and stroll a
bit along the river in the morning. We can leave at a
comfortable time and get to dance camp near Santa Cruz
at a reasonable hour, to set up in the daylight and
reconnect with folks.
Which we did, and then we danced and played music
and hung out with friends.
On Sunday we left the music and went to my brother's in
Los Altos. This is as close as we ever come to a resort
experience. My sister-in-law is a gourmet cook, the house
is set at the end of a dead end street and a dead end
creek, and the hot tub under the stars after the weekend
of dancing is sheer pleasure. In the morning my brother
and I play tennis, the oldest singles players in sight,
though neither of us see very well now.
After tennis we started in earnest. We chose the southern
instead of the northern route. We'd have gone across
through Yosemite but the pass had already closed with
some early heavy snowfall. The northern route was
fascinating, but really really empty, they said. The
southern route was really boring, they said.
They may have been right about the north, but they were
wrong about the south. The drive did start boringly
enough, and the tension grew as we looked for a
campground. The most promising on paper was in the
town of ___, but we couldn't seem to get there from
anywhere. Either AAA had it wrong, or we were even
more tired than we thought. So we went on, and the
night came. Red Rock Canyon was on the map and in the
book; it had a nice sound to it but it was a bit too far off
the road. Still, the next possibility was way too far down
the road, so off we went. The road was better than we
thought, and the campground seemed empty and had a
wierd feeling to it. But we drove around, opted for the
easiest spot we could find, had a great dinner, and
We awoke in Wonderland. The campground was in a
desert valley surrounded by magnificent walls of
beautiful rock. Desert has never held a strong fascination
for us; the notion of strong sun, heat, dust, and overlay of
brown did not attract. But we had never immersed
ourselves before. The sun was strong; what that meant
was that the sunrise and sunset were incredible. On the
ocean and in the Cascades those times have always
been my favorites; here they took on totally different
dimensions. The land became a kalaidescope, the color
of the rock would change every five minutes, and the
powerful shadows were constantly shifting. I found
myself photographing shadow as much as color, always
somewhat frustrated that when I stood here I was missing
the color and shape there. The early walk in the sunrise
was a joy, and we spent the day walking and driving and
walking, and deciding to stay another night. We planned
where we'd need to be at sunset, and loved being in
what seemed the most beautiful spot on earth with
literally no one anywhere in sight. The truck in that
empty parking lot never looked so splendid.
The next morning we decided to stay for a bit longer.
There was this trail on the right that seems to go around
these rocks in front of us, and that trail way over there on
the left must be where it ends. How far, how high, could
it be? The long and short of it is, of course, that it could
be quite long, quite high, quite unmarked, filled with
spider trails leading nowhere - and presenting some
spectacular views as well as challenging terrain. We got
lost, got found, got back, and the stress level rose but
stayed within bounds.
One of the most fun moments of the trip was learning that
if we had found the campground we originally sought,
not only would we have missed the glory that we did
find, but we would have been stranded a while because
of a major dust storm that had closed the highway! But it
was reopened in fine sunshine the next day as we
headed toward Utah.
Timing is all, and the right place at the right time seemed
to be Valley of Fire State Park, in Nevada. After a Red
Rock Canyon, could we pass up a Valley of Fire! Again
we got there an hour too late, and this time there was no
empty campground. It was close to full - what did people
know that we did not? We found out the next morning -
looking out the window at dawn, it was clear that this
could not be my usual alone-walk time. Victoria had to
see this. I won't describe it - but the dozens of photos we
took do little justice to the red red red rock that was
surrounding the campground, blazing in the sunrise.
So we spent the day and another night. The park has a
sense of vastness, while at the same time we could do
almost all the trails that were within our range in little
more than a day. So we walked all day, scoped out the
best sunset spot, arose for another sunrise. We had found
two magnificent parks along this supposedly boring
route, and of course heard about several more that we
simply have to visit the next time. But this day we really
were going to Zion.
It was easy to bypass Las Vegas, and every other oasis
strewn along the freeway in Nevada. Each one had a
more ludicrous gambling resort than the last. Then Utah,
then Zion. Zion is as splendid as they say, maybe more
so. The outstanding feature is the Valley, the long
fabulous valley with the river cutting through. It was
designed by the gods as a tourist and hiker mecca, and
some of the more intelligent humans built upon the
design. The river goes up the valley, and now the road
goes up the valley. At a half dozen or so places along the
river and road are minor valleys leading into and up the
walls of the canyon, and now there are trails going up
these canyons. Some are for tourists,easily accessible,
others are for hikers, and less so. All are uniquely
spectacular. Autos had once choked the road, and now
the cars have been replaced by mandatory shuttle buses.
They run from an hour before sunrise to 2 hours after
sunset, every 7 or 8 minutes. And thus we spent one full
day starting early, riding to the furthest point, and hiked
the trail upriver as far as we could. (But not as far as
those we envied who had mostly rented their wet suits
and sticks and boots and walked into the river, upriver.)
Then it was the shuttle to the next stop, and the next
hike. We stopped at every stop, doing at least one piece
of the trail up one side of the canyon or the other. We
played both tourist and hiker.
The canyon has also been designed with photographers
in mind. In the morning you stand behind the museum, a
short distance from the campground, and look west as
the sun rises and the shadows descend.
