The 114 room Bryce Canyon Lodge, built in 1925, offers guests the choice of suites, motel rooms and cabins. The Bearded Man checked into his cabin, gathered some gear and headed out to hike the Rim Trail. Extending from Fairyland to Bryce Point, Rim Trail has several steep elevation changes and is 5.5 miles one way. It also offers the finest views of what's commonly referred to as the Bryce Canyon National Park amphitheater. Several trails, such as Fairyland and Peek-A-Boo, lead deep into the canyon and offer spectacular view of the parks legendary hoodoos. But on this day The Bearded Man understood that when you hike into the canyon, you eventually have to climb out of the canyon, and in 103 degree heat, that may be less than fun. "Sticking to the rim. Only mules and the Varner family are heat resistant enough to head to the bottom today." Editors note: His seemingly innocent reference to the Varner family and their well documented tolerance of high temperatures, prompted phone calls from their attorney Mortey Steinway. All were allowed to go straight to voice mail. We've been around the block with these litigious heat-loving people before.
Bryce Canyon is home to 59 species of mammals, but only one is a potential killer. The mountain lion, also known as cougar, puma, panther, yellow cat, catamount, etc., is North America's largest member of the cat family. These majestic creatures once roamed throughout North America, but today, their range is limited to British Columbia and Alberta, Canada, the twelve westernmost states in the US, and Florida. An adult mountain lion, can be up to 30 inches tall at the shoulder, 8 feet long and weigh 175 pounds. A lethal ambush hunter, the mountain lion often leaps on its prey from trees or rock outcroppings. One lion can consume up to 20 or 30 pounds of meat in a single meal. After feeding on its kill, the lion will cache the prey, or bury it in a secluded spot. This feeding behavior prompted a warning from the NPS: "A Mountain Lion periodically returns to its food cache or may just rest between meals hidden nearby. Therefore, investigating a Mountain Lion food cache is fine if you can fly like a raven, but otherwise it is a very dangerous idea." Did The National Park Service just crack a joke or do they think certain visitors can actually fly?
Back at the lodge, The Bearded Man indulged in an early dinner that turned out to be one of the finest meals on his trip. It began with an oven roasted portabella mushroom stuffed with fresh sage, rosemary, feta cheese and panko bread crumbs. Followed by sliced tomatoes, fresh basil and fresh mozzarella drizzled with balsamic reduction. For his entree The Bearded Man selected the skin-on boneless Utah trout filet, crusted with almonds and panko, pan seared and topped with prickly pear cactus and roasted jalapeno puree, served with herb infused jasmine rice and freshly steamed broccoli. For dessert he managed to put away a large slice of homemade Rainbow Point carrot cake and a rather large bowl of vanilla bean ice cream. He also had a bottle of 1974 Beaulieu Vineyard's Georges de Latour Private Reserve, before asking the waiter to fetch an Uber for the 100 yard trip back to the cabin.
Bryce Canyon to Zion National Park is a little over an hour's dive southwest on Route 89. The Bearded Man's home for the night, Zion Lodge, lies in the middle of a hiker’s paradise, where "accommodations include historic cabins with two double beds, full bath, gas log fireplace and private porch and hotel rooms with a private porch or balcony. All rooms feature air conditioning, phones, radio alarm clocks and hairdryers." Alas, no TV for The Bearded Man to watch his beloved Detroit Tigers take on the Chicago White Sox. His National Park tour has taken a toll on his ability to keep up with the Tigers. (We've inserted this brief whine in hopes that Mr. Ilitch, who owns the Tigers, will take pity on The Bearded Man's plight and offer free tickets for the 2017 season. We love you Mr. I.)
The name “Zion” means a place of peace and refuge. As a sanctuary with over 146,000 acres of cliffs, canyons, diverse plant and animal life, and uninterrupted beauty, Zion is well-named. Its massive sandstone walls, some as high as 3,800 feet, offer an opportunity for serenity and reflection for all who visit - including the perpetually serene Bearded Man. Early paintings brought notice to these remarkable areas and inspired others to consider protecting them for generations to come. From the earliest days of Westward Expansion, artists joined explorers and scientists to document the “unknown” lands. Most American’s first notion that such places existed was from seeing a painting, either in person or reproduced in a magazine.
The towering cliffs of Zion Canyon were so remote and inaccessible, that the nation was not introduced to this landscape until the turn of the twentieth century. One of the first paintings of Zion was by a veteran of John Wesley Powell’s second expedition of the Colorado River, Frederick S. Dellenbaugh, in 1903. He also completed an article about Zion that appeared in a popular magazine and through these mediums, Dellenbaugh transported this unknown canyon to visitors to the St. Louis World Fair and into the homes of Scribner’s Magazine readers over 100 years ago. Dellenbaugh’s images and words: “this great temple of eternity,” raised awareness about this majestic canyon and influenced some to petition for its protection as a national park. Today, the Zion National Park Foundation hosts an annual Zion National Park Plein Air Art Invitational. The event brings together 24 of the country's finest landscape artists to paint en plein air (in the open air) throughout the week. Attendees walk and talk en plein air as well. (Used en plein air twice in one paragraph. This has never been done in the history of the English language.)
