Towering and Strange Cumulous Clouds… Mother Nature Struts Her Stuff in Virginia

“Quick, Curt. Grab your camera; the clouds are amazing!” our daughter Tasha urged. I did. This one featured a halo, but it was hiding its true nature: Flashing lightning, rolling thunder, roaring winds and pounding rain.

Nature is capable of putting on fantastic shows that can both awe and frighten. A thunder and lighting storm with its accompanying wind and rain is a prime example. Our grandson, Ethan, had spotted the towering clouds. They were looming over her and Clay’s home in northern Virginia. It’s also what I call our basecamp, a small attached apartment that we are using during breaks from wandering.

One look and I decided that the clouds were worthy of a post. (I admit my decision was aided by the fact that my Bryce Canyon post wasn’t ready.) Anyway, here is what we saw. Enjoy.

This cloud bares a striking resemblance to a friendly pooch, but what is that strange, round cloud peeking out behind? Apparently it also included rainbow colors. Peggy saw them but I didn’t. Another person did and sent a photo to a local TV station. Known as “iridescent clouds with a silver lining,” they are rare and sometimes include rainbow colors.
And, in conclusion, a black and white rendering. Next Friday, we will be back to the the Bryce series.

If You Liked Utah’s Scenic Highway 12, You Will Love This Old Cattle Route: The Burr Trail Road

Photo of towering red cliffs along the Burr Trail Road in Utah by Peggy Mekemson.
Do towering red cliffs along the road get you excited? You will find them on the Burr Trail Road off Utah’s Scenic Highway 12. Plus a Singing Slot Canyon— and ever so much more. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I was doing research for our road trip over Utah’s Scenic Highway 12 when I came across a rave review for the Burr Trail, a narrow road that branches off from 12 in the small town of Boulder. It looked exactly like the kind of backroad adventure we like. It could take us all the way to Glen Canyon or even up to Capitol Reef National Park. We opted to explore the first 15 or so miles. The route got its start in the late 1800s as a way John Burr found for for moving cattle back and forth between their summer pasture near Boulder and their winter pasture in Glen Canyon.

We were wowed by the first few miles of the road— and then we dropped into Long Canyon. It blew our minds! I’ll start today’s post with photos of the canyon and then double back to pick up the road in.

The Burr Trail winds its way through the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of Long Canyon along the Burr Trail Road by Curt Mekemson.
We were driving along the Burr Trail Road when suddenly it dropped into Long Canyon. It was obvious we were in for a treat. Note the neat way the left and right hand sides of the road are separated through Long Canyon.
Photo of how the Burr Trail is divided as it makes its way through Long Canyon by Curt Mekemson.
I took this photo to illustrate how the road was divided.
Photo of rock formation in the Burr Trail Road Long Canyon by Curt Mekemson.
The type of rock formations along the side of the road seemed endless.
Close-up of rock formation in the Long Canyon of Burr Trail Road by Peggy Mekemson.)
Their shapes reminded me of Tombstones. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
In addition to the fascinating formations, the colors were riotous.
Photo of colorful rocks along the Burr Trail Road through Long Canyon by Peggy Mekemson.
Peggy took this close-up of another cliff. Green trees and shrubs all through the canyon added dramatic contrast to the reds, oranges and yellows.
Photo of colorful cliff along the Burr Trail Road through Long Canyon by Curt Mekemson.
I found these nearby. A hiking trail ran beside the cliff. Note the holes in the rock above.
Photo of holes in rock formation along the Burr Trail Road by Curt Mekemson.
We’ve found these holes in rock formations throughout the Southwest. Peggy loves them but I took this particular photo.
Picture of two interesting rock formations in the Long Canyon of Utah's Burr Trail Road by Peggy Mekemson.
There are two interesting rock formations for the price of one here. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of peak-like rock formation found in the long Canyon section of Utah's Burr Trail Road by Curt Mekemson.
I took a photo of the second formation from a different perspective.
Photo of colorful rocks along Utah's Burr Trail Road through Long Canyon by Peggy Mekemson.
One has to love the brilliant colors of the Southwest. Burr Trail’s Long Canyon is full of them. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Will this seemingly tiny hole (probably 50 feet high) someday become a massive arch? It’s possible. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
One of many different rock formations found along the Burr Trail Road through Long Canyon. (Photo by Curt Mekemson.)
Yet another interesting rock formation we found in Long Canyon.
Photo looking up near Singing Canyon along Utah's Burr Trail Road by Curt Mekemson.
Looking up led me to take this photo. We had pulled off the road to see why four cars were parked in the area. That’s a major crowd for Burr Trail Road.
Photo of Peggy Mekemson at the entrance to Singing Canyon along Utah's Burr Trail Road by Curt Mekemson.
“Come on, Curt,” Peggy urged me to join her in finding what had captured everyone’s attention.
Photo of Singing Canyon, a slot canyon along the Burr Trail road in Utah by Curt Mekemson.
An incredible slot canyon that towered 80 feet into the air. Peggy provides a good perspective on its size. It’s know locally as Singing Canyon because of its incredible acoustics.
Photo of ceiling of Singing Canyon along Utah's Burr Trail Road by Peggy Mekemson
Peggy turned her camera up and caught this photo of the ceiling…
Photo showing red, orange and purple rocks of Singing Canyon on Burr Trail Road by Peggy Mekemson.
And this. Note the deep purple as well as the orange and red colors.
Photo inside of slot canyon found along the Burr Trail Road in Utah taken by Curt Mekemson.
I focused on the slot canyons floor that was equally colorful.
Photo looking out from slot canyon, aka Singing Canyon, along the Burr Trail Road in Utah by Curt Mekemson.
Turning around, there was a light at the end of the tunnel/slot canyon, and it featured a tree lit up by the sun.
Photo of tree at exit of slot canyon along Utah's Burr Trail Road in Long Canyon by Peggy Mekemson.
Peggy took a closer photo of the tree. I liked the way the trunk and limbs stood out. Several more things caught our interest outside of Singing Canyon.
Photo of cotton wood outside of slot canyon on Utah's Burr Road by Curt Mekemson.
An ancient cottonwood that looked like it could star in a fantasy movie…
Stump that looks like a giant sling shot outside of Singing Canyon on Utah's Burr Trail Road by Curt Mekemson.
The world’s largest sling shot?
Strange example of rock erosion outside of Singing Canyon on the Burr Trail Road. Photo by Curt Mekemson.
And a very unusual example of rock erosion.
Photo of rock erosion inside a hole in the Sandstone along the Burr Trail Road in Utah by Peggy Mekemson.
Meanwhile, Peggy was finding her own definition of strange by peering into the holes in rocks she liked. The hole had its own example of Burr Trail scenery.
Photo of wall running along edge of Burr Creek Road in Long Canyon by Curt Mekemson.
I’ll conclude out journey through Long Canyon with a final view of the wall that runs along the edge of the road.
Photo of Rock formation near Boulder Town, Utah by Peggy Mekemson.
As I mentioned at the beginning, the Burr Creek Trail road had its own interesting rock formations. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of scenic Burr Trail Road outside of Boulder Town, Utah by Curt Mekemson.
Even the roadside was scenic!
Photo of trees and shrubs growing along the scenic Burr Trail Road in Utah by Curt Mekemson.
I like the contrast of these trees and shrubs growing among the rocks alongside the road.
Photo of tree in front of a rock formation outside of Boulder Town, Utah on the Burr Trail Road by Peggy Mekemson.
Peggy captured this rock formation with a tree in front…
And a final Boulder Trail Road photo by Peggy. Next Friday’s Post. Finally, Bryce Canyon.

