Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Zion Canyon Scenic drive cuts through the heart of the park

One of the most scenic roads inside the park is the Zion Canyon scenic drive. Wonder why they named it that!! There are many view points and vistas located on and near this drive, which makes this a very comfortable drive/hike activity. After some much needed R & R, we decided to explore more of the park, and set out towards, what we believed to be the Court of the Patriarchs on the right of the road!

There we were mighty proud of ourselves, posing in front of, taking pictures from different angles, admiring the sheer size and beauty of these magnificent rock giants, watching several other cars and passers-by give us quizzical looks and drive/walk on by! Not bothered by the lack of appreciation from other visitors, we spent, what we thought was time enough to justify 20 landscape and panoramic photos...and decided to move onto our next scenic view point on this drive. After about 300 yards or so, the brown descriptive sign board ahead read - The court of the Patriarchs (ahead on your left) !!!!!! So....who doesn't make mistakes??? This one, we will always remember and laugh out loud about!
Switching the royal court of Patriarchs with the made-to-look-alike one!

The "real" court of the Patriarchs was impressive....and somehow we had developed more respect for it, through our earlier folly! We told ourselves, we had to make sure the earlier 20 photos were tagged differently, compared to the next set that we were photographing! These are 3 pyramid shaped peaks - Abraham on the left, Isaac in the middle and Jacob on the right. Hiking up for about half mile on the Sand Bench trail gives you better views of the Patriarchs.

Continuing further along - Angel's Landing was the next point of interest along the scenic drive. Considered to be one of the most strenuous of hikes in the entire park, it was surprisingly also noted to be one of the most popular! Its a half-day hike, with steep gradients, sheer drop-offs and narrow walkways. However, more than the able-bodied, its the bravery and courage that propels one to meet this vertical challenge.

We were short on time (not on enthusiasm though), and so decided to switch this hike...for a couple of more moderate and short ones. What was fascinating though, as we approached the Angel's Landing, was this play of light and shadow on the face of the mountain. It formed a classic shape of a mountain biker coming down the mountain. At first, it was just me who was able to read the contours of the shadow, later the others were able to see it as well...hopefully, you are able to catch the outline in the picture (seen here) as well.

The Grotto and the Lodge - are other points on the drive...the Grotto...being a wide open picnic area with plenty of benches, fire grills, water and rest rooms. If this would have been summer time, it would have been packed with families enjoying a summer barbecue. This time of year (November)...the area was covered with a blanket of fallen gold autumn leaves, that rustled with the wind, as you drove along. It was quiet but for the sounds of nature. Right next to it, is the Zion Canyon Lodge built in 1917. Zion National Park is considered to be the oldest and most visited National Park in Utah.

One of the most popular and moderate hikes within the park is the Weeping rock trail hike. It is only about half-mile in distance, and not very steep. A round-trip could take anywhere between 30-45 minutes. The Weeping rock is an alcove cut by water into the cliff and is famous for its trickling streams of water, and for its hanging gardens of ferns and mosses that decorate and transform this sandstone canyon into a green paradise.  Dozens of tiny cascades of water drizzle their way over the edge of the precipice, making their way down to the pools of water below. During warm weather, this phenomenon can be a very refreshing one.

The destination of the hike is the moss and fern-covered eave of an overhanging cliff. With the fern fresh green on one end of the palette and the vibrant red sandstone on the other, the visual panorama is a stunning array of contrasts. The hike itself, is short and easy, with views of the Great White throne and other parts of Zion canyon.
Towards the north end of the scenic drive, are the picturesque Temple of Sinawava rock formations. These are giant canyon forms towering to nearly 2000 ft into the sky. Other noted rock forms carry names such a Pulpit, and Altar...lending to its name.

This is also the birthplace of the Riverside walk. This is definitely one of the easiest hikes, since its mostly level-walking and runs parallel to the Virgin river. However, as you walk towards the narrow, you get a good sense of the steepness and the convergence of canyon walls all around you. This is definitely the older part of the park...if you are lucky you can get to watch park wildlife in these sections. At 2 miles, this easy hike takes about an hour on a leisurely stroll. Its definitely recommended.

TIP: Another moderate hike  - The Canyon overlook trail is located to the east of the Zion - Mt. Carmel tunnel. This 1.1 mile (approx 1 hour) hike is a fun one, leading to a charming alcove adorned with maidenhair fern. From here you get glorious views of the lower canyon and the switchbacks leading upto it. One your way out or in, its a great way to experience the magnitude and incredible beauty of this wonderful National Park.

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