Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Swiss Days Festival

One of the things we love about traveling around the country is going to local festivals.  So when we found out that the nearby town of Santa Clara was celebrating their Swiss Festival, we made plans to attend.  We even set that despicable alarm clock when we read that they had a community breakfast to start the day.  We should have taken a picture of the plateful of eggs, sausages and big pancakes, complete with milk, orange juice and fresh fruit.  It was quite a bargain for $3.

We have been going to food festivals all over Colorado (like the  Sweet Corn Festival and the Peach Festival), so we were hoping for Swiss food today.  Denisa was imagining Swiss cheese, while Mark was thinking Swiss chocolate.  We didn't see either.  But we did see the parade.  The only thing that resembled Switzerland was the oompah band in the back of someone's pickup, and this Swiss chalet float.

We also saw the old style fire truck, with the firemen throwing candy to the crowd.

There were old cars and tractors, also throwing candy.  As you can see, Denisa had her own space at the curb.  So when candy fell at her feet, she was compelled to pick it up.  Soon it became a game to try to fill Mark's pockets.  When he could no longer walk because of all the weight in his pockets, we were relieved that the parade was over.

If we have trick-or-treaters, we now have candy to hand out.  You can spot an opened Dots box and an empty tootsie roll wrapper, so there is some doubt that this candy will still be around by the end of October.

The crowds from the parade moved down the street where the vendor booths were set up.  We wandered through the booths, but again we only buy souvenirs that we can eat.  We are already taking home candy souvenirs, so we didn't buy anything today.

There were also people walking the parade route, giving away coupons and free samples.  Our favorite coupon was to Zeppe's Italian Ice and Gelato Store.  We had to redeem our coupons for free kiddy gelatoes before we left town.  Their version of a gelato is a layer of frozen custard, topped with your chosen flavor of Italian ice, and a generous swirl of frozen custard on top.  That was the largest kiddy serving we have experienced, and a very tasty treat!

On our way home, we drove by two more Utah state parks.  We have managed to use that state park pass enough to pay for itself this month.  We didn't take any pictures at Quail Creek Lake state park, tucked among the colorful striped mountains.  But below is a picture of Sand Hollow State Park.  They have 16,000 acres of open sand and trails, and we saw ATVs zipping across that red sand on this Saturday afternoon.

On Sunday we attended services at a little local church, and spent most of the day relaxing before our moving day.  We've been here at Willow Wind RV park in Hurricane, Utah, for a week, and really enjoyed the area.  We got a good send off our last night, as we watched the Blood Red Super Moon rise--another of God's wonders!

Hidden Canyon Scramble in Zion National Park

There was a 5:30 a.m. alarm again this morning.  Who knew this life of retirement would include so many early morning wake-up calls?  But later in the day, we are always glad we got up early.  We were inside Zion National Park and at our trail head just as the sun came up and started lighting up the tallest peaks.

We are hiking to Hidden Canyon this early morning.  It was highly recommended to us by a park ranger, and we are hoping it will be less crowded than the iconic hikes in this park.  It seems interesting that to get down into a canyon we must first hike straight up over the mountain that hides it.  This set of rock steps is just a small section of the elevation gain this morning.

We are practiced at navigating narrow trails that cling to the sides of steep mountains.  It's very early in the morning and we already have Denisa showing off on the ledge today.

It's about a mile straight up before we got to the mouth of Hidden Canyon.  We thought that the sign that greeted us here was interesting--especially the editing that pointed out there was "major" scrambling required ahead.

Some times Mark would scramble when he didn't have to.  Denisa preferred to walk under this leaning tree, rather than walking up the trunk.

The tall canyon walls were often beautiful, and always interesting.  Mark climbed up on the natural ledge to become part of the background.

We were the only two hiking in the hidden canyon this early in the morning, so it was a great respite from the crowds of Zion.  It was also shaded and cool here.  There is water seeping through the sandstone walls, feeding the moss and ferns clinging to their vertical sides.

There is also a hidden arch in the hidden canyon.  The picture of Denisa standing under the arch wasn't nearly as interesting as the one of Mark perched on the arch.

Even though it is a record-breaking 98 degrees out in the real world, in the shaded hidden canyon Denisa had to put on her jacket because it felt so cool.  Isn't that cool?  Denisa is standing at the bottom of the canyon walls that the swirling water has carved.  She will have to climb up that slick rock in order to continue down the canyon.
We continue to climb and scramble over obstacles.  Most of the time Mark was boosting Denisa up or pulling her over those obstacles.  But occasionally Mark had one hand empty to take a picture of the climb.

There was water blocking our path at times, but this well-placed log provided a way over this pool.  We have been practicing our balance beam skills since we have been scrambling lately.

