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.)

Kolob Terrace, Zion National Park, Part 2… A Mormon Concept of Heaven?

Road in to Kolob Terrace just before it begins its climb onto the terrace. Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
The road had been gradually climbing since we started our exploration of Kolob Terrace in Zion National Park. It was about to get serious as it made its way up to the terrace above the cliffs. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

We are continuing our exploration of the Kolob Terrace section of Zion National Park as part of our full-time experience of living on the road.

I am always curious about how things get their names. I wasn’t familiar with Kolob. Was it a Native American name? Was it the name of an early explorer or pioneer? Turns out it comes directly out of the Book of Abraham, a sacred text of the Mormons that Joseph Smith supposedly translated from an Egyptian papyrus scroll. I wonder if he used his rose colored glasses. I should have guessed the Mormon connection. Utah is Mormon country and has been ever since Brigham Young brought his band of followers into the state in 1847 to escape religious persecution in the east. Kolob is either a star or a large planet in the center of the Milky Way Galaxy close to the throne of God. Some Mormons believe that is where they go when they die. It shows up in the Musical, The Book of Mormon where the lyrics proclaim “I believe that plan involves me getting my own planet.” The modern church has challenged the assumption.

Imagining Kolob to be a rather pleasant place from a Mormon perspective, I can understand why the early pioneers gave its name to the terrace. Peggy and I also found it pleasant. Actually, I’d much prefer to go there when I die rather than the biblical Heaven where the ‘streets are paved with gold.’

We pulled off the road frequently to take photos on our way up and down.

Peggy uses the cab of our truck to photograph the cliffs below the terrace.
An F-150 parked in the Kolob terrace section of Zion Canyon. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.
Where our F-150 was parked when Peggy took the photo…
Photo by Peggy Mekemson taken from the road into Kolob Terrace, a section of Zion National Park.
Peggy’s photo. If you have ever wondered how the impressive rock bridges of the Southwest are formed, this is potentially one in progress.

More photos that I took on our way up to the terrace…

Photo of Kolob Terrace by Curtis Mekemson.
Photo of towering cliffs in Zion National Parks Kolob Terrace by Curt Mekemson.
She brush and pines provide striking foreground in the Kolob Terrace section of Zion National Park.Photo by Curt Mekemson.
Photo by Curt Mekemson on the way up to Kolob Terrace, Zion National Park.
View along Kolob Terrace Road taken by Curt Mekemson
Private road below towering cliffs and interesting rock formations in the Kolob Terrace section of Zion National Park.
I’ll conclude with this photo of a private road winding its way below the cliffs. I was intrigued as to where it went and could easily imagine Peggy and me living there. My next post will feature photos we took up on the terrace.

How to Avoid the Massive Crowds at Zion National Park… Kolob Terrace Part 1

Today, our full time RV adventure of exploring North America takes us to Zion National Park in Utah.

Kolob Terrace, a part of Zion National Parks located a few short miles from the Canyon. It features great beauty without the crowds.
This was one of many delightful monuments Peggy and I found when we explored Kolob Terrace in Zion National Park. Note the lack of traffic!

Peggy was reading an article in the Washington Post a few days ago on Zion National Park. Bring your patience, the article urged. Over 5 million people are projected to visit in 2022. The majority will be from April through September. Expect massive crowds if it is on your vacation itinerary. Parking spots will be difficult to find. Shuttles will be full. There will be long lines to get in, long lines at the restrooms, long lines to visit major sites, and long lines to get food. Finding a place to stay in or near the park will be close to impossible unless you already have a reservation— or get lucky. 

It’s my idea of a nightmare.

Peggy and I were fortunate to arrive in late April for our visit. But even then, the crowds in the canyon exceeded my ideal by a factor of 10, or is that 100. Grin. I’ll tell that story at the end of my series on Zion. (Spoiler alert: it was still worth it.) But, for now, I am going to let you in on a little secret, there is more to Zion National Park than Zion Canyon. A lot more. And much of it matches and may even surpass the canyon in beauty. Peggy and I are going to take you on three short road trips to various sections in the park outside of the canyon to prove our point: Kolob Terrace, Kolob Canyon, and the east side of the park. Plus a ghost town.

