Thursday, October 04, 2007

Bighorn Sheep in Zion NP

I just returned from a fun road trip to southern Utah. I had 3 destinations, so I'll post them separately. Here, I'll describe my time at Zion National Park (which is one of my favorites). My goal was to wander around the backcountry on the east side of the park, and enjoy the scenery, maybe climb some hills to get some good photos, and maybe see some wildlife. In the end, I hit 2 out of 3.

The first photo is just a shot of the South Campground (under those trees) with the nice cliffs in the background. I had camp site 19, which I do NOT recommend. While it had great shade from large cottonwood trees, it was right next to the road and the intersection with the turn to the visitor center. That resulted in loads of traffic noise which didn't subside until very late. I walked around the campground and decided that camp sites 59 to 74 are the best. They're near the river and far from the road. I'll get one of those next time. Over half of the campers were using RVs or trailers. There were almost no children - probably because the school season has begun. The second photo was taken from a small rise on the east side of the park.

The weather forecast was for wind on my first day and a beautiful and mild second day, so I planned most of my hiking for the second day. Unfortunately, the weather front must have slowed a bit and the wind arrived on the second day. It was horribly windy. Dangerously windy. I would have been bothered if I were paying hotel rates. But since I paid $16/night, I can't really complain. Honestly, there were many times when I thought my tent was going to be blown off the ground, Wizard-of-Oz style. And that's when I was inside, with all my gear in there to help weigh it down.

While hiking in the early morning, before the wind came up, I stumbled upon a group of 4 rams. The first 3 left pretty fast and I was barely able to get pics of them before they were out of sight. The fourth one was larger, slower, last in the line, and spent a lot of time watching me. This matches the behavior I've seen with another ram on a previous hike there. So I had more time to take pics of him. I still didn't have enough time to retrieve my good camera from my backpack, so these were taken with my smaller camera and so are of lower quality in color and resolution. I spoke in a calm voice (note: I have no idea how I am supposed to react to a potentially hostile ram) just in case it might help him to believe that I was not a ram and I was not a threat to his territory or whatever.

That's him there, in silhouette. Then again in the zoomed views. He even seemed to glance back at me as he walked away slowly. The whole encounter was really fun. Too bad it lasted all of about three minutes. Shortly after this excitement, the weather turned bad as the wind arrived.

I ventured over to another area with the hopes of hiking up to a high vantage point for some nice photos of the tunnel entrance. By the time I arrived at the steep incline that I've climbed before to get up atop the mesa, the wind was blowing fiercely straight down it. The clouds were dark and moving fast, so I didn't know what kind of weather might be blown in. I decided it was too dangerous to climb up the steep hill (which I rate at class 3/4) because of the wind and because any rain would make that route entirely unusable. So I returned to the valley and hiked around some of the boring easy trails down there.

The next photo is looking back on the town of Springdale as I was leaving the next morning, which looked to become a beautiful day. I made sure to dine at my favorite place, the Zion Pizza and Noodle Company. I even tried one of their local microbrews. It's a great way to satisfy your hunger after a day of hiking. I recommend that place to all my friends.

The last photo is a gratuitous pic of Eagle Crags, a large rock formation outside of Springdale. On a future trip, I plan to hike the trail there that winds its way around and up into the rocks.

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