Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Zion National Park

The drive through Zion National Park is full of amazing red sand and towering rock formations.  I had done the drive twice, but I had never really spent time exploring the park.  Zion is gigantic and it would take days or even weeks to fully explore and appreciate its majesty, but it is possible to jam pack an afternoon with Zion fun.  If you have a very limited amount of time you can just drive straight through, stopping to take some pictures and walk around a little.  If you have a few hours it is really worth it to take the free park shuttle to explore Zion.  The shuttle makes multiple stops where you can get out and go on hikes ranging from 20 minutes to 6 hours.  You can also just snap a few pictures and hop back on the shuttle if you are tired or pressed for time.  During the summer months it is oppressively hot during the day, staying in the 90's till 8pm, so late afternoon or early morning is your best bet (but it will still be hot)!  We did two short hikes, one to the Emerald Lower Pool waterfall and one to Weeping Rock.  Both were pretty easy walks and the sites were beautiful.  The lower pool was pretty dry so we didn't see much of a waterfall and the light was too low in the sky to take great pictures, but it was fun to see and nice to stand under to get a trickle of cool water.  The Weeping Rock was much cooler- it is not a waterfall, but a rock that is excreting water trapped millions of years ago when the rocks formed.  The walk is a little steep, but again pretty easy and definitely worth it.  Also if you get overheated you can cool yourself off in the stream of water.
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There is a ton of wildlife to see in the parks including eagles, condors, deer, lizards and an almost microscopic endemic snail just to name a few.  We didn't really get to see many birds because we didn't go on the longer hikes, but we saw a few little ones flying around and a hummingbird or two.  The highlights were definitely the mule deer who were very graceful and friendly.  One female let me get so close I could have reached out and touched her (although I didn't).  On the way out of the park we also saw a huge family of mountain goats.  We first spotted one on the side of the road standing so still I thought it was a statue.  I followed it across the road and snapped a few pictures of it eating grass.   I started snapping farther away to make sure I had at least one shot of him then moved slowly closer and closer, shooting each time I moved closer as I didn't know if he would get spooked and run away.  I highly recommend this method to anyone shooting wildlife.  Especially when shooting digital, you can take as many as you want, but you can't recreate the situation so each time you move closer to the animal snap!  The goat actually let me get extremely close, it did not mind me or the flash, but then two idiots in a car yelled at me that the flash would spook the goats and of course it wasn't, but their yelling did and it took off, almost ramming me with its horns.  I quickly scooted out of the way, making it animal close encounter number 2.  The rest of the goats were scrambling up the mountainside and I got a few shots of them as they climbed, eventually becoming silhouetted against the sky.
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Right after we left the park we came across a herd of buffalo.  These animals were gigantic and a little smelly, but so majestic.  They seemed to be tired as they walked in the last of the days sun, stopping to eat some grass occasionally.  There were a few adorable babies with them who were still acting very rambunctious jumping and running around the older buffalo.  There was a low wooden fence keeping them in, which I went right up to in order to take pictures.  Apparently that was too close for one of the buffalo who lowered his horns and rushed at me.  I sprang back as quick as I could (animal encounter #3) and kept my distance for the rest of the time shooting them.  Eventually they all walked off into the distance towards a farm house into the sunset.  It felt so uniquely American and beautiful.  From there we drove on to Kanab, enjoying a beautiful sunset that turned the sky pink over the canyons as we went.  I also loved the uniquely American feel of a sunset over an open road with telephone wires diagonally cutting through the frame.  Sometimes living in New York can feel very foreign and international and being out in nature in the west makes me appreciate the beauty my country has to offer.
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