One of America’s Most Scenic Backroads: Utah’s Highway 12

It is a lovely and terrible wilderness… harshly and beautifully colored, broken and worn until its bones are exposed… and in its corners and pockets under its cliffs, the sudden poetry of springs. –Wallace Stegner 1960

I am continuing our Southwest series today. Peggy and I are now back at our basecamp in Virginia and will continue to be through August. There are chores to do: Unpacking, making doctor and dentist appointments, getting our Virginia driver’s licenses, etc. We are even having our hearing tested. There’s a lot of “What did you say, Peggy?” And vice-versa. It’s part of the joy of being in our 70s.

Assuming all goes well, we should be back on the road come September for another multi-month trip, this time traveling through the northern tier of states, and into the Canadian Rockies— assuming that the weather cooperates.

Views like this are what you can expect along Utah’s Highway 12. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Peggy and I have spent a lot of time on America and Canada’s backroads, plus Mexico’s Baja Peninsula— some quarter of a million miles worth. So we know a bit about byways and we know a bit about scenic. Twelve years ago, when we first travelled over Utah’s Highway 12, our initial thought was Wow! It hasn’t changed. What else would one expect of a road anchored on one end by Capitol Reef National Park and on the other by Bryce Canyon? The short, 123 mile drive can be done in three hours. Or three days if you want to linger and explore the incredible scenery, state parks and historical areas along the way.

In 2010, we started at the small town of Torrey just outside of Capitol Reef, and worked our way south. The winding route took us up and over the 9,000 foot Boulder Mountain Pass where we were impressed with the aspen groves. They are always a treat, moving from the bright green quaking leaves of summer, to the gloriously yellow leaves in the fall, to the stark white trunks and limbs of winter. From the pass, our road dropped into the Escalante National Monument with its staircase look and then ended with the bright red, orange, and yellow rock formations of Bryce.

In May of 2010 when we made our first journey over Highway 12, the aspens at 9,000 feet were still dressed for winter.

This time we travelled in the opposite direction, beginning at Bryce and working our way northeast along Highway 12, stopping at the small town of Boulder some 90 miles into the journey. We wanted to explore the Burr Trail that begins there. The road is something of a scenic wonder itself and will get its own post.

Our recent journey along Highway 12 started with the red, orange, and yellow rocks of the Bryce Canyon area.
Ranch in Tropic, Utah along scenic Highway 12. Photo by Curt Mekemson.
We camped on Highway 12 in the town of Tropic, so named by an early land developer who wanted to encourage growth. This and the next three photos were taken from our campground.
Photo by Curt Mekemson.
Tropic, Utah photo along Highway 12 by Curt Mekemson.
Across the road from our campsite in Tropic.

Our journey to Boulder can easily be divided into two parts: the section between Tropic and Escalante where we were mainly looking up, and the section between Escalante and Boulder, where we were mainly looking down. I’ve combined our morning and afternoon photos for each section, which is why you will see the varying light. We will start by looking up. 🙂

Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Part of the Grand Staircase. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
I liked the contrast here.
Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
I caught this on our way out…
And Peggy caught it on the way back.
A quick look at the photo by Peggy here shows another example of erosion, possibly a future arch. But if you look more closely, you will see more: an ancient Puebloan granary. There are two structures here. People lived in this area for thousands of years before Europeans first made their way to North America.
Dark skies with sun breaking through always make for dramatic photos. I’m not sure which was more impressive: The orange butte in the foreground, or the white one looming in the background.
Peggy stopped to pet a large lizard in front of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in the town of Escalante. A few miles later we were looking down into a vast canyon.
An overlook provided our first view down into the Canyon. A huge truck was making its way out of the canyon on the curvy road that was originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 30s. Both Peggy’s dad and mine had worked for the CCC. How do you think the truck made it around the hairpin curve? (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Carefully. The highway patrol had required folks coming down into the canyon (us, for example) to park off the road until the truck was past. Coming up, you waited behind the truck. No one passed that puppy!
The vast canyon we were facing was carved by the Escalante River that flows into Glen Canyon and the Colorado River. One of the two things that caught our attention about the canyon was the unique geology. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
It is a lovely and terrible wilderness… harshly and beautifully colored, broken and worn until its bones are exposed. Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
And the fact that the Escalante River was still working away, continuing to carve its canyon. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo by Curt Mekemson.
Where there is water, there is life… the sudden poetry of springs.

