A Physicist and Artist try to make it in Silicon Valley

A Physicist and Artist try to make it in Silicon Valley
In which a couple tries to thrive creatively and intellectually on and offline

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Glorious Road Day 2 & 3: Zion National Park

The Trail to Whitney Portal
The morning of Day 2 we hiked the trail that leads to Mt. Whitney Portal, where hikers enter to climb Mt Whitney. We didn't go very far, because we had to get on the road again. The hike is beautiful, though; you get a great view of the Sierras, and we found bobcat tracks on the trail. A raven stopped by our site while we were packing up and croaked at us while a lizard scurried by. After packing up our site, we said goodbye to Mt Whitney and made our way to Zion National Park.

We decided to take a route that went through Death Valley, which I would recommend doing if you have a car that can handle it. Even this early in the year, the temperatures were in the 90s, and it's not a good idea to run the AC while you are driving up and down the mountains. Death Valley is incredibly desolate, but also has a highly varied landscape. There were dormant cinder cones surrounded by volcanic rock, tall peaks, and low valleys with beautiful sand dunes.
The View from our tent
Arriving in Zion National Park around 4 in the afternoon, we pulled into Watchman Campground. I had reserved site 34 in one of the tent loops, and it is hard to imagine a better spot. Our tent was shaded by a tree, and we had a fabulous view from our site. The Watchman campground is so named because it is in the shadow of Watchman Peak. It is a fantastic campground, and anything from 17 on up on the outer rim of the loop, as well as our site, would be perfect for anyone coming to Zion. We set up camp, made some dinner, and watched the sunset on the cliffs on the nearby Archaeology trail, where a family of deer came to graze.The next morning we woke up early, excited to start hiking. Another nice thing about the Watchman campground is that it is very close to the visitor center, where the shuttle bus stops. Zion National Park no longer allows visitors to drive their cars through the park, because during the high season they were getting as many as 5000 cars per day on the only road that goes through the canyon (yuck!). The shuttles run every 6-10 minutes, and stop at all the major sites and trailheads. It was a great way to get around the park, and the Rangers talk about the park while you are riding.

We started that morning on the Emerald Pools trail, which hooks up with several others and eventually takes you to the Grotto. It's a beautiful trail that was relatively uncrowded (although it was pretty early in the morning) and allows for some great vistas of the the canyon and the Virgin River that cuts through it. The Pools were fairly dry, but still lovely. I think Spring and Autumn would probably be ideal for pool viewing.

After reaching the grotto and refilling our water bottles we decided to tackle the Angel's Landing Trail. This trail is crowded, even in the morning, and is a constant uphill climb of over 1500 feet, but it is worth the effort. We saw a bird's nest filled with babies on the way up, and in the canyon after the first switchbacks there were two families of spotted owls.

After you head out through the canyon, there are a series of switchbacks known as "The Wiggles". They are actually pretty tame, but because they are at the end of the climb, it feels brutal.We did not take the full hike out to Angel's Landing, which is a cliff that you inch along while holding onto a chain. I'm sure it's worth it, but neither of us like heights, so we opted out.

After climbing back down, we took the shuttle up to Weeping Rock, took a short hike, and then made our way back to camp. 5 hours of hiking was our limit, and we spent the rest of the day relaxing. Just outside the visitor's center there is a nice little town with a grocery store. The store's prices were very reasonable considering the location, so we picked up supplies for dinner. I called my father that evening (amazingly, you can get cell phone reception in the park), and told him about our day. He asked us what we were doing for dinner, and I told him we had picked up some brats that I was boiling in beer and onions. "You can get brats in Utah?!" he exclaimed, "That's amazing!". We're in this beautiful National Park, and I'm talking to my father in Wisconsin, and he's impressed by the ubiquity of bratwurst. I love Wisconsin.

Tomorrow: Day 4 & 5: Rocky Mountain National Park

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