Traveling northeast on Interstate 15, retracing the route I’d taken two weeks before with Ulrich, dèja vú as strong as black coffee, Kathy and I angled towards Hurricane, Utah, and instead of turning right at the edge of town we went left, up the hill, to Springdale and Zion National Park, and everything I’d done earlier in the trip melted away.
Sunset teased us when we arrived, with bunches of dark clouds arranged behind the massive rocks overlooking Springdale. A flicker of color, and then it was gone. Sunrise the following day was equally brief, and thoroughly dominated by clouds. But as I’d learned on prior visits to Zion, the sky isn’t as integral to landscape photographs there as it is in other locations, like Monument Valley. The reason is simple—the views are vertical—towering rock walls, with the picturesque Virgin River winding through the canyon below, are the Main Subject. Clouds are merely whipped cream on the top.
I feel cramped photographically when I’m there—even wide angle lenses don’t alleviate that. I’ve hiked to viewpoints above the canyon and…well, stunning is the word but not for me. Not for the photos I want to take. Sounds picky, I know, but I just don’t care for the ant-like shuttle busses crawling way down there on the road. Or the road, for that matter (hypocritical, since I’m driving). This leaves me searching for flat ground, down by the ever-present river. (The aforementioned shuttles, by the way, are the only way you can access the canyon during most of the year, unless you’re staying at Zion Lodge.)
Kathy and I shuttled to the end of the line and worked our way back to Zion Lodge, where we had lunch. We watched several hikers in cold-water gear head up The Narrows; stopped to huddle under the overhang at the Weeping Rock; and finally followed a trail to Emerald Pools, each of these short walks giving up something a bit different than the others, yet all tying together in a decidedly Zion-type way. At the lodge we were chased from an outside terrace as we sat down to eat by quick-moving gusts of wind and rain, and finished standing inside with a dozen other visitors as the storm pelted the windows. Sunshine reappeared as suddenly as the rains departed—time to catch a shuttle to the main parking lot and move on to Kanab.
Zig-zagging up the highway to the northeastern edge of Zion, I stopped whenever I could to take in the vistas, sandstone accented by fir, maple, and pine trees. I was sorry to be hurrying by, but elated to see the wonderful light developing across the Checkerboard Mesa. This is a gentler, rounded landscape compared to the canyon. Rocks, small plants and trees coexist across the mesa in limitless eye-catching combinations, a visual balance of nature.
As we left the park behind rain hung from black storm clouds along the horizon, while faint rainbows tinged the sky. As often happens, the highway didn’t go in the right direction—there would be no dramatic display to cap off the day. Fortunately for us, Zion had already stolen the show.