According to the recorded voice on the shuttle bus that takes you to trailheads in the park, this area of Utah was once part of the largest sand dune ever to exist in planetary history. I would like to have seen that! The Virgin River is the heart of Zion National Park, having worn a path deep into the ancient sediment. Visiting there in late October/early November, as I recently did, meant that the river was at a low volume and easily navigable. One of the more unique adventures visitors can embark on is actually hiking in the river through the deep, narrow canyon it carves (the hike is known, surprisingly, as The Narrows).
The first time I visited Zion, a good number of years ago, it was in summer, and at times the water was up to my chest. We were wearing dry suits, so I was still warm, but I had to hold my walking stick above my head being chest deep. The walking stick, I might point out, is the most crucial item one needs in order to do this hike. Outfitters in Springdale rent dry suits, wet suits, and walking sticks, or you can go in your own clothes but you must find a sturdy stick as well, for oftentimes the water flow is swift and strong, and you need it to brace yourself against the current and keep your balance. To walk the best route and find dry rocky or sandy islands, you cross back and forth across the river perpetually.
This year my traveling companions were professional photographers ... which left little amateur me feeling a bit intimidated, but I learned a lot about photography in general, photographing water in particular, and being on a trip focused on photography changed my way of looking at things. That's me below, in a wet suit and jacket, prepping a shot. And by the way, the wet suit (including booties) keeps you warm while you are moving in the water ... but after standing still with a tripod for awhile, the cold seeps in; hence, I had little footsicles at the end of my ankles rather than anything resembling blood-nourished flesh.
For example, in regard to noticing my surroundings, the first time I went with my family, if you had asked me at the end of the day after hiking The Narrows, what was the light like inside the canyon, or what color was the water? I really couldn't tell you much. I couldn't have told you anything about the lighting, but I do remember that the deep water had an almost turquoise tint to it, but that's all I could say.
Now I can tell you that the character of the light changes perpetually. I don't mean in terms of how the sun comes in, for it breaches the depths of the chasm very rarely; there are only a few spots that see direct sunlight. But the amount of indirect light and from which direction, the narrowness or wideness of the canyon, the color of the canyon walls (varying from a vibrant rusty red to nearly pure black), the foliage that might be soaking up the light, etc., made for very different effects and hues. Sometimes the light seems warm and golden, sometimes cold and gray.
The water color varied as well, based not only on its depth, but on the speed of its current and the amount of turbulence in it, from a typical brownish color, to a vague blue, to very pronounced green. The first photo below, incidentally, is what came of the effort captured above by my friend, where I'm hunkered down at the water's edge.
The obvious bonus delight of visiting in autumn was the addition of golden color to the trees along the river. Many times the bright yellow leaves struck a dramatic contrast with the black rock behind them ... made them appear almost neon.
Though we were photographing primarily river shots, the draw for most people (non-photographers) is the dramatic landscape of sheer rock faces and mountains that provoke the imagination the way that clouds do, finding in them a likeness to something else. For a photographer these are very difficult to capture in a professional shot unless it's an overcast day; the light contrast is simply too severe. I, however, not being a professional, needn't consider how good a print would sell and derived sufficient joy from taking pictures simply for the sake of documentation ... I called them "tourist shots." So I often putzed around taking tourist shots while my professional friends were focused on capturing perfect river shots. If you've never been to Zion, here is a quick peek at the typical topography. The white caps on the mountains are not snow ... the rock color simply changes.
We saw lots of mule deer and some mountain sheep, and a little flock of these guys. Yeah, go ahead, Mr. Turkey ... run, run, run; I didn't want a picture of you anyway. You and all your pals just go ahead and flee across the road.
