We've been planning to show the beauty of Utah Redrock Country to our visitor from Russian Far East, but the weather just didn't seem to cooperate, with frigid tempreatures and a series of snowstorms crossing the Southern part of the state. Finally it has become clear that we are down to our last chance of making the trip. Bryce or Arches, then?
At 6 in the morning, weather radar was showing snow falling over the Tushars and over La-Sal - Arches area - and all over Northern Utah too. It just didn't look like an easy drive - or like guaranteed sunshine - in either park. OK, let it be Bryce :)
The low snowclouds didn't let us see the mountains at dawn, but then the cloudcover parted, and the rays of rising Sun lit the ridge of Mt. Nebo, all adorned by the snowy flags ripped by the fierce ridgeline gale. Hmmm. It might be challenging driving across the mountain passes up ahead, but an even more interesting question is, will this wind blows us off the high plateau of Bryce Canyon?
It did snow at every pass, with tundra-like long drift shaping up behind every sagebrush, and the I-15 was largely down to one lane. But we just had one section of an outright whiteout.
Once we crossed into Upper Sevier Valley by Panguich, the Sun has finally come out. It was mostly blue skies over Bryce Canyon ahead, while an ominous-looking snowcloud to the West kept dumping on the higher ranges near Cedar Breaks. A short hike in Red Canyon, and we are off to the main target.
Once we drove up to the plateau of Bryce, it's become obvious that the sunny weather may not last. Another dark cloudbank was drifting off the heights of Aquarious Plateau, dumping snow on the lowlands beyond so ironically named Tropic.
So we changed the usual Rainbow-Point-first plan, and headed for the spectacular Bryce Point, to get the best shots while the sunshine lasts. It was very breezy on the rim - and the temperature was 14 degrees F, that's -10 C, the highest it was supposed to be today. The forecast was for -15 F lows tonight.
The road towards Rainbow Point was all snowbound and rather desolate. Two ravens were the only company we had up there.
There were no signs of rangers too, and we were really tempted to take a peek at forbidden terrain here and there.
The Sun hid behind the snowclouds at last, and our crew was so chilled to the bone that we started thinking about heading to lower elevation. But not before taking the last pictures of the Amphitheater from Sunset Point.
It was still over two hours till sunset, and the plan morphed into a quick assault on supposedly-balmy Zion NP.
I should admit that I've only been down in Zion once before, and only on the West side of the park. The crowds, the finicky permit system, and the pompous names of all these Temples and Thrones, were a huge turn-off for me.
This time we approached from the East, and I just fell in love with this country of cross-bedded sandstone with swirls and veins running on the slickrock. Most definitely, we will be back here! In the meantime, it was literally minutes left before sunset, and the last un-frozen puddles in Pine Creek turned golden bronze with reflected alpenglow.
Deep down in the Main Canyon, we stopped at Weeping Rock, which was frozen solid. The projectiles of falling icicles covered the trail and smashed the railings! We peeked into the Narrows in twilight, and then it was a long drive home.
I actually tried to talk the crew into stopping for a hot springs dunk, but the temperature was 8 F at Meadow, and the stop was voted down. Over the next pass, near Sevier River bridge, it was 4 degrees F and the icy fog was blanketing the highway - but then we saw the lights of Nephi and knew that it's gonna be home soon.