I hope we have persuaded you to explore Highway 12 if you are in the area. Our next post will take you along the Burr Trail with its long, colorful canyon— including a slot canyon.

Who Let the Dogs Out: Woof Woof… The Hoodoos and Other Marvelous Rocks of Utah’s Red Canyon State Park

This is a typical view you can find in Red Canyon on a short walk. Expect to see pinnacles, spires, columns and hoodoos, the same things you will see in Bryce Canyon. But beware: You might get lonely. On our easy hour walk, Peggy and I only saw six other people. 

If you have been to Bryce Canyon, the odds are you have been to Red Canyon. You drive right through it on your way in if you come come into Bryce from the west on Highway 12. Very few people bother to stop, however. After all, it’s only a State Park, not a world renowned National Park.

If you do stop, however, you may find yourself wondering why it wasn’t included in the National Park. I did. It certainly qualifies. But then I thought to myself, “Whoa, Curt.” Peggy and I were wandering around in a beautiful area in the middle of rock formations dripping with attitude. And we were by ourselves. Changing its status to be part of Bryce Canyon National Park would be like unloading a mega-cruise ship on its doorstep every day. The trails would be packed. Thousands of people would add it to their bucket list.

Join Peggy and me as we explore what makes Red Canyon special. I’ll start with Hoodoos, tall spires of rock formed by erosion, sometimes in fantastical shapes. I mentioned before that one theory about the derivative of the word Hoodoo was a similar Native American word meaning scary. And I used the hoodoo dogs of Red Canyon as an example. There are other theories as well. One suggests a voodoo connection. Here’s what the Canadian Encyclopedia has to say about it: “The word hoodoo probably derives from voodoo, a West African-based religion in which magical powers can be associated with natural features. Hoodoos conjure up images of strange events.” Okayyy…

Photo of hoodoo dogs in Utah's Red Canyon State Park by Peggy Mekemson.)
Hoodoos often come in unique shapes. Can you spot the two ‘dogs’ in this Red Canyon photo. I used them as an example in an earlier post. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
The question here is: Who let the dog’s out? Woof! Woof! As I recall, my blogging friend Linda Leinen suggested this question and this link. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Trio of hoodoos in Red Rock Canyon. Photo by Curt Mekemson.
Not sure what these three amigos were up to. But I wasn’t going to question it…
Photo from Red Canyon, Utah by Peggy Mekemson
They were big. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of hoodoo in Red Canyon State Park in Dixie National Forest by Curt Mekemson.
Long necked something here. Any ideas on what? Jurassic perhaps…
Hoodoo Family portrait in Red Canyon, Utah by Peggy Mekemson.
A family of Hoodoos. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo Groot hoodoo in Red Canyon State Park, Utah by Curt Mekemson.
At first, I thought… an ancient king. Then I thought… Groot.
Photo of sinister stand alone hoodoo in Red Canyon, Utah by Peggy Mekemson.
This hoodoo didn’t need to look like anything. It was outstanding by itself. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of scary hoodoos in Red Canyon State Park by Peggy Mekemson.
Maybe it was my imagination working overtime (it happens), but I found this trio scary, like something out of a dark fantasy, or a horror movie. The guy in the middle immediately reminded me of the monsters created by Saruman in Lord of the Rings. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of totem hoodoos at Red Canyon State Park in Utah by Curt Mekemson.
These two hoodoos were among our favorites. At first we thought they were called totems, as in totem pole. Looking at photos in Goggle, I discovered that most people called them salt and pepper shakers. The sun was lighting them up under dark skies, creating a dramatic effect.
Photo of totem hoodoo at Red Canyon Staet Park in Utah by Peggy Mekemson.
Salt shaker or totem. Or neither. What do you see? (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

While the hoodoos of Red Rock Canyon State Park are fun to photograph and play around with, there are numerous other beautiful and interesting rock structures in the park to admire. Following are some of Peggy and my favorites. The photographs are from both of us.

I thought this dead tree stump fit the fantasy theme of this post.
Photo of impressive rock formation in Red Canyon State Park, Utah by Curt Mekemson.
Having just returned from our Rhine River trip and continuing with my theme, I couldn’t help but think this formation deserved a castle on top of it.
Photo from Red Canyon State Park in Utah by Peggy Mekemson.
Or possibly a magical kingdom which seems like an appropriate conclusion to this post. Be prepared for another treat next Friday where we will take you for a drive on one of the Nation’s most scenic byways: Highway 12. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The Bryce Canyon Series… Kodachrome Basin State Park— and a Movie Star

I start our Bryce Canyon National Park series today. Like we did with Zion National Park, Peggy and I explored other parts of the Park and the surrounding area as well as the four miles of Bryce Canyon that most tourists visit. I am starting today with Kodachrome Basin State Park. From here, I will move on to Red Canyon, Mossy Cave, Highway 12, and Escalante National Monument. I’ll finish with two posts on Bryce Canyon. The message is the same as it was with Zion: There are several other areas outside of the main tourist area that are equally beautiful and worthy of a visit while being far less crowded.

