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Southern Utah tour

June 9, 2012

At the end of April, I joined a tour of Southern Utah run by Whiskeyjack Nature Tours.  This gave me the opportunity to see an area that was completely unknown to me, as well as to spend eleven days with other people who had similar interests.  I also liked the idea of letting somebody else do all the planning and driving.

Our trip leader, Tony, is an experienced guide and tour leader.  It always amazes me that he is able to identify birds by sight or sound before the others are even aware of them.  All of the participants on this tour were birders, except for me.  I have more general interests but like to keep track of geology and vegetation as well as wildlife, as we travel along.  Everyone was a naturalist and photographer.  Most were retired, including me.

We saw dozens of unique and amazing landforms every day, so many that my mind is still overloaded with them.  There were large areas of desert interrupted by spectacular canyons and valleys that contained hoodoos, buttes, and incised meanders.  We visited national parks, state parks, national monuments, and Navajo tribal parks.  In each of these we stopped at several lookout sites, taking pictures and going on several short walks each day.  Some of the short walks were quite strenuous because of all the climbing they required.  The view at the end of these was well worth that effort.

I took 297 photographs on this tour!  I’ve sorted them by date and location, following my itinerary.   On the web page the dates are out of order, for reasons unknown to me, but the locations are in order.

At the beginning of our tour, we were at high elevations, with a Ponderosa pine forest and pronghorn antelope grazing in the meadows.  There was still snow in shady areas.  I was wearing jeans and a jacket at that point, but soon discarded my jacket and changed to shorts as the weather quickly got warmer.  I’m not used to wearing shorts in April.  Many people pointed out my sunburn.  I had forgotten to put sunscreen on the backs of my legs.  By the time they began to tingle, it was too late.  On the last day of our trip, it was oppressively hot at the bottom of Death Valley.

Bryce canyon presented us with dazzling scenes of hoodoos in row after row.  Rock spires that glowed in the sun appeared to be as delicate as fine china but absolutely static, as if frozen in time.  Only people moving along the trails broke the spell and allowed life to intrude again.

Zion canyon was completely different.  We drove through a long tunnel cut through a mountain side to reach the parking lot.  From there, we rode a free shuttle bus that took us up along the canyon.  I enjoyed the commentary from the driver along the way.  Then we worked our way back down, going on one of the walks at each shuttle stop, and then taking the bus to the next one.  The highlight of one of these was wild turkeys flying across the stream towards us.  Another walk had signs all along the way that described nearby plants, shrubs, and trees.  I even saw one for the Box Elder, which we know as Manitoba Maple.

Monument valley was different again.  We followed a winding dusty road through the valley, admiring the towering buttes on the skyline.  These have been the background for hundreds of western movies.  They looked familiar immediately.  There was even a movie being made while we were there.

At Capitol Reef National Park, a boardwalk running in front of a rock face gave us an excellent view of Fremont indian petroglyphs.  They scratched these into the dark stain on the surface of the rocks about a thousand years ago.  It was an amazing experience to see them right in front of me.

Some people might have seen only large stretches of nothing in between the canyons and valleys, but I was impressed with the sight of the southwestern deserts, and how varied they were.  Some had scattered sage, creosote bush, and Mormon tea.  Others were mostly pinyon pine and juniper.  Still others featured yucca cactus and joshua trees.  Ponderosa pine forests covered moister and cooler areas.  Several of the visitor centres had displays on the cryptobiotic soil, a fragile organic film that binds and stabilizes the sand surface of these desert areas.  When I looked for it near a popular walkway, I did find one patch large enough to photograph, but most of it had been destroyed by people walking all over the place.

I’m very pleased that I went on this trip.  The people on the tour were all interesting to talk to and enjoyable to be with.  Tony, our trip leader, was friendly and accomodating but also had an excellent knowledge of Southern Utah.  Time flew by so quickly that before I knew it I was back in Las Vegas airport waiting for my flight home.

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