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Keep It Rolling (Grand Canyon, Pipe Spring NM, Zion)

Friday, 16 September 2022, Hurricane UT

Hard to imagine a better way to start the day than gazing out the windows of the restaurant, watching the sun's rays creep into the canyon, highlighting the red rocks. Do we really have to leave?

Loaded up the car, waved goodbye to Crusty, and started the drive north, back to Utah. This time, grey clouds did not accompany us, only bright skies promising good weather to complete our trip. Halfway to Jacob Lake, we passed a bicyclist heading south... then another, then several more. After counting fifty of them, we stopped at a cyclist's rest station to get the scoop. It turns out that a group of eighty cyclists from Wales had signed up for a charity tour, raising millions of dollars for a hospital back home. They were a dedicated bunch - last year, they'd bicycled from Yosemite to San Francisco.

We split up the drive with a stop at Pipe Spring National Monument, just off the highway. The park documents the history of the Arizona Strip from 1850-1900, when three cultures collided: the Paiutes; Mormon pioneers; and the federal government. Prior to the arrival of the Mormons, the Paiutes had lived there for generations, honoring the nature of the region, reaping the rewards of a land "covered in native grasses belly-high to a horse." Then the Mormons arrived with their cattle, built a tiny fort they dubbed Windsor Castle around the spring, and diverted its water for their gardens. Within two decades, overgrazing had permanently altered the environment (some things never change!), changing the grasslands to a scrubby expanse.

Many of the Mormons had fled here when Utah, in order to gain statehood, had outlawed polygamy. Men would hide their plural wives here, to keep them away from government agents. The feds, besides enforcing the laws in the territory, also had to keep peace with the Native Americans, some of whom raided the settlements.

This period of adjustment occupied the last half of the 19th century before compromises allowed the cultures to co-exist. Early in the 20th century, once the NPS came to life, Stephen Mather took a trip here and determined that Pipe Spring could serve well as an attraction for people driving between the North Rim and Zion (like Bill and I!). After years of Mather's efforts, President Harding established a National Monument here in 1923.

The small monument preserves the feel of that time. A hiking trail on the ridge behind the spring offers views over the land. Windsor Castle

looks as it did in its heyday; several rooms contain mementos of life from over a century ago.

The spring still flows - even though developments to the north have cut the flow from 45 gallons/minute to 1/10 of that - and keeps the garden alive.

We spent two hours there, hiking the trail, touring the fort, looking into the museum. A nice break on a long drive.

Another 75 minutes on the road took us to Springdale UT, gateway to Zion. I'd heard stories of the crowds plaguing the park, and quickly confirmed the issue. Electronic signs said parking lots in the park were full, directing us to park in town and take the Springdale shuttle to the Visitor Center. (A second shuttle takes people from the Visitor Center to points in the park.) Given how the town thrives with the tourists visiting Zion, I was disappointed to see the prices to park - one lot next to Zion's entrance advertised a flat fee of $40! We found on-street, metered parking at $1/hour, and $2 got us to the end of the afternoon (after which it was free).

At the Visitor Center, I asked a ranger if Ranger Jonathan S. was available. He gave me a phone number, and I checked with him to see if my '1st Amendment' request to speak at Zion had been cleared. Unfortunately, my application had disappeared down a rabbit hole, and I didn't have enough time to resurrect it. That loss was offset by a win - the weather forecast for tomorrow gave a green light for hiking The Narrows. (This uber-popular hike involved wading through the Virgin River as it cut through a deep, narrow canyon. A storm above the canyon would send flash floods through The Narrows, and officials would close the trail if rain is possible. No problems for tomorrow!)

With business handled, we had time to sample the park. The ranger recommended the Lower and Middle Emerald Pools trail, so we hopped on the shuttle and headed up-canyon. The trail gave us the light workout we relished - no insanely steep pitches, but steady slopes to make us feel the workout. On the Lower trail, we hiked along cliffs with water seeping out of the rocks.

At one point, we found ourselves behind a thin stream of a waterfall.

We took the Middle trail to return, walking by a small pool. As we passed it, I realized - I've seen this before! This is a trail I'd taken on a trip decades ago.

After this 'appetizer' of the park,

we returned to Hurricane for our hotel. A Thai restaurant enticed us for dinner as we celebrated a trip that had finally gotten back on the right track.

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