Day 13: Zion National Park, Utah
We sleep in late today and enjoy a leisurely breakfast in camp. I take Lorie into nearby Springdale for shopping, then drive back up the Zion–Mt. Carmel Highway toward the east park entrance. Parking on a roadside turnout, I hike up into the slickrock hills to explore these beautifully sculpted and wind-weathered forms. Countless layers of sand deposited on an ancient sea-bed 240 million years ago have since hardened into stone. When the oceans receded, these landforms were exposed to the wind and flowing and freezing waters, and even today continue to be carved and shaped into their varied and evocative forms.
To walk in this quiet and alien landscape is to visit another realm, and to glimpse some measure of what can result from miniscule and imperceptible changes multiplied over countless eons. Nothing can be as ‘old as the hills’ when compared to these ancient and weathered bones of the earth lying exposed to daylight.
The drive back down into the canyon is just as awe-inspiring as two days ago when we saw it for the first time. It is plain to see why both native peoples and later Mormon settlers each applied their respective spiritual and religious names to this place, for it truly inspires thoughts of a world beyond this one.
I meet Lorie near the visitor center to enjoy our final sunset in this beautiful place. Tomorrow we will begin our return journey north, then eastward to our home in the Midwest. After the last fading rays of the sun depart from the canyon wall, we enjoy gyros and beer in a small cafe, then begin our walk back through the darkening park grounds to our camp. The narrow belt of stars overhead seems all the brighter when framed on two sides by the black and looming hulks of the canyon walls, and as I watch, a bright new star moves into view.
Appearing from behind one rim of the canyon, this celestial body—larger and brighter than any other—moves with an eerie and determined grace across the starfield. Before we can utter a surprised word to one another, a second and equally bright point of light appears, following at a steady speed close behind the first. Together and in tandem, this pair of bright stars tracks smoothly across the night sky on a silent and disconcertingly straight course.
Within a moment, I recall hearing a radio report earlier that day about the space shuttle Atlantis having undocked from the orbiting International Space Station and pulling away to begin its return to Earth, and I realize we must now be witnessing this super-aerial ballet. The pair tracks across the dark sky—leading us from West to East—and I briefly ponder their flight, and our own impending return to our home in the East.
As first one point of light disappears behind the opposite canyon wall, followed a moment later by the other, I can only hope that our return journey from these high mountains to the lowlands of our home does not resemble too closely the descent and fiery re-entry that await those brave astronauts. Though finally touching down in our driveway and familiar bed will be no less sweet …
- Total Trip Mileage: 4781 Miles
- Total Fuel Used: 184 Gallons
- Overall Trip Average: 26 MPG
- Oil Consumption: 3 Qts.