When posterity undergoes the enviable task of analysing and categorising this trip for reasons of historical import, week 5 will surely be recognised as National Park Week. Less gory than Shark Week but equally rousing, the past seven days or so have been a melee of visitor centres, soiled maps, and blood-thirsty sightseers.
Utah’s Capitol Reef National Park was first, and with it a taste of what was to come. Giant fragments of the earth’s crust suspended in skyward climb; innumerable miles of dusty trails patterning desert plains. Only here, walls of rock throw their shade over lush orchards, and ancient petroglyphs combine with odd relics of Mormon occupation to tell a poignant tale of the landscape’s history.
Bryce Canyon NP followed, a place that seemed of another world entirely. Here, columns of layered rock or ‘hoodoos’ creep upwards from the Canyon floor like frozen strings of syrup. Bryce brought heat and blisters in equal measure, and after just a day we delivered ourselves like warm buns from a bakery 83 miles to Zion National Park.
Just like the Mormon pioneers who (re)named the land ‘Zion’, it wasn’t long before we realised we’d found paradise here.* Carved and nurtured by the Virgin River, Zion Canyon is an oasis of unimaginable splendour – one in which steamy hikes are ameliorated by cool river dips, and fantastical vistas reward even the least adventurous (us two).
The noisy last slurp of our National Park tour de force entailed crossing the Arizona border for a glimpse of the Grand Canyon at dusk. We opted for North Rim over South and were suitably humbled. Smaller crowds at this more remote viewing point made it seem like the Canyon was revealing something secret in the sunset, and blushing as it did so. When the shades of red and brown had become deep indigo with the fading of the light, we re-applied the pedal to the metal and hit the road.
It need hardly be mentioned that all the above would have been impossible without the use of our motor vehicle. As alluded to last week, this trip is not a green one. Our van gets few miles to the gallon, and its unquenchable thirst for fuel has us in gas stations looking at donuts almost every other day.
But, at the very least, one unexpected benefit of van life in this respect has been the ability to quantify and minimise our waste – this because its smell leaks from the open bin bag to fill the van every morning. And besides what’s derived from the fuel, there isn’t too much: we eat all that we cook, recycle our recyclables, and wash in natural water sources. If, as ravenous 21st century humans, our very existence is detrimental to our surroundings, knowing the extent of our footprint can provide some consolation.
And so it is with this meagre conclusion that week 5 must give way to week 6, where Arizonan adventures and Californian crusades lie in wait.
*The land on which sits Zion National Park was originally named Mukuntuweap or ‘straight canyon’ by the Southern Paiute tribes.