The 8 hour round-trip hike from LaVerkin Creek Trail to Kolob Arch, provides outstanding opportunities for solitude in a primitive area of Zion Wilderness. The trail begins at Lee Pass with stunning views of the Kolob Canyons as it crosses Timber Creek and continues to descend toward LaVerkin Creek. After seven miles a spur trail leads hikers to a viewpoint where they can see the Kolob Arch. With a span of 287 feet and a thickness of 75 feet, the Kolob Arch is one of the world's largest natural arches. And at this juncture, The Bearded Man decided to remove his boots and take a brief rest on the side of the trail. The tarantula returning to its underground burrow, directly under The Bearded Man's left butt cheek, did not take kindly to the human roadblock. Unlike their common depiction in horror films, tarantulas are actually quite docile unless harassed and their bite is considered non-toxic to humans. The Bearded Man was unaware of this fact and proceeded to leap up (we didn't realize he could jump so high) and sprint down the trail, screaming like a kid from the Vienna Boys Choir. Fortunately he was not bitten and after 45 minutes got up the nerve to return to the scene and retrieve his boots.
Back at the lodge, shaken but not deterred, The Bearded Man decided that a good meal and a good night's sleep would erase his horrifying encounter with the tarantula. The Red Rock Grill, with its large windows overlooking the floor of the canyon and the soaring stone walls, was the perfect place to start. Seriously, there's isn't much that a plate of fresh, oven roasted Alaskan salmon won't cure. Add some garlic mashed potatoes, steamed asparagus and a side of buttered calamari and life starts looking up. An ice cold 16 ounce Mexican Coke served in a glass bottle as a finishing touch. Editors Note: We understand that an ice cold Mexican Coke with such a lovely meal is not the norm in polite society. And The Bearded Man cares why?
Driving north for 3 1/2 hours before driving south for 7 1/2 hours, seems a bit counter intuitive. But when you look at a map, the only way to get from Zion to Great Basin National Park in Nevada, before going to Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, is to drive north then south. So as always, The Bearded Man was up with the sun and on the road. His plan was to have breakfast at Arshels Cafe, in Minersville, Utah (with a piece of chocolate/peanut butter pie to go) and breeze into Great Basin around 9 AM and he did just that.
With the exception of remote back-country camping, there is no camping or lodging of any kind inside Great Basin. The town of Baker, Nevada, however, offers a bit of everything for the weary traveler. The Bearded Man chose The Silver Jack Inn and Lectrolux Cafe from his list and checked in. A comfortable room and let's just call it an eclectic mix throughout the rest of the place. The Lectrolux Cafe would certainly come in handy after a long day in the park.
"The finest workers in stone are not copper or steel tools, but the gentle touches of air and water working at their leisure with a liberal allowance of time." So says Henry David Thoreau. And there is no finer example of the touches of air and water than Lehman Cave. A beautiful marble cave ornately decorated with stalactites, stalagmites, helictites, flowstone, popcorn, and over 300 rare shield formations, Lehman Cave is only accessible as part of a ranger guided tour. Before entering the cave The Bearded Man was asked if he had been in another cave recently as a precaution against the spread of a bat disease known as White Noise Syndrome, a disease responsible for unprecedented mortality in hibernating bats in the eastern United States and Canada. Since he has been to Mammoth Cave in the last month or so, he was asked to wipe down his boots with decontaminating wipes. In an unrelated incident, he was also asked if he had a mint. He did.
The Grand Palace Tour is approximately 90 minutes long and travels 0.6 miles. The tour leads visitors to the Gothic Palace, the Music Room, the Lodge Room, Inscription Room, and the Grand Palace sections of Lehman Caves, including a chance to view the famous "Parachute Shield" formation. The Bearded Man, with newly decontaminated boots, was fascinated by the unique thousand year old formations, colors and frailty of the various rooms. The cave's ecosystem also includes many species that are only found in Great Basin, including insects such as Globular Springtail, Great Basin Pseudo-Scorpion, Model Cave Harvestman and the ever popular translucent Cave Cricket.
Back above ground, The Bearded Man opted for an early dinner at the Lectrolux Cafe, before heading back to the park for what was sure to be a beautiful evening under the stars. As of spring 2016, Great Basin has been designated an International Dark Sky Park. The International Dark Sky Association has recognized that Great Basin has distinguished and unique opportunities to experience dark nights. On a clear, moonless night in Great Basin National Park, thousands of stars, five of our solar system's eight planets, star clusters, meteors, man-made satellites, the Andromeda Galaxy, and the Milky Way can be seen with the naked eye. The area boasts some of the darkest night skies left in the United States. Low humidity and minimal light pollution, combined with high elevation, create a unique window to the universe. and tonight The Bearded Man took full advantage of where he was. "Few things in life compare to the awesome beauty of a dark night's clear star filled sky. I wish I could describe how breathtaking the sky is tonight. Let's just say it has a way of making you feel humble." With that, The Bearded Man had to look away for fear of being seen shedding a tear.
The trip from Great Basin to Grand Canyon is an 8 hour trip that will take The Bearded Man from Nevada, in and out of Utah and end up in Arizona. Two stops are planned - The French Spot in Cedar City, Utah for a late breakfast and Bitter Springs, Arizona for a late lunch. Dinner will be at the Bright Angel Restaurant after a shower and a nap in his cabin at Bright Angel Lodge, on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. The Bearded Man has been looking forward to this park since he began planning his trip many, many months ago. In an effort to help him relax and enjoy his stay, we made sure the lodge staff left a copy of "Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon - Gripping accounts of all known fatal mishaps in the most famous of the World's Seven Natural Wonders" by Michael P. Ghiglieri and Thomas M. Myers, on his bedside table. Sleep tight my friend...sleep tight.