I am going to start with the Kolob Terrace. Peggy and I were staying at an RV campground on the Virgin River in the small town of the same name 14 miles from the canyon. The road into the terrace was less than a mile from where we were camped. We drove up it for 15 miles before turning around, stopping frequently on both our way up and back. We met a dozen cars along the way. There may have been 30 parked at the various trailheads and overlooks. Compare that with the 14,000 or more people who were exploring the canyon on that day! Following are the photos Peggy and I took. I am going to divide them into three posts since there are too many for one. (Note: I take five times as many photos as Peggy. :))

National park sign announcing the entry to Kolob Canyon.
The beginning of our journey up to Kolob Terrace. It was obvious from our initial view that we were going to enjoy the ‘detour’ from Zion Canyon.
There are several distinctive monuments in the Kolob Terrace section of Zion National Park that equal the sights seen in Zion Canyon. Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
I think this striking monument was Peggy’s favorite. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo from the Kolob Terrace section of Zion Nat tonal Park taken by Peggy Mekemson.
She even took more than one photo! I always think that things like the trees in the left foreground add interest and help draw viewer’s eyes into the picture. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of sandstone monument in the Kolob Terrace section of Zion National Park taken by Curt Mekemson.
I took at least six of this monument on Kolob Terrace featured at the top of the post! Most of the rock structures in Zion are made from sandstone, which, on its own, tends to be white. Like I mentioned in my Death Valley posts, it is oxidized iron that leads to the reds, oranges and pinks.
A variety of monuments are found on Kolob Terrace in Zion National Park. Photo by Curt Mekemson.
This distant road shot gives an idea of the numerous shapes and colors of the various monuments on Kolob Terrace.
A wonderful variety of shapes are among the rock formations of Kolob Terrace in Zion National Park. Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Here’s an example of the variety of shapes. I always think of these rock formations as a fairy community, or maybe a troll town. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Sheer cliffs like these found in Kolob Terrace will eventually be eroded by the forces of water, ice, wind and gravity. Different types of rocks erode at different speeds leading to the wonderful shapes found throughout Utah and the Southwest. Note the extensive talus slopes seen beneath the cliff.
Erosion is responsible for the shapes of stone formations in Kolob Terrace and throughout the southwest. Photo by Curt Mekemson.
This distant formation provides an example of the erosive forces at work.
Erosion at work creating rock formation in Kolob Terrace, Zion National Park. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.
A closer view of the same formation. the layer of rock on top is eroding faster than the layer beneath it. like the triangular face of the rock.
Photo of massive rock formation in the Kolob terrace of Zion National Park. Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
This massive formation in Kolob Terrace shows a rounded character to the erosion. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
The Kolob Terrace road runs through national park and private land. Signs warn that you might find cattle along the way. We did. They had the grace or good sense to stay on the side of the road.
Photo of red rock formation in Kolob Terrace, Zion National Park, by Curt Mekemson..
I’ll conclude today’s post with a shy rock formation that is hiding among the trees….
Photo by Curt Mekemson taken in the Kolob Terrace section of Zion National Park.
Caught it. On Friday, Peggy and I will continue to explore the beauty of the Kolob Terrace section of Zion National Park.

The Questionable Tastes of Bighorn Sheep… Plus Mosaic Canyon, Death Valley

Our house is in the final stages of being sold. We signed off on it today. The buyers will complete their part by the end of the month. “We’re homeless,” Peggy declared. “No,” I suggested. “our home is wherever we happen to be.” So what if it happens to be 22 feet long and is pulled by a F-150 pickup.

Right now we are in Flagstaff, Arizona. It’s a lovely community filled with friendly people, great restaurants, a fascinating culture, and bookstores. The Grand Canyon is an hour’s drive north. Sedona is an hour’s drive south. A five minute trip out of town yesterday found us scrambling up and down steep canyon walls searching for thousand year old petroglyphs left behind by the Anasazi, ancestors of our modern Southwestern Native Americans. There are certainly worse places we could be.

But as delightful as this area is, we will be out of here this week. We are modern day gypsies, full-timers as they say in the RV world. The freedom of the open road is ours. We aren’t rookies at this. Once Peggy and I wandered around North America for a year. Another time it was for three years. We don’t know how long we will be this time. Our goal is something like ‘as long as we can get away with it.’ Given our combined age of 151, who knows...

Our focus will be on the wild areas of North America. Once again this will include the National Parks of the US and Canada. We’ve been to most of them, but this time we want to explore places we haven’t been, places where the vast majority of tourists aren’t. Today’s post on Mosaic Canyon is an example.

