Bighorn Sheep

I won't dwell on the weather other than to say it was cold and windy much of the day, Wednesday. But mostly sunny skies helped make our day of exploring enjoyable.

We had our usual long morning, breakfast, talking, working with photos, and writing in the journal. Later in the morning we headed over to the Zion Park Visitors Center, and then to another facility just up the road, the Zion Human History Museum. Both places included some good exhibits explaining various aspects of the Park, had knowledgeable people on hand to answer questions and make recommendations, and, of course, the ubiquitous gift shop. The Human History Museum had a very good 20 minute film -- an introduction to the Park, it's history, the story of how it became a National Park, and an overview of the key features and geography of the area.

We're in what is considered the main part of the Park -- at the bottom of Zion Canyon. The canyon walls, which you've seen some photos of in the past few days, consist of various layers of shale, mudstone, and sandstone. The brilliant and varying colors on the canyon walls are, for the most part, the Navajo sandstone layer which can be up to 3,000 feet deep at spots. For much of it's history, the land that makes up the Park was the bottom of a shallow sea, and then, as the land started to uplift, a low flat sandy plain. Prehistoric winds drove sand into massive sand dunes, which themselves were eventually covered by ash and material from volcanic activity. As the layers above thickened, all that sand below came under tremendous pressure, and with the assistance of minerals of various kinds leaching downward through the sand, cemented it together into that colorful Navajo sandstone layer.

As the land continued to uplift, streams and rivers that drained the area grew progressively bigger and began cutting channels in the relatively soft sandstone. Over eons of time, the Virgin River cut it's way downward, creating the canyon we see and enjoy today. As one stands at the bottom of the canyon, taking in it's scale, it's hard to understand the amount of time necessary for a stream of water to have done all this. Immense periods of time are a theme of our explorations of the West the past few weeks.

There's one road that runs up the Canyon -- Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. About a third of the way up, another road takes off to the East -- the Zion Mt. Carmel Highway, which we explored yesterday after our stops at the Visitor Center and Museum. This is the road that was built in the late 1920's to provide an easier connection of Zion with Bryce Canyon to the Northeast and the Grand Canyon to the Southeast. To make this road a reality it was necessary to bore and blast a 1.1 mile tunnel through solid rock. At the time completed it was the longest tunnel in the country. But having been designed and built when vehicles were smaller, it's not large enough for things like the bus-house to go through normally. There are strict size requirements for vehicles to be allowed in the tunnel with regular two-way traffic -- and those sizes are really quite small. Only the smallest RV's can make it normally. However, as long as the vehicle is less than 40 feet long and 13' 1" high (we're 39 long and 12'8" high) you can purchase a $15 permit which buys you permission to transit the tunnel by driving down the middle in one-way traffic -- they stop traffic coming the other way. During our exploration yesterday we saw a number of tour buses and motorhomes that did just that. When we leave the area we think we'll take the tunnel. Besides being the most direct route to the Grand Canyon area, it'll be an adventure to remember.

 For scale, notice the car at the bottom of the above photo. As always, you can click on any photo for a larger size.

The landscape and scenery along this road on the east side of the Park are different, but no less impressive. Rounding the next curve always presents a new view that usually causes another exclamation, another "Wow". We'd pull off here, and there, and walk around a bit, taking photos and just absorbing the scene. I can't remember being anywhere where I've been so in awe at my surroundings.

The highlight of the afternoon was at a pull-off on our way back down the Zion - Mt. Carmel Highway... back into Zion Canyon. We saw some commotion and a couple big camera lenses at work, everyone looking in the same direction across the highway, so we stopped too. There was a Bighorn Sheep... a female (ewe)... just standing there watching us as much as we were watching her. Then... movement... another one... then more movement... and there was a large male (ram). This threesome treated us to about a 5 minute glimpse into their lives as they slowly worked their way up and away from the road. I saw Bighorns many years ago in Glacier NP, but this chance meeting today was a real treat.


The next stop, a bit further up the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, was the Zion Park Lodge. This historic lodge was designed and built in the 1920's, but burned down in 1966. It was rebuilt in just 100 days. While not as large or grand as the lodges of Yellowstone, Glacier, or Yosemite, it has a warm feeling (especially on this cold day) and fits well in it's surroundings, hard against the canyon walls. We had a light lunch in the famous Red Rock Grill while we warmed up.

So that was pretty much the day on Wednesday. We went back to the bus-house where Dar, who's been exercising her culinary creativity lately, made dinner of pork chops and apples with a side of brown rice. Yum.

By the way, Dar has uploaded a bunch of new pics to our online photo collection. Click on the link and check out the most recent albums.

In Zion National Park...


Slightly Better than Most