Zion

Sometimes you get what you pay for. The hotel in Hurricane was abysmal; the only thing it provided was a lukewarm roof over my head. I was up and out as early as I could be, heading toward Zion National Park. The ranger at the gate checked my ID, told me she was from Maine, and wished me a great day. It's always good to run into someone from home, to hear a little of that New England inflection in certain words.

I think it's fair to say that Zion blew my doors off. The colors of the rocks and evergreens are dense, saturated, and bold, but balanced by the dusty, muted tones of brush and cottonwood, all blended around the edges by the grey sky and the blue grey river, which turns to turquoise near the top of the trail that follows the river to the Temple of Sinawava. There were bright green cacti and lichen ranging from mustard and neon yellow to a muted grey. White and yellow ice dripped from the walls, frozen waterfalls calving large chunks of ice as the air warmed the canyon.

I hopped out of my car at every opportunity, photographing everything in sight, craning my neck to see the tops of the massive walls next to me. Again, I felt my place in the universe, my relative size, my smallness. The feeling brought a rush of perspective and balance, steadying me, keeping me firmly in the moment. You just can't bottle this stuff. You have to go out, far out of your comfort zone, and let it all rush into you, all at once, taking big gulps.

I reached the end of the road and walked about a mile up the easy path that follows the river, saying hello to everyone I passed. In Maine it's customary to acknowledge people you pass on a trail with at least a nod or a smile, but that doesn't seem to be the case out west. I simply couldn't help it; my joy in this place was bubbling over and I needed contact. I received a lot of strange looks at my hellos, but brushed it off. I don't mind looks for being friendly.

I left the park on Route 9, which climbs the canyon through a series of switchbacks, providing breathtaking views back down into the canyon at each turn. There are tunnels that cut through massive rocks with large window-like openings to provide light and quick flashes of the canyon walls. The rock formations change dramatically in the descent toward the road to the Grand Canyon, the colors becoming more muted as they slowly move from primarily red to purple and blue over many miles.

After a while, the canyon walls fell away and the horizon filled with deep blue mountains far in the distance, which were busy capturing clouds on their peaks. Grazeland stretched as far as the eye could see on either side of the road, and the cliffs in my rear view mirrors glowed pink and orange in the setting sun.