Thursday, April 4, 2013

School of Rocks

Wednesdays and Thursdays are my days off and I’m happy to say I packed in the outdoor adventures this weekend.  Yesterday morning my friend Emily and I hiked The Watchman Trail on the southern end of Zion Canyon which is wide, sunny, and full of grasses and wildflowers compared to the north end which is narrow, dark and dramatic.
 The Watchman Trail is a great hike that’s relatively easy.  We climbed 450 feet in a mile and then came back down, all of which took an hour and a half, including a nice long break at the top where we took advantage of the great cell reception to call friends and family :)

Looking north into Zion Canyon from The Watchman's lookout point

We got back in time for Emily to get to work.  I refueled on corn dogs in the cafeteria and decided to hit another trail: Hidden Canyon.Since I was hiking alone this time, I stopped by the lodge's front desk to tell the agents where I was going and to expect me back in 3.5 hours.  I hiked Hidden Canyon about a week ago with a friend so I knew what I was getting into: 850 foot gain in a mile of switchbacks before leveling out to a scramble through a narrow canyon. Time to put those corn dogs to work!

View of The Organ (center) and Angels Landing (sin-wave shape on upper left) from the switchbacks

After the switchbacks the trail tucks into some interesting pockets of the canyon walls which you make your way around with the assistance of chains.

Up in Hidden Canyon it was dark and darn-near chilly (it was blazing hot on the exposed switchbacks).  The walls seemed to completely change color and texture every ten yards.  One of my favorite parts was this section where the north wall was covered in green moss and ferns and the south wall was a stark red rock.

Freestanding arch inside Hidden Canyon

This hike might be my favorite so far.  The trail is full of surprises and it can be as challenging as you want it to be.  As you hike further into the canyon you will face increasingly difficult climbing obstacles.  I went pretty far with my friend last week, but since I was alone I turned back early and checked back in with the front desk before turning in for an excellent night's sleep.

Today I joined a small group that was learning how to rappel.  We followed our guide, Phil, behind the employee housing area to a beautiful 80 foot waterfall.  Phil coached each one of us as we took turns backing over the fall and rappelling to the pool below.

It was awesome!  I even went back to rappel a second time.  My next challenge is to master the climb.  Stay tuned!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Park Rangers, Cliff Hangers

Today I had the opportunity to work as the front desk liaison to the park's visitor center which was an interesting change from my usual gig in the lodge.  I shared an information desk with four rangers who answered tons of questions for visitors.  Unfortunately I had almost no inquiries at my side of the desk, so I spent most of my day jealously watching as kids took oaths over their Junior Ranger Handbooks before receiving their gold badges and stickers, and the rest of my time wondering how I'd look in a ranger hat.  A part of me has always wanted to be a ranger, so I was pretty geeked to work side by side with these folks and to eat my lunch in their break room.
While I was there I noticed one person's office had a kid's drawing posted on the door which was (for the most part) pretty standard: One green tree, one house with a four-pane window, two smiling stick figures, but what made me smile was the giant red cliff scribbled into the background with a third stick figure climbing up it.

Every few nights my friends and I watch for tiny lights that flash around high up on the canyon walls.  The lights are from the headlamps of extreme rock climbers who climb these walls for days at a time and actually set up camp overnight on the face of the cliffs.  One morning I scoped the wall with some binoculars and spotted a red hanging tent, called a portaledge, dangling two thirds of the way up on a 1,200 foot wall like a wildly misplaced sack of potatoes.  Zion National Park is a world-renowned destination for big wall climbing with some walls rising over 2,000 feet.
Here's a picture from Red Desert Adventure's site to give you an idea of what Zion's climbing walls look like:
Crazy.  I can't even tell how the climber in the left photo can find a grip; that wall looks pretty smooth to me.
If you want to see some more extreme climbing photography (including a look at what those portaledges are like) check out this guy's photos here.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Home Sweet Home

Hi, everyone! After much encouragement from my friends and family I decided to start this blog to document my thoughts and experiences while I am living and working in Zion National Park.  I moved here from Michigan one month ago to work as a front desk agent in the lodge and will be here for at least eight more months.

I'm not sure where to start, so I guess I'll show you my lovely office.  This is the Zion Lodge:
In the afternoon the lawn fills up with families picnicking and playing tag around the giant cottonwood tree.  There is usually a group of turkeys that marches across the lawn at sunrise, and if you're watchful you can spot foxes scurrying around at night.

Just a short stroll away is my newly remodeled dorm.  I live in the back so I have a great view of the canyon walls behind the building: 

I feel pretty lucky to live in a place with so much wildlife nearby.  I frequently see downy woodpeckers in the trees at the top of the stairs, and more than once I've nearly walked into a mule deer as I'm stumbling to breakfast in the morning.

The deer don't seem to be bothered by people at all, so it's pretty easy to get decent pictures of them.  It's my goal to get a great shot of a fox and a ringtail cat while I'm here, but in the meantime I'll share these:

Anywho, it's time for me to hit the hay.  More posts are coming soon, thanks for reading!