After a spectacular night viewing the Milky Way from the the sunset vista at Bryce Canyon National Park, we broke camp the next morning with the intention of heading to camp at Zion. A fellow camper said we needed to arrive by noon to even get a spot, so we reviewed the map and found a campground at Navajo Lake, on a side road of a side highway between Bryce and Zion.
This was fortuitous in several ways. We discovered a beautiful alpine lake (the lake is at over 11,000 ft. elevation) at the perfect time of year: the turning of the Aspens. We found out later that the area we were staying is one of the top ten places to see leaves turn in the United States.
We arrived at the campground after passing another that was closed. We had been running into park closures and with the end of the season, and as it was, we found half the park closed. It was nearly empty when we arrived so we had our pick of spots, and chose the group site nearest the lake. Wonderful choice! We had amazing sunsets followed by the starriest of nights, the Milky Way a rainbow reaching across the still moonless night. The yellow sherbet colors of the aspen leaves was stunning against the sky blue lake. We had amazing clear skies with sunny warm days and nights near freezing.
Mali and I enjoyed an invigorating ice water bath on the shores of Navajo Lake (Tam chose to own her stink). As it turns out, Navajo Lake feeds the underwater currents that erupt miles away to continue the erosion of Zion National Park. A drive down off the Southwest corner of the Colorado Plateau took us across 1,000 year old lava flows (so recent as to still be bare of soil and vegetation) with the most recent layer, down to the Cedar Breaks National Monument, one of the stunning unsung parks that abound in the Southwest. It is another amazing example of Bryce-style formations, if a little less impressive. As our descent continued, we passed another layer, the impressive Hurricane Cliffs, which consist of an eroded edge of the Kaibab limesone.
We made our way through Cedar City to the Kolob Canyons that make up the West side of Zion Park. These are amazing and a great overture to the magnificence of the canyon walls awaiting us in Zion’s West Rim Area. We approached it from the east, passing the paintbrush-stroke undulations of sand dunes turned to sandstone, their shifting sands frozen in time by geologic processes, and the square formations dubbed Checkerboard Mesa for their resemblance to their namesake.
Continuing through canyons of increasing magnitude, we finally passed through a 1.1 mile long tunnel built in the 1930s under FDR’s CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) program and emerged to a switch-backed road that wound down a canyon wall starting about halfway down. Our descent enhanced the grandeur as we made our way to the heart of the park. The most impressive canyon walls were found at the Human History Museum, which detailed the human encounters with the regions landscape, beginning with Amer-Indian encampments through Mormon settlers attempting to homestead the area and ending with the landscape being set aside as a park. We had also descended to a deeper stratigraphic layer of the Colorado Plateau’s past.
One of our fondest memories of the trip so far is walking The Narrows portion of Zion Canyon. This can be a 12 mile epic journey, or a short jaunt from the last best stop. We did the latter and had a great time wading from sandbar to sandbar up the river to waterfall spots and amazing canyon formations. Its natural air conditioning also made a nice spot on a hot day. We ended the day returning to Navajo Lake for an amazing sunset and a great meal before a dessert of Milky Way stardust spilled across the sky in a twinkling rotation that is the clockworks of the universe.
by Aaron, photos by Tammy and Aaron