Bryce Canyon was named after a chap with the splendid first name of Ebenezer. Ebenezer Bryce. With the largest collection of unique pillar-like rock formations known as hoodoos, or commonly referred to as goblins, it officially became a national park in 1928. But for eons, it’s been the stage of a planetary tragedy – when The Great Sea withdrew from The Wide Plateau, it was the parting of two lovers. Millions of years ago when the Sea kissed the Plateau with its warm and salty ebb and flow, the two used to lie next to each other and gaze at the dragons in the sky – the stars that breathed fire and exhaled gasses across the universe.
After many, many moons, after they’d watched together as stars grew brighter and extinguished, the Sea withdrew and departed forever, breaking Plateau’s heart. She cried and cried a sky-full of tears, and tiny rivulets of them ran deep into fissures in the rock. On cold nights, they froze, sometimes piling up on the ground in a hush of snow, and inside the rocks the frosted tears expanded. When the sun rose and thawed them, all that sadness seeped even further into the rock and pried it open. Year after decade after century after millennia, time unfolded before Plateau like a colossal painter's canvas. She whittled away the vast plain with her tears as though they were her brush. Such fantastical shapes began to emerge, at long last she felt a slim ray of joy that something so magical and interesting could take shape from her tears. She became anxious and impatient to create more fantastical shapes, but so much time had passed since her lover left that she began to find it more difficult to conjure up enough precipitating sadness. So instead, she began to laugh. She laughed at the good memories of her lover, but mostly at the whimsical shapes she’d thus created. She laughed so hard until she cried, and once again her tears seeped into the rock and froze and melted and pried it apart even more. She’s still laughing to this day.
So when you look around at the myriad shapes spread throughout the park, don’t be fooled into thinking they are sniveling goblins and bewitching hoodoos. That grand amphitheater was begat from lost love; it’s a sea of tears, in truth, a sea that can never withdraw its shore. You can imagine a land of sadness or a land of joy, or even a stoic land if you mix them up together into an average over time. But in its sublime physical form, it’s the shape of romance – convoluted, unexpected, intractable, unpredictable, violent, peaceful … in the end, a grand echo of every individual soul.
That fable, of course, is my own creation. I feel I should own up to it just so you don’t go around telling other people this is the mythical or fabled story of Bryce. (I’m sure there are more “official” myths known by the Native peoples.) I just didn’t find the landscape evocative of the mischief or malevolence implied in the common reference to goblins; I found it grand and dramatic in a romantic kind of way, it evoked in me a story much bigger and more cosmic than a gathering of individual mischievous little beasties. But the mechanism of Plateau's tears is real ... the shapes in Bryce were formed primarily by the action of frost -- of moisture seeping into the rocks, freezing and expanding, contracting and refreezing, eventually prying the rocks apart. Typically first creating a hole (an arch), which eventually collapses, leaving the pillar-esque shapes. A very straight-forward scientific process that results in very magical and other-worldly shapes.
New post for the Central Europe Archive! I never made any about my solo time in Prague, which is when I took heaps of photos. So I've decide to throw together a few photo-heavy posts about Prague.
I attended the Prague Summer Program as a student in a two-week writing program. Yes, I'm a little old to be a student, but this program is for all writers both inside and outside of any current academic status. In fact, I made several good friends in my advanced age group. Because I was attending only two classes, I had loads of free time to myself in which I wandered, often aimlessly, through the city with my camera. Students were given public transport passes, so I could ride the trams anywhere. I lived in a very Communist-stye dorm just off the Pohorelec tram stop. My room was just a tiny cement cell which shared a bathroom with 5 other cells. But really, it was all I needed.
Here are a few photos illustrating my typical route to class, about a 20 minute trek including tram time and walking time from my dorm. You can see how horrendously crowded Prague is in the summer (this was in July). I would like to come back some day in the off season. I had to walk right through the center of Old Town Square. The old town hall has a giant astronomical clock on the outside. On the hour, little figurines emerge in an animated routine. I have to say it's one of my favorite parts about old European towns -- the animated clocks. I just think how wondrous and magical they must have seemed back in the day when they were created. If I were a kid in Prague, I'd be making me a bowl of popcorn at noon every day to sit and the watch time pass in a clock maker's dream.