Mosaic Canyon is easy to get to. It’s just above Stove Pipe Wells, one of Death Valley’s main tourist watering holes. And it’s quite beautiful, as this photo by Peggy shows. But it isn’t advertised as one of the “must see tourists sites,” like Zabriskie Point for example. When Peggy and I visited Zabriskie, there must have been a hundred people there. We ran into a half dozen or so at Mosaic Canyon. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
On our way over to Mosaic Canyon, we passed by the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, which are always worth a photo. The sand dunes are located next to Stove Pipe Wells and are easily accessible for a hike. Note the person on top. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Here is the road up to Mosaic Canyon. It’s gravel and dirt and a bit bumpy but short. (photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
The entrance to the canyon is a wide wash. It quickly narrows down! You can see two of the six people we shared the canyon with. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
I captured this shot of the narrows.
Another example. The smooth walls on the left are marble made from Noonday Dolomite.
The national park site recommended walking carefully when crossing the marble because of its slickness. Peggy solved the problem by sliding down. Her shadow makes it looks like she was levitating. “I’m Mary Poppins,” she declared when she saw the photo. But where’s the umbrella?
This breccia is another common rock found in Mosaic Canyon. You can see why it gives the canyon its name.
We were excited to find these flowers growing in the canyon. We had missed the profusion of flowers that sometimes appear in Death Valley after a rare spring rainstorm. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I took a close up. As you can see it’s pretty. But what’s with the hairy leaves. Turns out that this is a desert rock nettle, eucnide urens. If you have ever had a close encounter with nettles, you’ll know that means: ‘don’t touch!’
It’s a message that bighorn sheep ignore. Apparently they love the flowers. I caught this statue of a bighorn at the visitors’ center. I could see where its metal mouth might come in handy!
Eventually, we returned to the exit. Death Valley stretched out before us. We had lunch at Stove Pipe Wells and then returned to our parking lot campsite.

I’m not a huge fan of Sunset Campground at Furnace Creek. It’s a huge parking lot. The advantage is that it rarely fills up, which is not the case for the more desirable sites in the valley. I’ve used it three times over the years, mainly because my trips are never planned months in advance when registration opens up. When Peggy and I arrived, I expected that most of its 270 sites would be full. It was Easter weekend. What we quickly learned was that the campground closed for the season in four days. There were a half a dozen other vehicles in the huge area. When we left, there were two. In addition to normally being available, there are two other plusses: its close proximity to all of the services at Furnace Creek— and the views.

This was the view from our campsite.
Peggy took a close up.
One night we sat outside and watched the sun set in the west…
…and the moon rise. I’ll end my Death Valley posts with this photo. Next, we are off to Zion National Park.

What Color Would a Death Valley Artist Paint a Pupfish in Love?

The rocks at Death Valley’s Artist’s Palette are world famous for their color.

Geology is up close and personal at Death Valley. The Valley floor and sides, stripped free of most vegetation, can’t help but show their true colors. The most colorful place to check out these colors is along the paved one-way Artist’s Palette’s drive, which is near the Devil’s Golf Course, Gold Canyon, and Bad Water basin, other treasures of the Valley.

The colors you see are the result of oxidation of various metals. One example of oxidation that everyone is familiar with is the formation of rust on iron. Along Artist’s Drive, iron compounds create the red, pink and yellow you see. Mica derived from tuff, produces the green. Manganese produces the purple. (Tuff is a light, porous rock created from volcanic ash.)

A close up of the rocks at Artist’s Palette.

While visiting the Artist’s Palette overlook is the objective, the drive itself is worth the trip. I took the following photos while Peggy was driving. (It was her turn.) In addition to the scenery, there were fun curves and roller coaster ups and downs!

Road shot one.
Road shot two.
Road shot number three featuring the nose of Iorek the truck.

Of course the fun road also has beautiful scenery along it. Artist’s Palate has hardly cornered the market on color, as Peggy’s photos demonstrate.

Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Photo by Peggy Mekemson.

Now, let’s get back to the question raised in the Headline: Assuming an artist is in Death Valley has a full palette of colors, which one would he choose to paint a pupfish in love? Enquiring minds want to know.

