If you got hot, or thirsty, or hungry while you were working, you could easily pop a berry or two into your mouth for some relief, the pick-up you needed to keep you going.
At one point, while popping a berry (or two, or three) into my mouth, I thought back to our Zion trip. The "countryside" out in Utah (if you can call it "countryside") is nowhere near as hospitable as the countryside here in NY. There are no blueberry bushes in Zion National Park.
Day Two of our trip was really Day One, for all practical purposes. Day One had been entirely consumed by travel.
The morning of Day Two, after a lovely breakfast on the balcony, facing the mountains, we decided to head out and get a feel for Zion Park.
Across the parking lot from our room, a river flowed, the Virgin River. It runs through the canyon and, in fact, formed the canyon. The far side of the river hosts campsites you can rent through Zion National Park.
This is if you like to camp.
I was quite happily satisfied with my own side of the river. On our side, the lodge provided a few picnic tables and gas grills, as well as a sidewalk which led straight to the park gates.
Picnic table and grill.
We walked to the park gates and bought our week-long pass. We entered the gates, and there we were, at our destination, official Zion National Park visitors.
We only wanted to start getting a feel for things, not to do a big hike or anything.
We did not even have any water. This became significant later.
In the blistering, oven-like heat of the day, we poked around, read a few signs, and began to figure it out. There are trams that drive up and down the canyon all day long. You get on or off them at whatever stop interests you. We decided to ride the tram to the end and orient ourselves to the park.
Here is a picture of tourists getting on and off the tram.
A cheesy recording plays all the way up the canyon, filling everyone in on information about the park.
Shawn says, "The guy sounds like your prototypical super-dorky Forest Ranger, a skinny guy in a hat and spectacles with a whole lot of white sunscreen on his nose."
I say he never had a speech coach. I should have taken notes, but essentially, if it was a preposition, a conjunction, or a form of the verb "to be," he emphasized it. He never emphasized the interesting words, like devastating flood, or peregrine falcon, or even beautiful view. He droned on and on: "The canyon was formed BY the Virgin River," and, "You will see squirrels, deer, AND even some humans on the trails." He reminded us over and over again, "You safety IS your responsibility!" I truly wanted to offer to re-read the script for them. For free.
Shawn said they did it to mess up the non-English speakers, of whom there were many.
The crowning habit of the narrator was to announce at each tram stop: "This IS the grotto..." and "This IS Zion Mountain Lodge..." and "This IS weeping rock." (After a few days of riding the tram, listening to this same recording over and over, Shawn took to pre-empting the announcement of each stop by asking me -- for example -- "I forget, is this stop the grotto??" To which the recording would reply, "This IS the grotto!" And I would dissolve in tears of laughter. I'm glad there were so many foreigners there; native Americans [and I am not talking about Native Americans] would have been very annoyed with me.)
The trams were not air-conditioned. They had openings in the tops to let the heat out (presumably).
We rode to the end of the tram line and took the Riverside Walk.
This is an easy hike that starts at a nice building with bathrooms and plenty of water for drinking and filling bottles (which we did not have).
We saw many squirrels. They were incredibly tame; "aggressive" is the word the rangers used. We watched them pilfer more than one person's lunch.
We passed some natural alcoves where water wept down out of the mountain, forming tiny terrariums of growth.
Here you can see the water trickling down. Water like this is a big deal in the desert.
I kept thinking about God, perhaps because we've studied a lot about the Israelites in the desert recently. All of Zion Canyon is a sort of oasis in a very dry land... you get a stone's throw from the river, and everything is hot, dusty and parched, with only the odd cactus breaking up the lifeless terrain. Within Zion, cottonwoods grow along the river banks, and a variety of plants grow in the alcoves where the rocks weep. "He turned the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs." (Psalm 107:35)
We also saw deer climbing up the sides of the canyon. I didn't get any great pictures of them, but in real life, the sight made me choke back tears. I'd never seen a deer making its way up the sheer side of mountain before.
Habakkuk 3:19 sprang to my mind, "The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to go on the high places."
Here are some other favorite pictures from the hike:
There was usually light on one side of the canyon or the other; except, of course, at noon. Over the week, we learned to plan our hikes for morning or afternoon, depending on which side of the canyon they were on: right side (east) in the morning, and left side (west) in the afternoon.
A view of the river from the shady side of the canyon.
This particular hike ended at the beginning of a very famous Zion Park hike:
People who hike The Narrows actually hike right up the river between narrowing canyon walls. In some places it can be quite deep, although during this dry summer, it was not very deep. The Narrows is an 8 hour round trip hike, and most people who do it rent special shoes, walking poles, and sometimes even water-proof suits. We saw a lot (a lot) of walking poles.
I thought it through: an 8 hour round trip hike up a river... with no stops along the way (read: no restrooms -- for eight hours). I made the logical deduction and decided that this hike was not for me. I would explore the beginning of the hike a bit on another day. But I was not going to hike to a water depth that met any of my body orifices. Nope. No more than I would put my hand into a public toilet.
An interesting root. You could tell it was a low-water year.
Me beneath an outcropping on the way back.
We hiked back to the tram stop, slurped up a drink at the fountain, and boarded the tram. The tram was hot and sweaty. And it seemed so slow. Of course, by now our light breakfast of fruit, coffee and tea had worn off, so we were a bit low on blood sugar (read: slightly impatient and perhaps a bit carsick). Since we were now headed down the canyon, the recording was no longer playing. The tram pulled in at one stop and the driver said, "This is the head of the Pa'rus trail. It is 1.5 miles from here to the visitor center."
Pish, thought Shawn and I. We are always walking 3-4 miles in our neighborhood, every day. A mile-and-a-half is nothing. We could probably beat the tram with all its stops.
We got off.
This was nothing like the Riverside walk we'd been on earlier. The canyon was much wider, and there was no shade. No shade. 105 degrees. 18% humidity. A mile-and-a-half can seem longer than a mile-and-a-half.
After awhile, I started to feel panicky. At least the trail followed the river, and although we could not always see water, we could always see the row of cottonwoods. We didn't talk too much; I think both of us were trying not to freak out the other. Now and then, I ran my tongue around in my mouth to see whether there was still any saliva.
The trail cut closer to the river and we saw some people swimming in a swimming hole, jumping out of a tree. It looked so refreshing! I was tempted to try it, even in my clothes!
Here are the swimmers we passed.
I whispered to myself, "It is going to be OK. It is going to be OK. You can't die of dehydration this close to a river."
Eventually, we made it back to the visitors' center, where we got drinks again at the fountain. Then we went back to our lodge where we got crystal cold bottled water out of our refrigerator and drank it in the coolness of our air-conditioned rooms.
When we had quite recovered, we ordered lunch at a little cafe and then walked over to the local theater to see a complimentary IMAX movie about the park. After that we drove an hour to WalMart and bought a fanny-pack with two water bottles. Also, food for the week. We saw the gorgeous mountain scenery we had missed the previous night when we drove up in the dark.
Following a simple dinner of sandwiches and fruit, we headed back to the theater and saw The Hunger Games... on an IMAX screen nine times the size of a regular screen. I explained it all to Shawn, who had never read the book.
It was day, and it was evening, the second day. A good day.