Some of our scrambling includes sucking in and fitting in tiny slots.  We had to take off our backpacks to slither through this narrow passage.

If the easiest way to scramble onward wasn't obvious, Mark would try all options.  This didn't look like the best option, but we found it was the only way.  So we built a new rock cairn to point the way for future hikers.

We thought this deep pool in a narrow passage was the end of the trail.  We weren't interested in swimming in the yucky brown water today.

We did try carrying some logs up the slot, but this sizable log ended up floating on the top instead of sinking and providing a bridge.

Then we found the perfect log and some rocks and built a pretty good bridge.  Onward we go!

We saw portions of this narrow slot canyon that showed evidence of the flash floods that Zion experienced last week.  Some evergreens were swept flat, and there was debris in the bushes and trees.  This obviously would be a very dangerous place to be in a heavy rain storm.

While Mark was checking a possible route to continue up the canyon, he took a picture of Denisa far below.  Some times the scrambling routes took us far above the canyon floor.

Here's a picture of Mark testing his rock climbing skills to see if this was an option over an obstacle.  When Denisa took the picture she was pretty happy that he determined that wasn't the right way to continue.  When we would climb up vertical walls using tiny toe holds, we had to remember that we would have to climb down that same route to get out.


We could see light at the end of the canyon when we finally got to an obstacle that Denisa couldn't get over.  But it had been a great trek in Hidden Canyon all by ourselves.  As we headed back to the mouth of the canyon we met several groups, and again we were glad that we had set that alarm this morning.  We spent 3.5 hours scrambling inside Hidden Canyon, and most of the time we had the place to ourselves. We were back on the chains heading downhill this time by a little after noon.

Instead of the classical chain pose, Mark preferred to just stand on the edge for his cliff picture.

We had planned to head down to the shuttle bus after the Hidden Canyon hike, but another hiker had mentioned a great canyon just 40 minutes down another trail.  We are suckers for great canyons, so we headed that direction.  It was a nice hike, and most of it was still in the shade.

We even got a picture together by the too-tall-to-capture-in-a-camera-frame canyon wall.  We are finding that there's a lot of those kind of canyon walls in Zion National Park.  This picture was taken by a young adult brother and sister that were vacationing and hiking together today.  When Denisa took their picture, she assured them that their Mother would love this picture.  We know this because our parents seem to like them too.

We're stretching this hike out a little, because it's our last one in Zion.  When we leave magnificent places like this we might be a little melancholy, thinking that we might never be this way again.  We've enjoyed the beautiful color of the canyon walls.

We've also enjoyed the awesome size and scale of the mountains and canyons here.  Once again, we had to put a red circle around Denisa in the bottom of the picture, just so we could compare her size to her magnificent surroundings.

The wildlife picture today is one of the many squirrels that hang out on the trails, waiting for a snack from one of the hikers.  We positively refuse to feed them.  This is a good decision considering there is a $100 fine for people caught feeding the wildlife in the national park.

We have truly been wandering around one of God's wonders this week.  We took one last picture of some of the switchbacks on the trail back to the bottom.  We'll miss these beautiful mountains, but our legs say it is time for a day off from hiking.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Narrows at Zion National Park

It's another morning for a hike at Zion, so the alarm clock was set again.  But today, it was a kinder, gentler alarm because it didn't go off until 7:00.  We are headed to another iconic hike at Zion--The Narrows.  After riding the shuttle to the last stop this morning, at 9:30 we then set off on the one-mile Riverside walk trail will take us to the start of the Narrows.

Then it was time to suit up into our water footwear.  Mark is putting neoprene socks on his feet.  We got the advice from another hiker that the local outfitter sells their retired hiking gear at drastically reduced prices, so we bought these socks for $5.  It took a little sewing to get Denisa's used socks into shape, but it beat the $28 for the socks, boots and pole combo they usually charge to day hikers to the Narrows.

We passed two bus loads of people as we walked the first mile up the riverside trail, so the park is already getting crowded by 10:00 in the morning.  Many of the people will dip their toes into the water at the mouth of the slot canyon, so this area gets really congested.

We headed into the slot canyon, walking in the Virgin River.  We  would find a trickle of a waterfall very soon.

Morning light is hitting the wet walls of the slot canyon, turning them into gold.  We should apologize up front that there will be way too many pictures in this blog.  But we are in some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, and it just begs to be photographed.

We found that we would walk the same speed as many of the people that started the hike when we did.  So we traded off taking group pictures with a group of three young women from the East coast.

