Desert and Mountain

2008-08-05

It may seem that we are ticking off national parks in a mad rush, but it’s not really the case; this trip hasn’t allowed an in-depth study of the Parks it’s true, but I think I’ve managed to come away with an understanding of the essential nature of each, as well as a deep appreciation of local sandstones.

After Bryce, the plan was to move to Las Vegas, but Zion stands more or less in the way and we got sidetracked; which was good as Zion is one of the most beautiful parks I’ve seen, with the most amazing variety of micro-climates. The main difference is that it has water; so while it’s still desert, it is rich with plant and animal life. As you move upward, it gets wetter and cooler and the plants change accordingly. Perhaps the most extreme example is Weeping Rock; this is a enormous rock face which sits on the boundary of two layers of horizontal rock, the lower layer being impermeable; so water that fell as rain 1200 years weeps out onto the desert floor causing a small, local swamp area. In a 200m walk, the plants change completely.

Zion has also had a novel idea, which the rest of the National Parks should learn from: they have banned cars from the main road. We toured the valley in a propane-powered shuttle bus. The view was better as a result and the place more peaceful. Bryce and the Grand Canyon should follow. Arches and the Petrified forest might be a different thing; a 5 minute wait for a bus in Zion is nothing, but in the full desert heat, a car also becomes a portable air-con unit.

It took 4 hours to see Zion, so we stayed in Hurricane rather than Vegas as was the plan. A classic American town which I did not see much off.

Next stop was Las Vegas itself. For specifics, read a guide book; Las Vegas, at least this part, is surface thin. It’s visually stunning, provides a sensory overload, but there is nothing to it, other than the things you can see. More over, even the shows seem to be largely a copy; the number of people who were appearing as some one else, from stars of Country and Western, to men dressed as Joan Rivers or Brittany Spears. The whole place was plastic, packaged and artificial, even down to the food; the closest we could get to real food was bottled orange juice and a prepared fruit salad.

From Vegas, we travelled through Death Valley which was 48C at the lowest point that we got to (190 feet short of sea-level). Stark and magnificient, dangerous and inhospitable, it was everything that I could have expected.

Out of Death Valley, we have passed the shadow of the High Sierra Nevada, including the highest mountain in the main body of the US. In the distance, I saw the smoke from a major fire in Yosemite; we’ve come to rest in a place near Crawley Lake which doesn’t seem to have a name of it’s own. The temperature has gone in a few hours from 48C to around 10C. Outside, I’ve saw in 5 minutes the milky way, three meteorites and the sky lit up with a distant lightening strike.

Originally published on my old blog site.