"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Sunday Salon -- Leave Only Footprints + Our National Park Odyssey

Sunset as we were hiking out of the Canyon Overlook trail in Zion National Park

We are back from our sixteen day odyssey to visit Utah's five National Parks (Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef) and a vacation with our family.

While on the trip, I read Leave Only Footprints: My Acadia-to Zion Journey Through Every National Park by Conor Knighton. The book is organized on themes, not alphabetically by park. I thought I'd tell you about our trip using the themes Knighton used in his book. That way I can knock off a book review at the same time as updating you on my life and our trip. I hopscotched around the book, reading the chapters related to the parks we were visiting and then other parks I've visited in the past or would like to visit in the future. My review will jump around, too.

Sunday morning view from the rental house.

Our grandsons enjoying their 'snow day.'

(Chapter 4 -- Capitol Reef, Yosemite, Lake Clark)
     We all arrived at our rented house on Saturday around dinner time. Sunday being Easter we decided to forgo visiting Zion the next day, at least early in the morning, preferring to stay back and attend our Easter Church service remotely, have an egg hunt for the boys, and enjoy checking out the neighborhood. Lucky we'd made these stay-close-to-home plans because we woke up to snow -- six to eight inches of it -- and wouldn't have wanted to travel that day in snow. Instead, we donned what warm clothes we could find and went out to explore the snowy environs.
     This chapter in Leave Only Footprints, explores how spending time in nature can be a very sacred experience, making one feel closer to God. Knighton compared his experiences in the three named parks (listed in chapter 4) with his experiences attending church camp as a teenager. I could relate. As a teenager, I attended summer camp in the Oregon Cascade Mountains every summer. There is something about being in nature that makes one/allows one to feel closer to God.
     We sure felt closer to God and to each other on this special, snowy Easter day. Later in the week, especially during hikes in Zion and at Bryce Canyon in general, I wanted to burst out into song in thanks to God for this tremendous gift of beautiful nature.

A majestic view of the Virgin River running through Zion NP. This serene view is how we all picture nature at our National Parks.

Some of the people at Zion NP: us! This is the end of my favorite hike, taken at dusk -- The Canyon Overlook Trail.

People (Chapter 11 -- Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches)
     Don and I gave our family this trip as a Christmas gift. We rented a big house 30 minutes east of Zion National Park. The house was a perfect fit for our family of seven. It had three bedrooms with attached baths for the adults, and a game room with a pull out bed for Ian and a pack-n-play crib for Jamie who at three doesn't mind scrunching into to sleep.  Don and I made the trip in our EV pickup, the rest of the family flew from Seattle to Las Vegas, rented a car, and drove the 3 1/2 hours to get there.
     In the book, Conor Knighton named the chapter which included three of the Utah parks 'People' because there are so many tourists (read TOO many people) parking is a problem and the serene hikes you envision may end up being more like being in the middle of a mob. We especially experienced this overcrowding in Zion. The first day after our snow day, we didn't all get to the park in time to find a parking place. Don had to park far from the central parking lot and rode the shuttle back to join the family. From that point forward we always made a point of arriving at the parks before 8 AM, if possible, for fear of not finding any parking spots and because the only way up the valley is via shuttles, we didn't want to have to wait for hours in line to catch our ride.
      Several of our hikes in Zion were overcrowded and I found myself often stepping aside so that others could pass me, since I am a slow, plodding hiker and don't like to feel pushed. But even so, the beauty of the place was so awe-inspiring. And it was such a joy to be with our young grandsons who were so exuberant and happy being outdoors.

Don and I and lots of dinosaur skeletons in the Utah Natural History Museum

Mama Desert Bighorn Sheep with her lamb in Zion National Park. Photo by D. Adams.

