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
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.