Posted by: Jack | April 1, 2007

Epic Journey: Day 6 – Zion Canyon, Bryce Canyon

Despite the previous night’s troubles, I awoke this morning feeling rather well rested. On Travis’s recommendation I decided to hike the West Rim Trail with a short off-shoot up to Angel’s Landing. I started out early and motivated. Although this trail consisted almost entirely of steep switchbacks, climbing nearly 1500 feet in about 2 miles, I managed to keep up my speed. Upon reaching the junction with the Angel’s Landing trail I could see that it proceeded up this relatively narrow fin with 1500 foot vertical drops on both sides.

To be honest, as I continued I found it surprising that this trail is even open to the public. Although there are occasional guide-chains, much of the trail is very exposed to the enormous cliffs. I feel that when it comes to a fear of heights, I am at least a bit more desensitized than the average person but there were certainly times when I was being a little extra careful of my footing on this trail.

A short time later I reached the summit of this fin and was well rewarded for my efforts. The panoramic views of the canyon were astounding.

I concluded that one of the reasons for the title of Angel’s Landing may be the intense updrafts that seem to come from all sides. It almost seemed that if one were a little careless they might just be lifted right into the air.

I began my descent and although I had not seen another hiker throughout my entire climb, I quickly began passing one group after another. It was pretty entertaining to watch many of these people inching their way along, keeping at least 3 points on the ground at all times. If they had any idea how much more intimidating the down climb would be, I doubt they would have continued. As I casually traversed the narrow walkway below, a couple of women literally gasped at my nonchalant attitude regarding the cliffs. I definitely stuck around to watch them shuffle their way across with death grips on the chains.

With the sun much higher in the sky, the views of the canyon grew increasingly awesome as I descended. And upon reaching the canyon floor I was able to look back at the now well-illuminated Angel’s Landing as seen in the second picture below.

In the above photo, Angel’s Landing appears as merely a sizable protrusion but remember that it is nearly a third of a mile in height.

Having completed my most exciting hike thus far on the trip, I kept my momentum going and immediately left Zion Canyon heading northwest for my next destination. Traversing the scenic byway of Zion, one encounters the Mt. Carmel Tunnel which I believe was the longest tunnel in the world at the time of its construction in 1930. Due to the size of vehicles at that time, the tunnel was never intended for modern RVs and touring buses and as a result such vehicles have to pay a fee and be escorted through while other traffic waits at each end.

This scenic route passed by a variety of fairly unique rock formations and eventually an occasional rising of hoodoos (to be described below) could be seen.

Still early in the afternoon, I arrived at Bryce Canyon National Park. After consulting a ranger and obtaining a permit, I set out on my first backcountry hike of the trip. The trailhead for the Under the Rim Trail was at Bryce Point and as I approached the overlook I was just blown away by the scenery.

These formations called Hoodoos, which Bryce is most famous for, are entirely unique to this area. Through a process of freezing and thawing groundwater combined with rain, wind and hundreds of millions of years’ time, these spires have arisen all over this relatively small canyon. While the formations are obviously wonders in themselves, I feel that the multicolored layers of rock are what really draw the eye’s attention.

With only 4 miles to travel to my intended camp, I slowly made my way along the trail as it descended into the sparsely wooded areas outside of the canyon.

I came across one particularly interesting group of hoodoos which is referred to as the Hat Shop. These spires show very clearly how the hardened limestone cap protects the softer sandstone below from erosion. Despite knowledge of the formation process, it was fairly difficult to view these as naturally occurring.

I arrived at my camp area early in the evening and was a bit dismayed to realize I had forgotten to bring my book along. For the remaining three hours of daylight I did what I could to fill my time. I made a very large dinner and forced myself to consume every bite. I read every bit of info I had on the park and spent a long time finding the best possible tree from which to hang my food for the night. Still, the daylight faded ever so slowly and I decided that instead of also spending the next night in the backcountry I would travel the rest of my planned loop the next day and camp in one of the park’s established campgrounds. Despite the intense boredom, the quiet, still air was an excellent change from the night before and made for a great night’s sleep.

Continue to Day 7

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