Kodachrome Basin State Park has lots of red rocks. And some interesting characters. What famous movie star does this remind you of? He is a bit hairy, has a thing for blondes, and likes to climb tall buildings.

Peggy and I stayed at a campground in the small town of Cannonville, Utah on Highway 12 for our exploration of the Bryce Canyon area— miles away from the crowds of the National Park. Kodachrome Basin State Park was just down the road from us. It received its name in 1948 when a National Geographic team explored the area and decided the basin reminded them of Kodachrome film. If you are old enough to remember when photography meant film instead of digital images, you may remember that Kodachrome was a special film designed by Kodak to bring out the red in photos. There are a lot of red rocks in the area— thus the name.

I decided that black and white might be a better way to render the look-alike movie star above. In my mind, it is definitely King Kong. Peggy agrees.
We decided this might be the skull of King Kong’s cousin.

Actually, we saw much more than red rocks and giant apes in the Park.

Photo of white rocks along road into Kodachrome Basin by Curt Mekemson.
This white rock formation was on the road into Kodachrome Basin State Park…
Photo of white rock sculpture taken by Curt Mekemson on the road into Utah's Kodachrome Basin State Park.
Plus this gorgeous white rock sculpture.
Photo of Kodachrome Basin State Park taken by Curt Mekemson.
Our first view of Kodachrome Basin State Park promised that we were in for a treat. We were not disappointed.
Photo of Rocks at the beginning of Kodachrome Basin State Park taken by Curt Mekemson.
These two large rocks were located at the entrance to the Park, like guardians.
Photo of rock guardian at the entrance to Kodachrome Basin State Park by Peggy Mekemson.
Given its face, I thought of this rock specifically as the Guardian of the Park. It was the back of the rock on the right that held the surprise, however. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of sedimentary pipe in Kodachrome Basin State Park taken by Peggy Mekemson.
An unusual white pillar shot straight up from the red rock. Turns out that they are found throughout the Park. The rocks are known as sedimentary pipes but the jury is still out as to what creates them. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of white sedimentary pipe at beginning of Kodachrome Park taken by Curt Mekemson.
I took a closer photo of the finger-like projection.
Photo of sandstone spire in Kodachrome Basin State Park by Peggy Mekemson.
There were also sandstone spires created by the more normal process of erosion. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of Kodachrome State Park spires and stone monuments in a row. Photo by Curt Mekemson.
A number of the red sandstone spires and other rocks were in a row. I show some of them here. They were probably part of the same formation before erosion wore them down.
Photo of spire with caprice in Kodachrome Casin State Park in Utah by Peggy Mekemson.
This spire still sported its caprock. I loved the color on the rock to the right. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of hoodoo in Kodachrome Basin State Park by Peggy Mekemson.
There were also hoodoos found throughout the park like the one on the left. Expect many more in my other posts on Bryce Canyon and other parks in the area. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of Kodachrome State Park Trail by Peggy Mekemson.
A number of trails lead into the park. This is the one we chose to hike.
Photograph of rock sculpture on Angels Palace Trail in Kodachrome Basin State Park by Curt Mekemson.
The trail wandered among the red rocks shown above and then shot up a steep but short wall. We came around a rock and discovered another hoodoo.
Photo of stone sculpture in Kodachrome Basin State Park by Curt Mekemson.
It was a handsome rock…
Large sedimentary chimney in Kodachrome Basin State Park. Photo by Curt Mekemson.
A big fellow…
Photo of colorful rock in Kodachrome Basin State Park by Curt Mekemson.
And colorful. I took a photo from the other side shooting straight up, and caught some of the rock’s color.
Photo of multi-colored rock in Kodachrome Basin State Park taken by Peggy Mekemson.
Peggy’s photo on our return trip caught the color even more. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of slender, white sedimentary chimney in Kodachrome Basin State Park by Peggy Mekemson.
There were many other things to see along the trail. Peggy caught this photo of a tall, slender, sedimentary chimney. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of stubby sedimentary chimney in Kodachrome Basin State Park by Peggy Mekemson.
And a short, stubby one. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of red sandstone rocks in Kodachrome Basin State Park by Curt Mekemson.
I took photos of red sandstone rocks…
Photo of red boulders in Kodachrome Basin State Park by Curt Mekemson.
And more sandstone rocks…
Photo of juniper in Kodachrome Basin State Park by Curt Mekemson.
I found a small juniper that I felt looked like a Japanese bonsai.
Photo of wood sculpture along Angel's Trail in Kodachrome Basin State Park by Curt Mekemson.
And, a twisted wood sculpture…
Photo of towering rock and massive cliff along Angels Place Trail in Kodachrome Basin State park by Curt Mekemson.
Finally we came to a steep drop off, towering rocks and a massive cliff that signified the end of the trail.
We weren’t any more willing to climb up the cliff than we were willing to drop into the canyon. Grin.
Photo of cliffs at the end Of Angel's Palace Trail in Kodachrome Basin State Park by Peggy Mekemson.
Peggy took a close up. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
I took a similar photo that I rendered into black and white.
Other trails in the park promised many more opportunities for exploration. Unfortunately, we had run out of time for the day.
Photograph of Kodachrome Basin State Park in Utah by Curt Mekemson.
I took a final photo of the park before heading on to our next adventure.

Next Friday I will feature Red Canyon, which in some ways matches Bruce Canon for sheer beauty and fantastic hoodoos. You won’t want to miss it.

Meanwhile, we wrapped up our Rhine River cruise. Here’s another teaser. We were wandering through Germany’s Black Forest when we came across this donkey at a historic farm museum.

