Day 8: Valley of Fire State and Zion National Park

Today I’m morphing from one extreme to another- Vegas; the crazy, party capital of the world, where mocked cityscapes, roller coasters, volcanoes, waterfalls, circuses, light, fire, water and music shows are just some of the means of outlandish advertising to suckle people into the 24 hour casino conveyor belt and to spend as much money as possible. All to be substituted for nothing but raw Earth- rock to be precise.

Valley of Fire State Park

I’m massively stoked to be heading to Zion, an area that I had never before heard of until I did some intrinsic research into the American Canyonlands. But before that, I’m going to pay a quick stop at Valley Of Fire State Park- only because I saw it in a poolside magazine at Caesars Palace and it should prove a pleasant introduction to the geological warpath that lies ahead.
Much like my visit to Death Valley I am only counting this as ‘passing through’, mainly because I want to allow myself as much time in Zion as possible and am aiming to try and squeeze a trek to the Emerald Pools later this evening.
Situated about an hour North of Vegas VOFS is scorched in red sandstone, that create some fascinating curved riverbeds. The landscape is silk-like and has been gentle chiseled,this way and that, to create layered waved rock formations.
As with most of the canyon, sandstone parks they are best visited at either dusk or dawn, when the low lying sun causes the rock to glow; Illuminating the fire shades embedded in the rock sediment. Even though it was the middle of the day, the visit was nonetheless spectacular and as expected an exciting revelation of what lies deeper into the desert gulf.

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The Drive to Zion

The remaining 2 hour drive is anything but boring. Each passing mile conveys more and more crevices lining the horizon. Canyons, creeks and dried out river beds merge along the side of the road, before continuing their trail into the unknown. By now the Earth has become even further saturated with claret soaked cliff edges.
When I reach St.George Utah, the cliffs have now formed a small Uluru Rock style ridge line. I hadn’t planned on stopping in St.George but a pristine white Temple sitting high into the rock face was something I just had to see. It was incredible how the pure white stone sat and contrasted with the blood rock background. It was in fact a Mormon temple and definitely one of the most beautiful buildings I have seen.

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The road towards Springdale and Zion National Park becomes narrower and squeezed amongst the now ginormous sanded cliff canyons. Every car now has formed a slow queue, with people taking their time to breathe in the surrounding topography.
Springdale, the small town that sits on the doorstep to Zion, welcomes and accommodates the explorers of the National Park. There are many adventure shops, photography shops, tour offices, hostels and hotels. Many people will use Hurricane as their temporary home and base for their adventures in Zion. But for the rest of us there are 2 campgrounds within the park; ‘The Watchman’ and  ‘The South Campground’ – my home-stay for the next few days.

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Emerald Pools, Zion

Its about 4pm by the time I’ve had a look around the park information centre- which has plenty to offer. I’ve off-loaded my camping gear and can just about squeeze a short 2-3 hour hike to Emerald pools and back before it is dark.

In Zion you cannot drive your car through the canyon- something which I think is a pretty cool idea. This is to preserve the wildness and also for safety and traffic measures- flash flooding in the Canyonlands is by no means a rare occurrence- it is also a deadly, and often tragic one. Instead Zion provides eco-buses, that come once every 10 minutes or so and travel the entire extent of the canyon loop. On board, a Disney-style voice over gives you the run down on every passing monument, historical facts, general information and advice for hiking- again its pretty useful and a good way of organising things!
I get off at the Zion Lodge Stop- the only lodge inside the national Park and head into the valley towards the emerald pools. Its late evening and you can really feel the warmth and energy radiating from the huge rockfaces. The trailhead is relatively tame- with most people walking in the opposite direction to myself.
I scale deeper into the valley floor forests, leaving the rivers edge where I am eventually surrounded by huge walls of rock. The trail  then rises and emerges out of the forest thicket to give me my first panorama of the the Jurassic Parkland!

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It is so easy to imagine a herd of Diplodocus grazing through the valley-such is the prehistoric feel of the place.
The trail continues to meet an archway carved deep into the base of a 2000 ft stone wall. This allows the waterflow overhead to form a protective waterfall shield below; In turn creating the small pools. The first is pool is definitely not of the emerald pigment. It is home to about a hundred croaking frogs, each of whom have the perfect view across the valley. The other two pools are harder to scale but definitely emit more of a crystallized glow.
After resting and taking my time to admirer the view and relish in my day’s achievement I begin to head back to camp- The sun is only just kissing the very tips of the mountain shards and I need to be sure I don’t miss the last bus!

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The Valley at Night

Back at camp I set up for my night outdoors. In Yosemite I had tried to take some night shots of the incredible skyline- but due to my inexperience with my DSLR I had failed dramatically. I managed to look up how to actually use the DSLR more effectively when taking night shots when I was exposed to internet in Las Vegas.
The skyline above was splashed with more white specs than people on the planet. It was insane!
After some trial and error and about an hour or so playing with different camera settings and modes I managed to create some shots that I was fairly happy with. With this accomplished only now could I sit back in my sleeping bag and lie amongst the stars themselves.

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