The deeper into the canyon, the better the views.  We are 45 minutes into the hike, glad for those neoprene socks since the water is 52 degrees and the canyon is shaded and cool.  Denisa still has her jacket on, and it's hard to believe that it's 97 degrees outside of the canyon.

We thought we would be walking in that cool water all of the time, but there is a good amount of walking on the sandy areas beside the river inside the canyon.  We were surprised to even see sizable trees growing inside the canyon at this point.

Have we mentioned that the canyon walls were beautiful?

The easiest sections of walking in the water were in shallow areas where we could see the tops of the rocks.  We wore shoes over those neoprene socks, but our feet would get sore from walking (and stumbling) over rocks all day.

In deeper sections, each step was a guess of what we would stumble over as the water was a muddy brown so we couldn't see the pebbles or boulders under us.  Having a walking stick was a great help with walking in the water.

Some times there were huge boulders that had fallen from the canyon walls years ago.  Most people slog their way down the river around them.  Mark, of course, prefers to climb up and over the boulders.

The next two pictures are of the very same place.  We are now finding that it is impossible to capture the tops of the canyon walls.  But the first picture attempts to illustrate the height of the walls . . .

While the second picture attempts to capture the width of the slot canyon and the water at this point.

We are about an hour and 45 minutes into our trek up the canyon, when we come to the Orderville Canyon intersection on our right.  Much narrower and less traveled, of course we would take this route.

It is less traveled because this canyon is littered with waterfalls and rock obstacles that are very hard to get over.  In fact, we saw twenty people coming out of the canyon as we walked into it.  All those people had gotten to the first waterfall and determined that was the end of the line.  We are so glad that we made it over that first waterall, but we forgot to take a picture of it!  This is a picture of another one of the waterfalls (further down the canyon) that we had just climbed over.

Denisa would have never made it over the first one, but Mark figured out a way to get over it, and then pulled Denisa up as well.  The rocks are slick and wet, so each waterfall or boulder is a puzzle to figure out a way to conquer it.   We would have been all alone in the canyon, but Mark also helped another young man over the first waterfall as well.

This canyon got narrow and very tall very quickly.  You can barely see Denisa at the bottom of the canyon.  If she stretched out her arms, she could almost touch both canyon walls at the same time.

After the crowds of the main canyon, the solitude of Orderville Canyon was bliss.  The water was clear, so it was much easier to plan your footing through the water.  The wet walls appeared golden in the sun light.

We had conquered several waterfalls, and the first young man that Mark had helped had turned back.  We thought we were all alone, but we noticed a young couple behind us in the canyon.  We found out that they were from Ontario, Canada, and they had thought about turning around more than once.  But they could always see us ahead and thought that if we could go further, so could they.  We traded off taking pictures of each other in the canyon, and then we became a team of four conquering the waterfalls together.

The waterfalls weren't always tall, but the rocks were always wet and slippery.  Denisa has always said that Mark was part mountain goat, so he could cross anything.  But he really had to be creative to figure out a way to get her up and over as well.  We lost count of how many obstacles we went over, but we didn't see anyone else until we had to head back. 

We were in that side canyon for almost 2.5 hours.  When we returned to the main canyon, we decided to slog our way further in.  The water was also deeper and moving more quickly as the channel narrowed.

All of these pictures seem to be vertical, as the canyon walls are very tall in this section known as "Wall Street."  Just like in New York City, we are hiking among the sky scrapers.  As tall as these pictures look, they still can't show the tops of the walls around us.  We are surely wandering through another of God's wonders!


It's hard to believe that the state of Utah is experiencing record breaking heat today.  We planned to leave our  motor home stop in Zion for last, hoping that the temperatures in September would be cooler.  But today it is 97 degrees outside of this canyon--a new record for this day of the year.  But inside the shadows of the canyon, walking in 52 degree water, Denisa still has her jacket on and zipped up.  It was just the perfect temperature!
Mark has scrambled up another large hill above the canyon floor.  That gives a unique view down the canyon from above.


We found that our best strategy for moving forward in the swift and deep sections was to link arms.  We each had a pole in our outside arms, helping to find rocks and to give us another point of contact with the ground for stability.  Having our four legs close together helped to keep us upright when one of us stumbled on the rocks we couldn't see under the water.  We swaggered from side to side, and with our arms linked it was a little like escorting a drunk.  We finally decided to turn around as the water continued getting deeper. 

We didn't take many pictures on the long walk back out of the canyon.  Even though we were walking with the current now, the unseen rocks under that muddy water still made it challenging.  It was a beautiful walk, but we were relieved to see the mouth of the canyon.  We felt the temperature rise as the canyon opened up to the heat of the real world.  We had been inside the narrows for 6.5 hours, and it was one of the most uniquely awesome hikes of our lives.