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.

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.

Bryce Canyon… The National Park Series

Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah is a fantasy land of rocks guaranteed to impress visitors.

The first time I came across a group of hoodoos, I stopped and stared. Then I grabbed my camera. But I didn’t have to rush. Hoodoos are strange rock formations of arid regions. They don’t go anywhere. They just stand there for centuries as nature and erosion do their work, carving whimsical statues of stone.

Bryce Canyon National Park is a superb location for hoodoo watching. They come in a multitude of shapes, forms and colors creating a fantasy land that even the wildest of imaginations can appreciate.

Hoodoos are created in Bryce Canyon through the erosion of sandstone, which eventually creates whimsical statues.

Carved from sandstone of the Paunsaugunt Plateau, Bryce Canyon drops some 2000 feet in altitude to the valley below. Trails ranging from easy to challenging provide the visitor with numerous opportunities to meet the hoodoos up close. Or you can stroll along the rim trail. Be sure to check the park out at sunrise and sunset.

Bryce Canyon is located off of Highway 89 in Southwestern Utah. An easy day’s drive can take you to either Capitol Reef or Zion National Parks and through millions of years of geological history. I consider Utah’s Highway 12 that connects Bryce National Park with Capitol Reef to be one of the most scenic roads Peggy and I found in our 200,000-mile exploration of America.

A family of Hoodoos hidden in a canyon.

Following one of the many trails into Bryce Canyon will bring you face to face with one of the National Park’s unique sculptures.

Another sandstone hoodoo. This one reflects the warm colors of the setting sun.

Erosion created a box canyon here. I saw it and thought immediately it would have made a great corral for cattle stolen by outlaws of the old west.

A final view of Bryce Canyon National Park.