But first, some background. You’ve probably heard of pupfish. There are several species scattered in locations around the National Park. Once upon a time they were happy residents of a huge lake that filled Death Valley. Lake Manly was a result of the Glacial Age. When the glaciers retreated to the far north and mountain tops 10,000 years ago, the lake was left to dry up and the pupfish were left scrambling for any remaining bits of water left, like individual springs. Lack of any contact created a number of subspecies.

The ones I will feature today live in Salt Creek. Their much more famous cousins live outside of the the Valley proper in what is known as Devil’s Hole, a 430 foot deep hole in the ground filled with water. What makes them so famous is that they are a critically endangered species. Today, there are less than 100 left. There were more in the 1960s but even then they were rare enough to be declared an endangered species, one of the first species to be so, seven years before the bipartisan passage of the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

Environmentalists the world over were ecstatic. The business people not so much. Nearby ranchers were limited in how much water they could pump out of the ground and developers in what land they could sell. Profits would be reduced. All that to save a tiny fish from extinction. A “Kill the Pupfish,” “Save the Pupfish” bumper sticker war ensued. National headlines were created and people across the country became aware of the pupfish. It is still a symbol of the ongoing battle between those who see objects primarily in terms of money and those who see them primarily in terms of inherent value. Being a lifelong environmentalist, I come down on the side of the pupfish, but I feel empathy for those whose livelihood was impacted.

Now join Peggy and me as we go in search of the ‘illusive’ pupfish of salt creek, whose males turn bright blue when they are in love, or is that lust. Either way, I’m glad that isn’t an infliction of human males.

A road sign some 15 minutes west of the Furnace Creek Visitor’s Center points you down a short, but bumpy dirt road to Salt Creek. The first thing you notice is that there is indeed a creek, which is a rare site in Death Valley. We were lucky to be there in April when it was still flowing. The second thing we noticed was that a well-built board walk followed along the creek.We eagerly set out with our eyes pealed on the water, searching. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

No fish here. But I enjoyed the dapples of bright sunlight…

Again, no fish. I was stuck with admiring the ripple patterns caught by the sun. But where were the pupfish?

Again, nice riparian habitat, but for what. And then…
There they were. Busy male pupfish protecting their territory and looking for love! They didn’t appear blue to us, however. Maybe they weren’t ready for prime time. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Right next to it was a pool absolutely teeming with the little fellows. Apparently they hadn’t received the message about being endangered. We learned that the word prolific hardly fit when describing the baby producing capacity of the females. And the males were more than willing to do their share. The literature used the word ‘millions’ when describing a season’s production. Unfortunately, when the creek dries up most of these offspring are lost. Only those that live near the spring in year around water survive— and wait for the next year so they can one again start their frenzy of propagating. (Photo buy Peggy Mekemson.)
An information panel gave an artist’s rendition of a happy couple. “But where’s the blue?” went dashing through my head. Remember the old “Where’s the beef?” commercials. Okay, I admit that there is some blue, and it is on the male. The panel described the mating process. And it isn’t even R-rated. A female arrives in the males territory, swims over to him, and snuggles up to his side. They start shivering in anticipation, and zoom, she’s pregnant. Just like that. I’d say something about being premature but apparently, that’s how it’s done. “Was it good for you, honey?”

When you watch pupfish for a while they appear to be playful, dashing around, chasing each other, and plowing up the dirt with their noses. That’s where they get the name pupfish. We wished this year’s crop good luck and I took a final photo of the creek as we headed off for out next adventure: exploring Mosaic Canyon, which will be our next post.

Water is precious in the desert and the pupfish is only one of a number of animals and birds that take advantage of Salt Creek as is makes its way out into the desert to disappear into the sand.

Who’s Smarter: A Mule Or a Horse? Plus Death Valley’s Beautiful 20 Mule Team Canyon

Who’s smarter? This girl with her wild eyes and gorgeous eyelids…
Or this fellow with a large nose and impressive nose hairs?

Or, the question going through your mind might be, “Why in the heck is Curt asking this question when his post is on Death Valley?”

Well, it started when I was doing research on Death Valley’s well-know, historic 20 Mule Team. Given that I am featuring the 20 Mule Canyon on my post today, I wanted to provide some background information, which I will. But the first thing I learned (or relearned) was that it wasn’t a 20 mule team that was used to haul borax out of Death Valley from 1893-96. It actually consisted of 18 mules and 2 horses. All of the animals had very specific tasks. Some required more intelligence than others.

