May 10

Bryce Canyon – Zion – Grand Canyon

With two weeks off from work, I got in the car to head south and then west through Utah, Arizona, and eventually out to the central California coast, with stops in Bryce Canyon, Zion, the Grand Canyon, and Big Sur.  Considering I’ve been in Jackson for four years now and I haven’t seen any of the west, other than random trips to Idaho Falls and Salt Lake, it seemed like the right way to spend my time off.

I drove south through Utah on I-15, which was a bit of a mistake in retrospect, not knowing that I could have taken US-89 the whole way.  Can I nominate Route 89 as THE single most amazing road in the US?  Starting at the Canadian border next to Glacier National Park, it goes south to Yellowstone, through Grand Teton and Jackson, on to Salt Lake, and then south all the way to Bryce Canyon. After passing Bryce Canyon, it continues past Zion, Lake Powell, the Grand Canyon, and then on into Arizona, where I would eventually leave 89 to head west.  Had I made the connection, I would’ve driven 89 all the way from Jackson, skipping I-15 altogether.  Next time…

I won’t dork out too hard on the geology of the whole trip, but the crazy eroded rock formations at Bryce Canyon are, at just 50-70 million years old, the youngest part of the Grand Staircase, a supergroup of rock formations on the Colorado Plateau that chronicles about 2 billion years of geologic history.  BILLION! Think about that for a second… The oldest formations in Bryce are the youngest in Zion, and the oldest formations in Zion are the youngest in the Grand Canyon.  Though I really know very little about geology, other than vague memories of elementary school, it’s all incredible and pretty overwhelming to see it in person and think about just how old the earth is, and how much history is on display.

I was lucky enough to see the Bryce Canyon Amphitheater at sunset, under a full moon, and a slowly painted by an amazing sunrise.  I drove to Zion the next day, and somehow had no idea what I was in for…  Flowing, crazy, almost liquid red and yellow and green and black rock slab formations, HUGE cliffs and canyon walls…  I had time for a hike up Angel’s Landing, arguably the best – and most intimidating – hike I’d ever done to that point.  Zion is fairly small compared to Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, but it’s is an incredibly rich sensory experience.  I was, and continue to be, overwhelmed by Zion.

I hopped back in the car and spent the night at Lake Powell, and made it to the Grand Canyon by about noon the next day.  I made it onto the South Kaibab trail by about 2:30 pm, hoping to make it to the Colorado River and back before sunset.  The NPS has warnings posted all over the place about the foolishness of hiking all the way down to the river and back in a day – it’s about 5,000 feet down and the temperature tends to rise the whole way down and can be 20-30 degrees warmer than temps on the rim.  Like mountaineering, the summit (in this case the canyon floor) isn’t the only goal, it’s getting back out that matters.  Going DOWN 5,000 feet isn’t that big a deal, it’s getting back out…  Anyway, I made it to within sight of the river, at Panorama Point, before I turned around in time to make it back up for what proved to be a stunning sunset.

Like Zion, I don’t really have enough space to expand on how amazing the Grand Canyon is.  It’s… different. Where Zion is beautiful and condensed and towering and somewhat easier to comprehend at first glance, the Grand Canyon is vast, a massive expanse, carved by nature over literally billions of years.  I read somewhere that every step down the South Kaibab trail takes you back another 100,000 years.  I mean, that’s just absurd.  It’s so amazing that it defies all rational thought.

I eventually made it to the central California coast, to camp among the redwoods next to the Big Sur River, very satisfied (if I may indulge in a drastic understatement).  There was something new to discover at every step of the trip, in increasing levels of magnitude and wonder along the way.  There’s no doubt that I’ll be going back to shoot at all these spots in the future…

More shots, at higher resolution, are on my site here.