Donkey. I found him very photogenic.

And Finally: Zion Canyon… One of the World’s Great Natural Treasures

Early morning view of Zion Canyon. Photo taken by Curt Mekemson.
An early morning view of Zion Canyon.

I’ve saved the best for last in my Zion National Park series, and I’ve done it for two reasons. First and foremost, I wanted to emphasize that there are other areas in Zion that deserve your attention, areas of incredible beauty and interest like Kolob Terrace, Kolob Canyon, East Zion, and the petroglyph hike Peggy and I took you on. Second, I wanted to suggest areas that lack the crowds you will face in Zion Canyon. We didn’t see anyone on our petroglyphs hike.

None of this is meant to detract from the beauty and grandeur of the Canyon. There are reasons why millions of people visit it every year. It is one of the great natural wonders of the world. I wouldn’t think of going to Zion National Park without visiting, and I’ve been doing so for 50 years. My first trip there was in 1973. I put on my backpack and hiked up and over the 2000 feet canyon walls to a lovely oasis known by the unglamorous name of Potato Hollow. Nobody was there, either. Grin. I remember the aspens carved with names of early Basque sheep herders and a cool stream. I’m a bit ashamed to mention that I remember the hike down even more. It was 105° F. I finally arrived back at my car with hot, blistered feet where I had an iced cold beer waiting. Something like a Bud. It may have been the best beer I have ever downed. It was so good, I immediately drank a second.

Peggy and I took a shuttle from our campground in the small town of Virgin into Springdale and grabbed a Park shuttle out to the end of the road. It was 7 AM and cold. We then jumped off and on shuttles, stopping at major sites and working our way back to the beginning of the park. We took 200 photos which I then worked down to a hundred and finally the 22 shown below. I’ll skip the commentary today on most of the photos. They speak for themselves. They are split between photos Peggy took and photos I took.

Photo of Zion Canyon by Curt Mekemson
The Virgin River.
For fun.

This wraps up our visit to Zion National Park. Peggy and I hope you have had as much fun with the posts as we had putting them together. Next up is Bryce National Park. Once again we will focus on the surrounding area as well as the four miles of Bryce Canyon most people visit. I’m estimating that there will be seven posts altogether. As you read this we will have finished our trip up the Rhine River and returned to our base camp near Waterford, Virginia. Starting in September, we will be on the road again, this time for five or six months.

We are wrapping up our Rhine River Cruise. Considerable beauty… And lots of castles! This is Marksburg Castle which was one of three we toured.

A Checkerboard Mesa and More Landmarks of East Zion National Park

Note: As you read this, Peggy and I are in Amsterdam at the beginning of a Rhine River cruise between Amsterdam and Basel. I’ve been scheduling posts ahead of time so I can maintain a more regular presence on WordPress than I have been able to for the past several months. My goal for now is once a week on Fridays. At this rate, I already have enough material on the Southwest national parks we visited in April and May to keep going for three months. LOL. I may never catch up.

Photo of Checkerboard Mesa in the eastern section of Zion National Park by Peggy Mekemson.
Checkerboard Mesa is the dominant geological feature of the eastern section of Zion National Park. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Rudyard Kipling said it:” East is East and West Is West, and never the twain shall meet.” That’s not true of Zion National Park, of course, but the eastern section of the Park will provide you with a significantly different experience than you have down in the Canyon or the western sections of Zion. Checkerboard Mesa shown above is the primary example. We can thank ancient sand dunes laid down in an early-Jurassic-era, Sahara-size desert that covered significant portions of what is now Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado 190 million years ago. The horizontal lines are caused by what is known as cross-bedding of the dunes. The vertical lines are caused by breaks in the cross bedding caused by freezing and thawing. It was thought that the results resembled a checker board, thus the name. Peggy and I found the mesa a fun subject for photography.

Photo of Checkerboard Mesa in the eastern section of Zion National Park by Curt Mekemson.
I moved back to provide a broader perspective on the Mesa using pine trees for framing.
Photo of Checkerboard Mesa in the eastern section of Zion National Park by Peggy Mekemson.
Peggy added a photo of the massive chunk of Navajo Sandstone reaching toward the sky. It’s quite a scroll down. Grin. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of Checkerboard Mesa see as driving up from Zion Canyon taken by Curt Mekemson.
If you are driving up from Zion Canyon, this will be your first view of Checkerboard Mesa.
A view of the cross-bedding in the Navajo Sandstone that makes up Checkerboard Mesa in Zion national Park by Peggy Mekemson.
We were both interested in the cross-bedding. Peggy took this interesting side view.(Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
View of Checkerboard Mesa surroundings by Curtis Mekemson.
This was the view looking a bit farther north of Peggy’s photo.
Photo of Checkerboard Mesa in the eastern section of Zion National Park with lone pine tree by Curt Mekemson.
This was the view looking south.

If you have been in Zion and either entered or left by the east entrance/exit, you know there is much more to East Zion National Park than Checkerboard Mesa. One thing that fascinated Peggy was the alcoves that may eventually lead to towering arches such as those found in Arches National Park.

Photo of Navajo Sandstone in the eastern section of Zion National Park being eroded in such a way that it may eventual lead to an arch.( Photo by Peggy Mekemson.).
Looking toward the top of a Navajo sandstone mountain, you can see how the ridge coming down the front is eroding from both sides. This may eventually lead to an arch. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Alcove in Navajo Sandstone in East Zion National Park photographed by Peggy Mekemson.
This provides a straight on view of the alcove on the right of the ridge. Note how deep the alcove is. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Round alcove carved into Navajo Sandstone in East Zion National Park. Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Another alcove. Alcoves and arches are created when a harder capstone is on top of a softer stone that erodes more rapidly. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
East Zion national Park photo by Peggy Mekemson.
And another alcove photographed by Peggy. Had there been more, I am sure that she would have photographed them as well! (Photograph by Peggy Mekemson.)