There were two routes I could walk downhill from Pohorelec into Old Town. One route took me by Prague Castle and the other took me along the edge of a park with fantastic views over the city. I loved winding my way through the streets and alleys with no rhyme or reason when I had no place to be. Even the simplest street was picturesque to me.
The Jewish Quarter was one of the first places I sought out to purposefully visit. I love old cemeteries and there was supposed to be a particularly interesting one. There are two sections of the quarter, the new and the old. First below is the new synagogue with its almost whimsical exterior and vividly painted interior. I spent a little time lying on my back in a pew gazing at the ceiling. Below that is the old synagogue and the cemetery. Stolen from the text with my cemetery photo in Friday Photos: The most unique thing about the cemetery is that when it ran out of space centuries ago, the Jewish population was unable to purchase more land for it and so they simply added layer upon layer of dirt, bodies and gravestones. Heaps and heaps of gravestones were erected millimeters away from one another, and eventually on top of one another ... it's a remarkable forest of gravestones, now many slanted or toppled, some the engraving is worn clean away, tree trunks grow around others.
Prague has definitely capitalized on one of its most famous citizens, Franz Kafka. In addition to a museum, there are busts and statues scattered around town, as below, and Kafka everything you can imagine in souvenir shops, Kafka this Kafka that. I happen to be a big fan of Kafka, so I found it amusing. I really liked the museum, and whoever designed it made a stab at representing a Kafka-esque mind in the layout of the rooms. Lots of interesting information about him I never knew. One of them being what a well-adjusted person he came off as in society ... very popular with lads and lasses alike, not some weirdo brooding in the corner. The kid playing with the anatomy of the fountain is just outside the museum. While lots of college kids thought they were hilarious posing in rather more rude positions with this fine, upstanding statue ... I'm sure I scarcely need to provoke your imagination ... this kid was completely oblivious to anything but the fact he was controlling the stream of water (the object he's holding did indeed move around, one could position it in a wide range of settings).
Here is a fun exercise for anyone to try with their travel photos. The Capture the Colour Photoblogging Contest sponsored by Travel Supermarket is back in 2013 and challenges travel blogging folks to find a photo from their travels to represent each of five colors: red, white, blue, green, yellow. I decided to select some photos for this year's challenge. You can see my entries for last year HERE. As I said before, I think this would be a fun exercise for anyone to try ... gives you purpose in sifting through your vacation photos. Maybe even something to think about next time you are traveling ... composing a mini photo album to represent a spread of different colors from each location. Here is my blog entry.
From Ixtapa, Mexico .... one of the copious birds that inhabit my favorite wildlife refuge. I like how you can see this one's red tongue in his mouth, too. I can (and have) watched the animals in this sanctuary for hours at a time. Read more about Ixtapa HERE.
From Prague, Czech Republic .... a fun tunnel through a park near (or possibly in) district 6. I was shown this park on my first day by a guide; for the next two weeks while I explored the city on my own, I could never find this spot again!
From St. Mary's Cathedral in Krakow, Poland .... the best part of this cathedral in terms of my personal travel experience is that I came across it by accident through a side door in the alley -- that is to say, I didn't realize what I was entering and when I looked up and around I was slack-jawed. The predominant color in St. Mary's is a vibrant dark blue.
From Prince Gong's Palace in Beijing, China .... this turned out to be one of my favorite places to visit in Beijing -- a little off the beaten track for Westerners, but seemed pretty popular with the Chinese, housing delightful natural rock sculptures, ponds and corridors. The first (of many) places in China in which people came up to me and asked if I would stand next to them for their friends to take a picture of us together.
From China .... another shot from the same location as last year's green entry, actually. It was such a lovely place, couldn't help highlighting it again. The Longji rice terraces outside of Yangshuo made a lasting impression on me!
