I finally made it out West! The Great American West – all the places I’ve been across the world and yet so much for me still to explore in my own backyard. My family (brother Bruce and my sister-in-law Jenny) and I made took a one week tour of Bryce, Zion and Grand Canyon this summer. We first traveled together in 2014, on a grand trip to Alaska. I dearly loved every moment, and we had so much fun, we had been looking for another adventure. This fit all of our interests (and our busy schedules).
We met in Vegas, to be transported to our starting point. I could not get out of the Vegas airport fast enough. Every single possible aspect of humanity seemed to make its way through that airport. Thankfully, the USO was outside security. We hid there until our shuttle arrived.
This post will be the first of three, simply because the pictures are tremendous – and deserve their own focus! Each park was so different. The diversity astounded me. There really is no substitute for seeing the parks in person.
Before I discuss the splendor, I must discuss my favorite (and most unexpected) aspect of the park. The Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel is the cutest thing that I saw there. (picture below) It looks deceptively like a chipmunk. They are plentiful, and fairly fearless! (lots of visitors each year) Here’s a note from the National Park Service:
Although it is a traditional hibernator, building up its body fat to survive the winter asleep, it is also known to store some food in its burrow, like the chipmunk, for consumption upon waking in the spring. Both the Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel and the chipmunk have cheek pouches for carrying food. Cheek pouches allow them to transport food back to their nests and still run at full speed on all fours. By comparison, when a squirrel is threatened by a predator, it has to drop its food if it wants to make a quick getaway.National Park Service
The Hoodoos make Bryce Canyon. The formations look like they came from a different planet. However, it’s simply the earth being the amazing earth. Though I prefer the Native American story (The Paiute Indians claim that the colorful hoodoos represent ancient “Legend People” who were turned to stone as punishment for bad deeds), the explanation is much simpler. A combination of rocks, tectonic plate movement, weathering and erosion over millions of years combined to create the beauty you see in the photos below. The reason the formations look so different?
Part of the beauty of the hoodoos comes from their strange patterns. The shape of the hoodoos is attributed to slight variances in the material which comprises the rock. If you recall from the “deposition” section above, there are multiple types of rocks that make up Bryce Canyon. All of the rocks contain abundant calcium carbonate (CaCO3), a mineral that dissolves when it comes into contact with even slightly acidic water. When it rains at Bryce Canyon, the (slightly) acidic rain is enough to dissolve the calcium carbonate that holds these rocks together and allows them to erode into their current shape (and continues to shape them).National Park Service
We only stayed a little less than two days in Bryce. On the morning of our second day, we took a bike ride out of the park. The bikes were fantastic! The day was glorious, and I looked forward to a little exercise. The ride was flat and fast, but it was a bit windy. I despise wind. So I pedaled as fast as I possibly could. To add to the challenge, the bike path had already experienced “expansion”. So there were these lovely dips in the path for most of the second half of the ride. Da-dunk. Da-dunk. “Oh, that hurt.” Da-dunk. “Enough already!!”
While it was a beautiful day in a beautiful park, I couldn’t wait to be done with that ride. Fortunately, a lovely Moscow Mule was waiting for me at the end. (picture below) Our tour group kindly (and wisely) offered adult (and other) beverages a couple of times a day – especially after particularly arduous physical activity. As I sat in the parking lot, watching the other riders arrive, I sipped my icy cold beverage happily, ready for the next adventure.