In the evening you go to the bridge, a moderate walk
from the campground and the second stop for the shuttle.
On the bridge you hang out with the other tripods and
look downriver to the Watchman, or look up river to the
walls being framed by the burning clouds. And you keep
clicking away as the light keeps changing.
There is more to Zion than the canyon, and we spent a
day driving to the eastern end, in search of some red to
augment the mostly yellow that marks the transition to
Fall here. Four nights in Zion, cold, clear, splendid. It was
unique, and yet there was still a sense of familiarity. The
rocks were wonderfully colorful, but they were rocks and
we have hiked in rocks. And the valleys had their unique
creeks and waterfalls, but we know creeks and
waterfalls. It was hard to leave, but we knew that when
we were back home in the Cascades there would be
rocks and creeks and waterfalls that would remind us of
parts of Zion.
Then we went to Bryce, and entered a world we had
never before encountered.
From the outside and even from topside, Bryce seems
mostly wierd and out of place. Getting there, you go
through desert. Flat, brown, plain. Rocks and mesas stick
up, but they rarely seem integrated. Bryce is another of
these outcroppings, randomly placed. The entrance is
through Ruby's Inn, a few acres of Great Western motel
and store and fake frontier village and RV park. Then the
park begins, and the campground is close by. It's very
pleasant, looks like many national park campgrounds,
empty enough, but with nothing to indicate Bryceness.
We set up, and drove the road (the shuttle system is here
also, but shut down for the season) to its end. We parked,
walked out, and looked over, lloked over to some other
world. Whoever designed this one had a very different
aesthetic than the designer of Zion. Bryce is set down
there; from above, you see it, but beyond you still see the
rest of the world, the desert, the flat and the brown, even
a town 5 or ten miles away, and of course more mesas
and rocks strewn about. But what's down there is bizarre.
As kids (of any particular age) you go to the beach, pick
up some wet sand, stand up, and let the sand dribble
down. When it dribbles to some uncertain height it stops
growing tall and grows randomly sideways. Some of
these shapes are intesting, some not, some ask to be
reshaped into castles or faces or walls. With enough time
and other kids, the shapes can be transformed into
elaborate structures, and communities.
As gods, of some particular manifestation, you go up to
some equivelent of Olympus, look down, and find the
right combination of sandstones and rock. Now, however,
instead of dripping sand down, you get some rivers to
flow over the sandstone. You essentially drip the rock
and sand up by washing the less strong stuff down. The
effect is the same as the beach, but bigger. Much, much
bigger. The sand bugs can walk through the beach
sandcastles, and we can walk through the Bryce
sandcastles. And while the tide will wash away the
beach stuctures in a few hours, at Bryce it takes
somewhat longer to build and longer to wash away.
Looking down into Bryce is an experience of ooohs and
ahhhs. At sunset and sunrise the colors and shapes
change, over there is the sense of grandeur, over here
the sense of the unique particular. Walking into Bryce
and facing down and up and across, seeing nothing of
the world beyond, is to have walked through the closet
into Narnia. This is a world disconnected to any other.
The animals are there too; every third hoodoo is another
beast, some close to human. Surprisingly, there is some
green, trees scattered here and there, and enough dead
trees to help me feel somewhat in familiar territory. But
sand becomes what snow seems to be for Eskimos; i
comes in an infinite number of colors.
So we stayed a while. Every sunrise, every sunset, what
seemed like every hoodoo. Photographing here is
absurd; you want to see it all, but there is no all. You can
look at one hoodoo for ten minutes or ten hours, and it is
always changing. And the next one is exactly like the
other one, but what can it mean, to be like the other one.
I have hundreds of hoodoo photos - let me show you this,
no, that one. Good grief: I don't want to show you any.
They all look exactly alike. And is this photo any better,
or even different, than any others of mine or for that
matter any others of anyone else's. The best way to
photograph Bryce is to close your eyes, point the camera
somewhere, and press the button. It's also the best way
to experience it. Choose a trail, any trail, start walking,
and every random 2 minutes or 6, stop and focus your
We had one more thing to do. We had driven past yet
another Red Rock Park before entering Bryce, and we
needed to spend a day. The Ranger said "this is the hike
for you...". It wasn't. The weather was perfect, the views
were perfect. And the trail was disastrous, too much
shale, too steep in parts. The climax was the staircase,
up the hill to ... We never found out. It was our only
turnback of the trip. We went to another area, this one for
folks of all ages. The folk to which they referred must
have been mountain goats. But this one we did do, at
sunset, in the midst of real red reds, and if the footing
was slippery the views were solid. We celebrated with a
lovely dinner at The Pines, our first and only restaurant
meal of the trip.
We left the next day, finishing with a morning hike that
we had done during the day, doing it in reverse
direction. Which meant of course that every hoodoo was
in a different place in different light at a different angle -
which means an extra few dozen photos.
And then it was over, but for the 2 1/2 days of driving.
One night in a sterile RV campground because it was
very late, and another at a beautiful park, empty in the
bitter and clear cold.
On to the next: Yosemite in the early spring? The coast?
Do we stay in central California so we can do Monte
Toyan and the Oakland Ball?
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