Thanks for my blog nomination to:
Mosaffer Travel Blog
These are the 5 blogs I nominate as per contest rules:
Travel - Moments in Time
Give all these guys some love and see what their websites are about.
And happy photoing to all!
For a gal who listens in wide-eyed terror to the guide on every raft ride she’s taken when they describe what to do if the raft flips … if you find yourself trapped beneath it, find yourself heading into a sweeper, find yourself pulled down into a swirling hole, etc. … you may wonder why I decided to book myself into a river canoe trip. Well, maybe you first wonder why I continue taking white-water raft rides. I can’t appease your inquiring mind because I really don’t know why. In light of numerous things I’ve willingly done over the years, I can only surmise that I have a subconscious suspicion that it’s good for you to feel terrified now and then.
By and large, Erik is game for the things I decide I want to do. Not so much for the Big Canyon Swing in Glenwood (see previous post), but he was all for trying our hand at canoeing. So we signed up with an outfitter called Centennial Canoe. We ended up choosing a trip that the reservation guy said was the best for beginners, and so found ourselves launching a 2-man canoe onto the Yampa River outside of Craig, CO. I made no secret of it to Erik how nervous I was, but I tried to be cool around the rest of the crew. I never would have guessed how many people/canoes could be successfully guided down a river, but, including the guides, we had a total of 13 canoes and 24 people. Only one other couple was newbies like us.
Erik had some experience playing around in canoes on lakes/ponds and has been on more rafting trips than I have, but this was the second time in my life I’d ever stepped foot onto a canoe. I imagined it would be extremely tippy and unstable; I also imagined paddling would be tiring on my wussy little hands. Neither of these turned out to be true. I also would never have guessed how much stuff you could fit into a 2-person canoe! Us, our tent, our dry sacks with clothes and sleeping bags + pads, and toiletries, daypacks, our fold-up camping chairs, a small personal cooler, and then our share of group items … food, water, kitchenware, the toilets, etc.
Yeah, we carried toilets, which cracked me up. A five-gallon bucket with a toilet seat glued on for pee, and a latching metal box with seat for toilet paper and poo which were carted back out under the “leave no trace” policy. Growing up backpacking, I’m plenty used to BIFFing it (bathroom in forest floor) with a squat behind a bush. These thrones … which they also erected a tall tent around for full privacy … were serious bathroom luxury. I think perhaps my proudest achievement of the trip is not throwing the toilet paper into the pee bucket. It was kindly requested that if you accidentally did this, you find a stick and fish it out to place in the poo box. Every time I sat on the pee bucket, I said to myself over and over the whole time, “Don’t throw the toilet paper in, don’t throw the toilet paper in.”
Indeed this stretch of the Yampa was great for beginners, almost glassy in its calmness. The biggest rapid we encountered was maybe a Class 0.4. Perfect. The river was running fast, about the fastest the guides had ever seen it. So we had to practice eddying-out several times right away, as it was a bit more difficult in the swift current. This is the maneuver of turning the canoe upstream and drifting into shore at about a 45-degree angle to beach it. Fortunately Erik grasped the procedure, as I would have been doomed by myself. I simply called out, a bit frantically at times, “What do I do?” Comes the reply, “Paddle!” Well yes, but – after I roll my eyes – which side, and forward or back?
I can’t claim to have been enthralled with the landscape scenery, though it was certainly pleasant. But an extremely appealing aspect of this trip was the solitude. There was one other raft on the river, we passed each other a couple times. And one day we encountered a research crew counting fish. Otherwise we had the whole wide river all to ourselves, which was so peaceful and delightful. In truth, I didn’t consciously appreciate this until one of our guides mentioned that he did, and then explained that the other stretches of river in CO and UT the company canoes are chock full of other canoers, rafters, kayakers, etc. This intimidates me a little thinking about a future trip, as it was nice that here we only ever rammed into our own crew mates (not super adept at maintaining a straight line yet)! Knowing that a future trip may be much more crowded and noisy with a bunch of strangers, I made special note to appreciate the peace of this trip. Also for the first two days, we never saw a cloud in the sky. Perfect blue.