Luckily for me, the town just up the road from where we camped near Bryce Canyon (Tropic) had a Mules Days event going on and there was a horse corral just across the road from us in Cannonville. I was able to persuade a mule and a horse to pose for me.

There is a ton of information on the twenty mule teams. This may seem like a lot until you take into consideration that the 18 mules and 2 horses were actually hauling close to 9 tons of Borax at a time out of Death Valley in temperatures that sometimes exceeded a 100 degrees F. (Operations were halted over the hot summer months.) They started their epic journey from the Harmony Borax Works near Furnace Creek and traveled for 165 miles over primitive roads to the railhead near Mohave. As you might imagine, it was quite the challenge. It required close to a heroic effort on the part of the mules, the horses and the muleskinners. Millions of dollars could be made if the venture was successful, however, and it was. Borax has lots of uses.

Still, all of this would be a mere note in the history books except for a couple of factors. One, Borax Soap featured the mules in a very extensive advertising campaign. The second was the radio and TV program, Death Valley Days. For those of you who are old enough to remember the 50s and 60s TV show, you may also remember that Ronald Reagan hosted the show in the mid 60s just before he jumped into his campaign for California Governor.

I think this 20 mule team traveling through 20 Mule Canyon is a team that Borax Soap used to promote its product. The photo is from the US Borax’s Visitor Center in Boron, which is well worth a stop. The two large wagons were for hauling the borax. The last wagon contained water for the mules since water holes were few and far between on the long, dry 10-day journey— and it was very thirsty work. The man at the back of the line is riding one of the two horses. The two lead mules, both female, have bells.
This historic photo provides a good perspective on just how big the wagons were. The large wheel is seven feet tall. The man on the left is the muleskinner who was in charge. On his right was his swamper who carried out a number of supportive jobs including handling a back up brake to be used if the wagon decided to run away going down hill.The muleskinner earned $4 per day, his swamper, $2, and the Chinese laborers who did the hardest work of digging out the borax, $1.25

I found a rather amusing, imaginary discussion with a muleskinner on the Death Valley National Park site. The greatest challenge he noted was in getting around corners. He used a diagram to describe the operation. An 80 foot chain connects the lead mules to the wagon.

Here’s what he had to say about the process: “Now I’ll tell you just how smart my mules is: it’s one thing drivin’ along a straight road; it’s a whole nother thing turnin’ corners on a mountain pass. My 2 lead mules, both mares, are about 80 feet ahead of me–so far away I can’t even begin to use my 9-foot long whip on ‘em. I’ve been known to throw pebbles at ‘em to get their attention. Aim’s good too. Back to gettin’ around corners. The next 5 pairs of mules are my “swing teams”, they ain’t real smart, they just know their names and what ‘pull’ and ‘stop’ means. Now the next 3 sets of mules behind the swings are my “pointers”. These mules are trained special to jump over that 80-foot chain and side-step away from the curve to keep that chain tight and my wagons goin’ ‘round that corner right. Next comes the 2 big horses. They’re strong enough to start my wagons rollin’, but that’s all they’re good for. A dumb mule (and I ain’t seen one yet) is a whole lot smarter than a smart horse.”

So, there you have it— which animal is smarter. At least from the perspective of a muleskinner. I’ll allow that a horse lover might have a different point of view. Grin. And now, it’s time to get away from all of the words and take you through 20 Mule Canyon in photos. The canyon starts no more than a mile above Zabriskie Point. And even though the road is dirt, cars with two wheel drive seem to handle it easily.

The dirt road.
Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Peggy caught a photo of me hiking up a trail. There are a number of stops along the road where you can get out, stretch your legs and take photos, if you want.
I captured this photo of Peggy Woohoo! And the next two photos.
I’ll conclude today with this photo of a very colorful place along the road. The colors are created by the oxidation of minerals/metals. I cover which metals cause which colors in my next post. It will be on the even more colorful drive to the Artists Palette. I am going to feature pup fish as well. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

To bring you up to date, Peggy and I have now spent a week in Zion Canyon National Park and a week in Bryce. We are now in the small, but fun community of Kanab, perched on the border between Utah and Arizona. Here’s a photo we took last week to give you a view of things to come.

A pair of hoodoos we found near Bryce Canyon. The name hoodoo is derived from a Paiute Indian name meaning scary. I think I can see why.