(Chapter 3 -- Everglades, Channel Islands, Pinnacles, Death Valley)
     It took Don and I several days to make the trek from our home near Seattle to Southern Utah. We stopped one night at my sister's home in Boise, and spent some time in Salt Lake City, while there we visited the Utah Natural History Museum which is stuffed full of dinosaur bones. We had a wonderful afternoon exploring extinct animals. In addition we saw many, many deer (dead and alive) en route, a few pronghorns, a family of desert bighorn sheep, elk, and several chipmunks. Outside of the plethora of deer, I was pretty surprised how few mammals we saw on our trip. We did identify many new birds, however, many that don't live near us like Wild Turkeys and Juniper Titmouses. We thought we saw two California Condors flying overhead as we munched on our daily lunch of peanut butter sandwiches, but on closer inspection I realized they were just Turkey Vultures, very common birds. Wouldn't it have been fun to see Condors, though? These huge scavengers are making a recovery from near extinction and the National Parks are good places for them to live. 
     In the book Knighton talks about how the Channel Islands are home to a special fox and it is thanks to the National Park that those little guys are making a big comeback today.

Rita and her family horsing around at a snowy overlook in Bryce Canyon NP. I sure love all these goofballs.

Carly and I with the Bryce Canyon sandstone hoodoos behind us.

(Chapter 18: Canyonlands, North Cascades)
     Conor Knighton embarked on his year-long crusade to visit all of the US National Parks after his fiance broke up with him months before their planned wedding. He was hurt and angry. In this chapter he talks about how he found love and friendship on his journeys, and eventually healing. At one point while hiking in the North Cascades he met and dated a woman several times before realizing that the relationship wasn't special. He wanted "a national park kind of love. Something that felt different and special compared with everything else surrounding it" (228).
     I experienced love from my family as they would help me on the hikes by staying close to me in case I needed a hand up or a shoulder to help my way down. Knighton mentioned and we experienced the collegiality of hikers in greeting one another and offering encouragement and advice. I sure experienced the encouragement from others: "You can do it. This is not a race. Go slow and you'll make it." "You go girl." Or, "The best path is to the right and you'll be there in ten minutes." It is rare that anyone receives this kind of encouragement and support as you pass them on a city street. Ha!

This is the beautiful picnic spot we found during our visit to Arches NP. Unfortunately it was too windy and cold to enjoy an outdoor picnic and after a few minutes of trying to eat and enjoy nature at the same time, we retreated to the truck to finish our meal.

(Chapter 19: Gates of the Arctic, Kobuk Valley, Cuyahoga Valley)
     Everyone needs to eat but sometimes, in fact lots of times, national parks aren't anywhere near to an easy source of food. The ranger at the Gates of the Arctic NP, for example, has to buy all of his food ahead of traveling to his work station and has no easy source of food if any of his supplies run out. Now we weren't in the Arctic, obviously, but the home where we stayed wasn't anywhere near a store or a restaurant. So we purchased all the food we needed for our stay in the town of St. George, Utah before we arrived. Everyday before heading out on our day's adventure we'd make up a lunch of peanut butter and jam sandwiches, cut apples, carrot sticks, and veggie straw chips. We carried water and granola bars with us as we hiked. We shared the responsibility of preparing dinner for the group each night. Don and I carried on the same tradition after the family returned home at week's end of preparing lunch each day before setting out to visit a park each day.  
Don at the trailhead of one of our many hikes in Arches NP. We were particularly aware of the diversity of races and nationalities in this park because we had a timed entry to the park so we found ourselves traveling to the many scenic sights with the same people all day.

Arches was the first park we visited after the rest of our family returned home. As retirees Don and I weren't on a time schedule. Our kids were. We wore ourselves out this day hiking over 20,000 steps. Most of the arches landmarks can't be seen from the road.

Diversity (Chapter 21: Mount Rainier, Shenandoah)    
     While hiking on Mt. Rainier, Conor Knighton, came upon a Black woman guide. It hit him that he had not seen many Blacks on his travels through any of the national parks. The woman confirmed that that is the case. There is a lop-sided number of Whites in the population who utilize tha parks and she is hoping to do something about this. I thought of this chapter often as we hiked through the five parks we visited because I think it isn't correct. There may be a lack of diversity from within the US but there certainly is a huge diversity at the national parks from around the world. One couldn't take a step without overhearing a plethora of world languages, many of which we had no idea what they were. We, of course, heard a lot of the Germanic, Spanish, and French languages. Those are the ones we recognized. But many of the visitors were from all parts of Asia: Indian subcontinent, East Asia, Russia, Japan...we don't know where since we couldn't identify the languages. It seems like the national parks are our best tourism draws. We may not have old cathedrals but we've got The Grand Canyon and Yosemite. Take that, Europe!