While Peggy was busy photographing wannabe arches, I was concentrating on other landmarks of East Zion National Park.

Photo of East Zion National Park landmark by Curt Mekemson.
I found this landmark rather impressive.
Navajo Sandstone featuring huge scar from falling rock in East Zion National Park. Photo by Curt Mekemson.
I wondered about the huge chunk of rock that left behind a bright red scar in this landmark. The other side is one of the alcoves that Peggy photographed.
East Zion National Park mesa photographed by Curt Mekemson.
Another prominent Mesa standing out like the prow of an ocean liner.
Photo of mesa on mesa in the eastern section of Zion National Park by Peggy Mekemson.
A mesa on a mesa. Peggy was impressed with its color. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of shrubs growing on cross-bedded sand stone in East Zion Canyon by Peggy Mekemson.
I’ll close today with this interesting photo that Peggy took of shrubs and small trees growing on cross-bedded sandstone. I thought, ‘Wow, this would make one heck of a challenging puzzle!’ (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

A Strange Walk into an Alternate Reality… Petroglyphs in Zion National Park

Photo of geologic structure above petroglyphs in Zion National Park taken by Curt Mekemson.
Peggy and I found this interesting rock formation looming above the petroglyphs that we located in the eastern section of Zion National Park. It was only the beginning of unusual rock structures that defined the area.

I quickly learned when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa that my reality was substantially different from that of the tribal students I was teaching. It was a lesson that has served me all of my life. The human mind is incredibly flexible and our reality, to a large extent, depends upon what we are taught. Given my 1965-67 experience in Liberia, I can’t even start to imagine what people believed 7,000 years ago.  

That’s when humans first started wandering the area now known as Zion National Park. They started with Archaic peoples, moved on to the Anasazi and Fremont cultural groups, and, in turn, were followed by the ancestors of modern day Native American Paiutes. Any or all of these groups may have left petroglyphs in the slot canyon Peggy and I explored in the eastern section of the Park. And all of them reflect thinking that we can only guess at. 

Peggy and I are fascinated by petroglyphs, both from the connection it gives us to people from hundreds or even thousands of years ago, and from the unique look of rock art. We have visited sites throughout the Southwest. There is a certain commonality to the rock art depending on the culture represented. We have also found a similarity to sites selected by the ancients to leave their messages. Not surprisingly, they tend to be near water, which is where the people lived. But there was also an inclination to select locations that stood out from the surroundings. Possibly it gave a sense of sacredness to the area. 

The site we visited was an excellent example of this, as our photos show. The strangeness, however, started with the directions to find the site. As I remember them: “Go down into the canyon and find a sand wash. Follow the wash up the canyon until it comes to the tunnel under the road. Go through the tunnel and follow the wash until you come to a trail to your left.” There was as much room for interpretation in following the directions as there was for interpreting what the petroglyphs meant! 

Our photos start with the tunnel.

Photo of tunnel under road in Zion national Park that leads to petroglyphs taken by Peggy Mekemson.
It was appropriately hidden by trees and bushes.The sandy wash led right to it, however. The light we could see on the right suggested that the tunnel was a few feet long. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of tunnel to petroglyphs in East Zion National Park taken by Curt Mekemson.
Reality was different. It was much longer than it appeared to be. Fortunately, there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
Disappearing into the light at the end of the tunnel that led to petroglyphs in Zion National Park. Photo by Curt Mekemson.
Peggy walked toward the light and disappeared. She boldly went forth where numerous others had obviously travelled, judging from the foot prints in the sand. But did they ever return? Maybe a little Sci-Fi/Horror movie music is called for here.
Photo of sand was leading to petroglyphs in the eastern section of Zion national Park taken by Curt Mekemson.
She was waiting for me in the sandy wash that led onward, supposedly toward a trail that would lead off to the left and petroglyphs. We quickly learned that there were several trails leading off to the left where people had gone in futile searches! Fortunately, Peggy and I had an advantage…
Photo of rocks near petroglyphs in east Zion National Park by Curt Mekemson.
We were looking for an area that suggested the presence of petroglyphs. This rock structure seemed a likely candidate. We started looking for a trail to the left, and found even more interesting rocks.
Photo of cliff near petroglyphs in Zion National Park by Peggy Mekemson.
Peggy caught this photo and the following one.
Photo of petroglyph site in Zion National Park by Peggy Mekemson.
Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Strange rocks found near petroglyphs in the eastern section of Zion National Park taken by Curt Mekemson.
How’s this for unusual? If I were a shaman, I’d think this would be a great location for petroglyphs.
Photograph of rock face near petroglyphs in the eastern section of Zion national Park by Peggy Mekemson.
This fellow was not a petroglyph but part of the rock face, so to speak. I’ve learned a new word, BTW: pareidolia, the tendency to read into patterns and interpret visual stimuli, even when there is no intentional meaning present. A lot of that happens in my blogs. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo along the Petroglyph Trail in the eastern section of Zion National Park taken by Peggy Mekemson.
There was something surreal about the beauty of the area. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of colorful rocks found along Petroglyph Trail in the easter section of Zion National Park taken by Curt Mekemson.
I looked up and caught this colorful view.
Photo of Zion National Park petroglyph site taken by Curt Mekemson.
And then we reached the site. It was just beyond the green shrubs if my memory serves me correctly. It’s hard to imagine a more stunning location. We were prepared to enter the alternate reality suggested by petroglyphs.
The petroglyphs were waiting. This is obviously a human like figure, probably a woman, but what’s with the strange diagram underneath? Does it represent power lines reaching out to the universe from the individual. I stared at it for a while and wondered if it didn’t represent a reflection in water. Or a moon shadow. Remember the song by Cat Stevens? (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of petroglyph in Zion National Park by Curt Mekemson.
Another reflection shot? A selfie? Or possibly a mating couple. Such images are not uncommon in petroglyphs.
Photograph of origin petroglyph in the eastern section of Zion National Park taken by Curt Mekemson.
This is frequently thought of as being an origin petroglyph, representing the entry into this world from another world.
Photo of petroglyph panel in East Zion National Park taken by Peggy Mekemson.
This panel clearly represents petroglyphs created in different times with the figures in the upper right being of more recent origin. Are they hiking with packs? Or are they paddling a boat? The wavy line may represent a lake and a stream. Or a snake? The lower guy on the right seems to be asking the question while the guy on the left seems to be running like crazy to escape. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of animal with antlers in Zion National Park by Curt Mekemson.
I labeled this guy as a moose. Why not— even though there is no record of moose in the Park area except in 2013 when one showed up. 🙂 Tourists were told to keep their distance.

