I’m glad it worked out that Zion was the first stop on the Utah leg of my trip. It’s a compact park, the vast majority of the trails are safe and doable as a solo hiker, and in two days, I felt I’d hit the highlights. At least the highlights of the main part of the park. I’m told the back entrance on the high Kanab Plateau offers longer hikes and fewer crowds. Also fewer amenities, as driving through, I counted a campground, a blacksmith’s shop, a little market and dozens of dead deer. I’m not sure if people drive faster than they should in this area or the deer here have a death wish. The carnage was horrific.
But let me backtrack and tell you how I got there. As I pulled out of my campground in Zion and headed for Bryce Canyon, my GPS kept telling me to go into the park. Since my GPS has periodically tried to send me down BLM dirt roads, I assumed it was confused. I couldn’t remember the turn off to Bryce, but I was pretty sure it was back the way I came. So I backtracked to the nearest town, checked my map, and sure enough the road to Bryce did indeed go through Zion National Park. Back down the road again, having completed a 40 mile detour, I found out how you get from Zion to Bryce. Tunnels. Kind of scary tunnels blasted right through the rocks of Zion. Full disclosure, the tunnels were scary to me because I had neglected to learn how to turn on the headlights. (Note to self: be sure you are completely familiar with your vehicle. A 1921 era tunnel is not the place to consult the Owner’s Manual.) In my defense, I had no intention of driving Buffalo Soldier anywhere near evening, so, although I read the manual, this bit of info didn’t get uploaded to the memory banks.
Of course, the drive was incredibly scenic — all high plateau, lodgepole pine forests and strange rock formations.
Before I show you some pictures and tell you about the rest of the visit, let me tell you why, from this point on, I will NOT be referring to this park as Bryce Canyon. I’ve been learning about the original inhabitants, the Paiutes. As you can imagine, both Zion and Bryce were sacred to them. Thank goodness the Park centers are starting to tell their story. Because the various little museums along the way and the factoids in the guidebooks were starting to grate on me. The narrative is always how the Mormons got here with great difficulty and with herculean effort carved out agriculture in the river valley areas between the two parks. As if the Paiutes were just lazing around living off the fat of the land. In reality, what we are learning (which we would have known if anyone had asked a Paiute) is that several of the Southwestern and California peoples were some of the most sophisticated biologists, insectologists, botanists, agriculturalists and ecological engineers the world has ever seen. Instead of farming in little rows (and depleting the soil) as the Mormons did, the Paiutes actually “farmed” their whole ecosystem. And they did it in miraculous ways, specifically to mimic the ways that Nature would stimulate growth. So they effected controlled burns, they harvested plants and trees, pruning them in ways that stimulated increased growth and facilitated more easy access by key pollinators. In fact, The Autry Museum of the West has a new exhibit showing how California’s peoples did the same. (A companion series is running on LA’s Public TV Channel.) You can bet I’ll be hitting the Autry on the return leg of this trip.
So, in addition, to not being given credit, until just recently, for their incredible scientific knowledge, the Paiutes suffered the indignity of being thrown off the best watered and most sacred of their lands because the Mormons thought, “Hey, we’re here and we want it.” Adding further insult, the johnny-come-lately settlers promptly renamed everything. The one that most sticks in my craw is Bryce. Because Ebenezer Bryce didn’t do a blessed thing to preserve the canyon named for him. He built the first road in so it could be logged. And he was famously impervious to its beauty. When asked what he thought of the magnificent canyon just behind his cabin, he was supposed to have answered: “It’s a Hell of a place to lose a cow.”
Strip his name immediately off this land! I have an alternative. Seems the Paiutes believed that the B-canyon was originally inhabited by the Legend People. But they were wicked, so the Coyote trickster god, Sinawava, turned them to stone. Those are the HooDoos we see and the Paiutes have traditional stories about all of them. In a remarkable act of respect, the Park Service has printed the almost-accurate version of this legend. Seems the Paiutes only allow these stories to be told in Winter, so the Park Service doesn’t print the full or completely accurate legend, so the stories will not be read out of season.
So I hearby declare we should drop the B-word and rename it Sinawava Canyon National Park. I’m still pondering Zion’s new name. They do have a part of the Zion Canyon named The Temple of Sinawava. As if Coyote Trickster needs a temple! John Wesley Powell was more sensitive than the Mormons. When he mapped Zion, he put the name down as Mukuntuweap which he was told by a Paiute guide was their name for it meaning “Straight up land.” I’m with Powell. Rename Zion Mukuntuweap National Park.
With naming all sorted out, I spent a good part of my second day in Sinawava Canyon taking a long horse ride down to the floor of the canyon on the Peek-a-Boo Loop trail.
When I say close encounters, I mean really close. We were warned that the mules and horses need to find the footing that they are comfortable with. So we weren’t to try to steer them from one side of the trail to the other, but let them choose their steps. Bonnie decided she was most comfortable on the extreme edge of every cliff. So you’ll understand why I didn’t get too many pictures on horseback. I was concentrating on looking down to where I might be falling. But, in the end, Bonnie guided me down and up with ease and was a comfortable friendly ride.
Thanks Bonnie! And thanks, Sinawava, for the HooDoos.