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 will.

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 passed out.

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 eyes.

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?

The Willamette
Click on photo title to link to photos
Along the Rogue
Along the McCloud
Camping at Red Rock Canyon
At the Valley of Fire
Portraits at Valley of Fire
Bryce Canyon 1
Bryce Canyon 2
Bryce Canyon 3
Bryce Canyon 4
Bryce Canyon 5
Red Rock Park
Zion A
Zion B
Zion C
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