Photo of woman petroglyph by Peggy Mekemson.
We’ve found women portrayed like this throughout the Southwest. The circular figure may be the sun. I wondered if the wiggly lines represented counting, or a snake, or a river. Or…
Person on a warpath petroglyph in the eastern section of Zion National Park. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
My imagination placed this woman on the warpath! 🙂 (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

There were many other petroglyphs. At the end of the panels, Peggy and I found steps carved into the canyon wall leading up to a ledge.

Steps carved into cliff along petroglyph trail in the eastern section of Zion National Park. Photo by Curt Mekemson.
I thought it might be interesting to climb up them and explore the ledge. Peggy felt it best that her 79 year old husband be grounded. Grin.

Wandering up the trail in search of more petroglyphs, we found a dead big horn sheep that may have slipped while climbing the walls. Or been taken out by a cougar.

It did not look very happy. Peggy wondered why I wanted to photograph it and decided it was a sign that we should turn around. Admittedly, it did look a bit Satanic…

Shortly afterward we came to what was obviously the end of the trail unless we wanted to scramble over rocks. We turned around leaving the sheep, the petroglyphs, the beautiful canyon and the tunnel behind. It had been quite an adventure. In my next post we will explore more of the unique beauty of East Zion National Park.

Kolob Canyons… “Zion National Park’s Best Kept Secret”

I couldn’t help but think of William Least Heat-Moon’s book, Blue Highways, this morning. If you have read his classic travel adventure, you will remember that he would go out of his way to find small towns with unusual names, like Dime Box, Texas. We are in Accident, Maryland today and I’m pretty sure it meets Heat-Moon’s classification of an unusual name. I was also amused to learn that people from the town are called Accidentals. I feel a connection. My parents always told me that I was an accident.

This is the last stop on the first segment of our full time travels. Tomorrow we will arrive at our daughter Tasha, her husband Clay and our grandsons Ethan and Cody’s home in Waterford, Virginia outside of Washington DC. They have an attached efficiency apartment that they are insisting that we use as our base. It’s Tasha’s way of assuring that we will be around on occasion. It will take a few weeks to set up the apartment, but first we will be dashing off on our Rhine River Cruise.

In the meantime, I will keep the posts from our national park and monument visits in the Southwest rolling out. After Zion there is Bryce, Escalante, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and Mesa Verde plus our other adventures along the way. I have enough to produce posts until we are once again on the road. More than enough! On the small chance I run out, there is the Rhine River Cruise. 🙂

Scenic road leading into the Kolob Canyons's section of Zion National Park. Photo taken by Peggy Mekemson.
We were driving into the Kolob Canyons when Peggy snapped this photo. We knew we were in for a treat. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Zion National Park promotes Kolob Canyons as its best kept secret. Other web sites follow a similar theme. It’s not surprising considering that the canyons are located in the remote northwestern section of the Park, 45 miles away from Zion’s main attraction.

Given the distance, many people ask is whether it’s worth taking half a day to visit. (This assumes they are even aware that this section of the Park exists.) Peggy and I would like to answer with a resounding yes! It meets our three criteria: It’s unique, beautiful, and not crowded. There are also a number of hikes visitors can take that we couldn’t squeeze in. A fairly challenging one provides hikers with a view of the world’s second longest arch. Next time.

The curvy five-mile drive climbs a thousand feet. It can be accomplished in a relatively short amount of time, but— if you are like us— you will want to linger and admire the fantastic views of towering Navajo Sandstone cliffs and deep finger canyons created by runoff from the plateau above. There are a number of pullouts along the way. Each one provides a different view or perspective and each is worth a stop. The following photos reflect what Peggy and I saw.

Photo of Timber Top Mountain and Shuntavi Butte in the Kolob Canyons in Zion national Park taken by Curt Mekemson.
Timber Top Mountain cuts off to the left in this photo and wraps around a hanging valley that has been created by runoff. The Shuntavi Butte stretches out from Timber Top on the right. The area was a favorite of ours.
Side photo of Shuntavi Butte in Zion national Park taken by Peggy Mekemson.
Remember what I said about different perspectives. Peggy took this side shot of Shuntavi Butte. Is that baby Shuntavi on the left? (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
I opted for for a close up which gave the Shuntavi Butte a massive, toothed look.
This seasonal stream that runs between the two arms of Timber Top Mountain was close to dry when we saw it. But the minerals it carried had left a black stain where it tumbled off of the hanging canyon. Eventually it will finish carving the canyon down to the lower level. (Give or take a few million years.) The erosive power of water is amazing. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Nagunt Mesa is located next to the western arm of Timber Top Mountain.
Photo of the western arm of Table Top Mountain and Nagunt Playa by Peggy Mekemson.
Here’s a closer view. Note the beginning of a possible arch on Nagunt Mesa. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Close up of Timber Top Mountain and Nagunt Mesa in the Kolob Canyon's section of Zion National Park by Curtis Mekemson.
I added an even closer view of the would-be arch. Note that Nagunt Mesa is also covered with timber. That led me to wonder what type of wildlife lived there. Had Native Americans found a way to make it their home?

