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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Find Your Own Zion

Zion: A place of sanctity and refuge. Also a biblical place.

Here in Utah, Zion refers to the land colonised by the Mormons (also known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) upon their exodus from Nauvoo in the 1800s, a sanctuary in the Salt Lake Valley where they could practise their faith in peace.

As we're here in Utah, I'm reading 'The 19th Wife', a novel based on the theme of Mormon faith and history. Apart from pushing forward with the main plot (a very good dual storyline), the characters talk about their beautiful lands - the majestic snow-capped mountains, the lush valley, the great basin and the red sands. The beauty of Utah is truly breathtaking - similar in its red rock landscape, yet unique in each national park. Zion Canyon was conferred national park status in 1909. It was an honour to be fortunate enough to visit an amazing nature reserve that has been valued, treasured and protected by its people for the past 100 years. People with utmost pride for the history, heritage and beauty of this place.

Zion is a relatively small park - too small for its 5,000 daily visitors to squeeze into the 400 parking spaces available. To ease the traffic congestion within the park, the National Park Service started offering free shuttle services to ferry visitors comfortably from point to point. The most popular route, the Canyon Scenic Highway is closed entirely to private vehicles.

So, we arrive in the park in the late morning. Dannie, being the night owl and even more so with free Wifi and a good selection of American TV entertainment every night, is in desperate need of a snooze. So we park our Chrysler Cruiser (this is off the Canyon Scenic Highway - so cars are allowed) at a turnout and I busy myself snapping some pictures of the gorgeous red/pink/cream cliffs around us.

When he woke, we trekked a little along an relatively easy trail which offers wonderful viewpoints of the Zion canyon below us, leaving a trail of footprints in the red sand and carrying shoefulls of the red dust along with us. But the deep red walls themselves alone cannot take credit for the beauty of the trail - the broken trees with their brittle bare branches that form intricate patterns against the sky, the splashes of green foliage, the impossibly blue desert sky that forms the backdrop for everything were all part of it.

At the trail summit, an unblocked view of the canyon broke out before us. It was almost impossible to imagine that a single river - the Virgin River - carved out a canyon as huge as this. At Death Valley, wind had felt like the most powerful element then in shaping the landscape. Water is a tough competitor here - tirelessly gouging out a wall of rock that stands in its way. Being amongst the red giants was a humbling experience which yet gave us the top-of-the-world feeling! Whoo!

We hopped onto the park shuttle and zipped off to The Grotto, a picnic area for yet another lunch of sandwiches - Nutella instead of Spam, apples and mini chocolate bars. (Last night, I was wondering how many more Nutella sandwiches I can eat. While writing, I just ate another one.) We got bitten on the ears by nasty little bugs and made a hasty retreat back into the shuttle to the Temple of Sinawava stop for the Riverside Walk, a scenic journey dotted in the colours of Zion - red, blue and green.

Walking along the river as it wound its way through the canyon was pretty enough - but it got rather monotonous after awhile. We turned out attentions to the sky, which, interfaced with the red cliff faces and darkened tree branches, gave us alot more photography options.

John Muir, a renowned naturalist who played a key role in preserving what are now America's national parks, once said by keeping close to Nature's heart, we can "wash our spirit clean".

Tis' true, a simple afternoon spent walki
ng amongst these warmly glowing cliffs did wonders in renewing my spirit.


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