Rita and Jamie playing on the floor of the rental house east of Zion.

(Chapter 22: Isle Royale, Olympic, Virgin Islands)
     Our national parks vacation was certainly a time of disconnecting -- from politics, church business, work, school, bills and other responsibilities -- but it was also a time of connection with our family and each other. Don figured out that we spent 65 hours in the truck together alone! That's a lot of time with one person, even if you love them. My parents used to rent houses for our family vacations and have continued this tradition even to this day, allowing the next generation and the next to enjoy time with cousins and siblings we might not see otherwise. I hope our children and their families will remember our holiday together, where we disconnected from the rest of the world and enjoyed spending time together in nature.

I really enjoyed reading Leave Only Footprints by Conor Knighton. But I would not recommend this book if you are looking for a guide to the Utah National Parks. You know the kind of book I'm referring to? The kind of guide tells you about the best trails, where to find accommodations, and where to park. This is not that kind of book.

Love (reprise)
     Don and I stopped to spend a night going and coming with my sister and her family in Idaho. I am so grateful for their hospitality and loved the evening we spent together with them and our nephews and their significant others. Family love is the best. Thank you, Grace and Rock!

Highlights/favorites from each park:
ZION: Everything about Zion NP is stunning. My favorite hike was the Canyon Overlook Trail. We found a spot to park among the limited places and hiked late in the day, just before dusk. (Pictured: my daughters and grandson, Ian.)

BRYCE CANYON: Don, Dan (S.I.L) and Ian took a hike among the sandstone hoodoos. They all reported how wonderful this hike was and the guide we consulted said it was one of the best hikes in the nation. (Pictured: Don and Ian holding hands among the hoodoos.) My daughters and younger grandson, Jamie, and I went for a hike around the rim. But the snow was high and prevented easy passage or we found a lot of mud in the melt.

ARCHES: This park has so many highlights it is hard to pick one. (Pictured: Don approaching the North Window arch.)

CANYONLANDS: The views were all spectacular.

CAPITOL REEF: My favorite was the hike we took in the Capitol Reef Gorge. It was breathtakingly beautiful but I also loved the huge, old cottonwood trees, one is named the Mail Tree due to its proximity to where the mail was delivered. We lunched under these huge trees. They are not in leaf yet. 

And a bonus park:
Mudstone hoodoos

Goblin Valley Utah State Park. It is the setting of one of our favorite movies: Galaxy Quest.

Books: I finished two additional print books besides Leave Only Footprints. (Watch for a post about all these books and audiobooks this coming week):
  • Dark Testaments: Blackout Poems by Crystal Simone Smith
  • No Cure for Being Human by Kate Bowler
Audiobooks finished during the trip:
  • The Fraud by Zadie Smith
  • Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz
  • Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan
  • Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
  • Sweet Thunder by Ivan Doig
Currently reading/listening to:
  • West With Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge (a book club selection I postponed listening to during the trip)
  • When You Ask Me Where I'm Going by Jasmin Kaur (a poetry month selection)
  • Prequel: An American Fight Against Fascism by Rachel Maddow (We finished about a quarter of the book on the last leg of our drive home. Now Don and I will have to find time to finish it when we aren't in the car.)

Funny signs seen inside/just outside the national parks:
This handmade sign just outside of Canyonlands.

Lucky we were paying attention because moments after seeing the sign, there they were, cows on the road.

Inside Capitol Reef we were warned to be on the lookout for marmots crossing the road.

Since we are finally back from our big vacation, our daughter finally is moving out and into the townhome she bought over a month ago. I need to sign off and go help her batch up all her stuff. Have a good week!


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