A very exciting aspect of our first day out was that we saw five bald eagles! Several in their impressive nests, and one that swooped down to the river and grabbed a fish and flew away. Super cool. The next day we encountered an amazing cloud of swallows flying out of a compound of nests in a cliffside. They were so numerous, and they kept coming like their nests were clown cars, holding an improbable number of birds in them. It was like bats flying out of a cave en masse at dusk. Never experienced anything quite like that.
Otherwise the only animal life was cows. We paddled through a lot of ranch land. And actually they could be very amusing with their range of mooing. (which of course always provokes an irresistible urge in humans to mimic) There were plenty of little calves to trigger the “awww” response.
Mostly I was too nervous to dig my little camera out of the layers of plastic baggies in my daypack, so a number of photos here were provided to me by other group members. But I finally took out the camera and decided to get some shots of us in action. The photos below are the last ones before we ran aground on a rocky island in the river. I got ourselves distracted with the camera, and by the time we realized our trajectory, we couldn’t paddle away from the island fast enough. Felt pretty silly. Had to get out and push the canoe off the rocks.
The outfitter touted the fineness of their meals, and they’re not kidding. I was singularly impressed. The guides (3) fashioned a kitchen by turning two canoes upside down on the water cans and cooked up some premium dining in the evenings. So there we were, sitting comfortably in our camp chairs, sipping the copious wine provided, munching on appetizers of fresh shrimp and fruit, subsequent dinner of fish, ribs, pesto pasta … one group member playing his guitar, a gentle evening breeze as the stars poke out of the descending blackness. Very classy. Breakfast included scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, even blueberry pancakes.
The nights were quite warm ... again, as a high-altitude backpacker throughout childhood, I usually think of camping as a cold affair, and had packed fleece pants to wear in the evening. This was so not necessary. But my favorite thing about being out in nature far from civilization held up perfectly ... the midnight sky. As I always have to get up in the night to pee, I always have the privilege of witnessing the Milky Way and the mass of stars that put me in my place as a punificent creature in a profoundly enormous universe. Some people seem to find this feeling disconcerting; I find it a splendid thing to hunker down and view the immensity.
The second night was deemed (unbeknownst to me and Erik) luau night. Several of the group had come prepared with decorations for the camp and accessories for the peeps, Hawaiian get-ups and all. Even music through an iPod with speakers. Some of us played games after dinner. Please note Erik’s glee at being handed this crazy wig … in truth, he has always wanted to have crazy-scientist hair like this. I’m not kidding about that.
I am never friends with the wind. (even though I live in a town notorious for the winter variety of this sinister force) But on our last morning, I had a particular dislike of this foe. By now our canoe was much lighter, having used up the group supplies of water we had been carrying. It was far more tippy and nerve-wracking. Battling against the wind to go downstream in a light, tippy canoe with our nascent paddling skills wasn’t nearly as fun as the previous two days’ languid pace of paddle and drift. So when our guide suddenly expressed dismay after being on the river only an hour or less at the sight of a parking lot and launch, I have to confess to being rather pleased. If it had been a day as pleasant as the preceding two, I might have been a little disappointed at having to get off the river so soon, but as it was, the news of his miscalculation of our position on the river the day before was well-received. We had made more progress the previous day than he realized.
One last “eddy-out” and we were soon on our way home after unpacking all the canoes and having lunch in the parking lot. I think normally a 3-day “trip” (in quotes b/c I can hardly bring myself to call such a period of time an actual trip) would seem absurdly short. But in this case, our hikes and amusements in the days preceding our canoeing days seemed ages away. Glenwood Springs seemed practically like last summer, not last week. I guess that’s what a new experience can do for you … stretch time in a magical way. As my life races inexorably faster with each passing year, it was pretty special to have it slow down so effortlessly even if for just a couple days.