Some other views of the Kolob Canyons from our visit:

Photo of mesa in the Kolob Canyons section of Zion National Park by Curt Mekemson.
Another Mesa (I think). I like the foreground effect of the trees on the photo. We were high enough and it was early enough that the trees were just beginning to leaf out.
Photo of pyramid from to a mesa in Kolob Canyons by Peggy Mekemson.
A more frontal shot, i.e. different perspective, gave the mesa an almost pyramid look. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
I found an old friend from the Sierra Nevada Mountains growing at a high point along the road: a wall flower (Erysimum capitatum). It’s always reminded me of a brief phase I went through in high school where girls scared the heck out of me.
This peak was even more impressive than the pyramid. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
I’ll conclude today with this side view of Nagunt Mesa. I liked the way the tree framed the photo. Our next post will take readers over the east side of Zion Canyon. Once again, I will feature unique rocks. This post will also include petroglyphs located in a magical canyon.

We Are in Kansas, Toto… But Our Blog Is Still in Zion

Photo of Aspens on top of Kolob Terrace in Zion National Park by Curt Mekemson.
At 8,100 feet, the aspens on Kolob Terrace in Zion National Park were convinced it was still early spring. Or maybe late winter. We had climbed 4,500 feet since leaving our campground on the Virgin River of Utah.

The thunder rolled in with an unending rumble and the wind shook our trailer until I thought it might tip us over. We are in Kansas and I couldn’t help but think of Dorothy and her faithful dog, Toto. I half expected to hear the tornado sirens go off or see a wicked witch fly by on her broom. It was not conducive to sleep. Instead, I watched the lightning dance across our skylight while Peggy slept soundly. Maybe she thought I could worry enough for both of us. “Oh, was the wind blowing last night?” she asked me the next morning.

We’ve now left the backroads, mountains and mesas of the Southwest behind. It will be mainly freeway from here on out as we dash across the country to catch our Icelandic Air trip to Amsterdam— except it isn’t that much of a dash. We’ve simply eliminated our 5-7 day layovers between travel days. We still only plan to travel around 200 miles a day with every other day a layover. I’ve never had a sense of humor about driving 4-5 hundred miles straight. And it certainly hasn’t improved with age.

I may change my mind if this weather continues, however. We are under severe thunderstorm watch again tonight. We could be at our daughter’s in Virginia in four days instead of the two weeks I am planning. I have even less tolerance for tornados and golfball size hail than I do driving long distances. Tempting…

Meanwhile, my blog is still in Zion. I have at least three more posts on it, maybe more! 🙂 And then there is Bryce and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and Mesa Verde, and the Rockies, and dinosaur tracks, desert wildflowers and petroglyphs. Will it ever end? 🙂 Peggy and I have taken at least a thousand photos. I’m afraid to count them. But don’t worry, we won’t subject you to all of them.

Today, my focus continues to be on the Kolob Terrace section of Zion National Park. After some very winding roads we made it to the top of the Terrace. The views continued to be spectacular.

It’s important to know that the road up to Kolob Terrace is steep and curvy. If you decide to drive up to it, and we highly recommend you do, I wouldn’t take a large RV on the road.
Photo of aspen grove in Kolob Terrace by Curt Mekemson.
Another view of the aspen grove on Kolob Terrace in Zion National Park. There were no leaves to quake in the wind!
View of Kolob Terrace in Zion National Park by Curt Mekemson.
This was a road view of what we might see once we reached the top of the terrace. As always, the conifers didn’t worry about the snow and cold.
Lone pine tree stands out on Kolob Terrace in Zion national Park. Photo by Curt Mekemson.
I was impressed with this lone pine tree.
Photo of mountain on top of Kolob Terrace by Curt Mekemson.
As Peggy and I were with this peak. We stopped to admire it.
Photo of Pine Valley Peak on Kolob Terrace in Zion National Park by Curt Mekemson
And were rewarded with this view.
View of valley from Kolob Terrace taken by Curt Mekemson.
And a view of the valley 4000 feet below.
Colorful monument on Kolob Terrace photo by Curt Mekemson.
We also spotted this attractive rock monument.
Kolob Terrace view by Curt Mekemson.
And felt it was worth a closer look.
Photo of Indian Paint Brush in Kolob National Park.
While I was staring off into the distance, Peggy looked down and spotted this colorful Indian paintbrush. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Following are several more photos of the scenery that Peggy and I saw up on Kolob Terrace and on our drive back down.

Photo of a mesa on top of Kolob Terrace by Curt Mekemson.
Another road shot.
Photo on Kolob Terrace of Zion Canyon by Peggy Mekemson.
Peggy caught this photo. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of kite flying on the Kolob Terrace section of Zion National Park by Peggy Mekemson.
“Pull over, Curt,” Peggy insisted, “I have to take a photo of this.” It was the most streamlined kite we had ever seen.
Photo of colorful rocks on Kolob Terrace taken by Peggy Mekemson.
And, of course, she had to photograph the colorful background behind the kite. I’ll conclude today’s post here. In my next post, we will be moving on to Kolob Canyon. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)