Category Archives: FEATURE ARTICLES

3 Days, 2 Nat’l Parks, 1 Bum Foot: Miracles and Inspiration

It’s early May and we have THREE days to see TWO National Parks with ONE traveler (namely, me) making do with an injured foot. My partner and I rendezvoused with another couple (my brother and sister-in-law) for three days in St. George, Utah, with a quest to see two outstanding U.S. National Parks–Zion and Bryce Canyon, both in southern Utah.

Our original intention was to hike ’til we dropped, but I recently had an untimely foot injury that kept me from going on THIS incredible backpacking trip in Grand Canyon. With a slowly healing foot (torn or ruptured ligament), I couldn’t expect to hike, but still, there was NO WAY I was going to miss out on seeing Zion and Bryce as planned. As it turns out, natural inspiration and human inspiration abounded on this trip.

BEFORE WE EVEN GOT THERE

Human Inspiration #1: Back From the Dead

My party and I set out on a new revised quest–to experience the visual overload of two of the nation’s “wow-factor” parks while functioning within certain agility limitations. To start the quest, I needed to equip myself with the right tools. I scored a decent walking stick at a souvenir shop (Fort Zion Virgin Trading Post, 1000 W. Hwy 9, Virgin, UT) on the way to Zion National Park.

early-American wagon, near Zion national park
An early-American wagon on the property of Fort Zion Virgin Trading Post in Virgin , UT

There I met Dona, a 51-year-old woman working the cashier who shared an inspiring story about herself. She casually mentioned she had died at age 44 from cardiac arrest and lay dead for a full 30 minutes before being revived.

Dona spoke like someone who knew more than most–about life, blessings, and miracles. Her after-life experience was so powerful that she revealed she often wishes she didn’t make it, that life here doesn’t quite “cut it” compared to the peace she experienced when “passing.” Much to her delight, Dona spent time with her grandmother on the “other side” and, much to her dismay, has missed Grandma greatly since.

Still, Dona had a certain strength and conviction about her. A quiet wisdom emerged from her words–something that amounted to: Don’t sweat the small stuff. I felt so moved and humbled to meet Dona, I reached out, shook her hand, and let her know I was happy she was still with us. I felt blessed to meet her. She is one of God’s walking miracles–a reminder for us all to keep it simple, live and love well, and, above all, be grateful. Everything that seems to have value to you can be taken away in an instant.

Zion National Park walking stick badge
Zion National Park “badge”

When I was ready to pay for my items, Dona helped me pick out a badge for my new walking stick (A badge is a nickname for the ‘bling’ sold to dress up, souvenirize–yeah, I know it’s not a real word–and customize your walking sticks). Check out my new badge in the photo.

The image of a wild elk reminds me of Dona and her strength and resolve to keep moving forward with whatever plans God has for her. She doesn’t seem to know exactly where she’s going, what exactly she’s supposed to do, but she has faith that it will all work out. Besides, she already knows how the story ends and is not the least bit frightened about it.

Zion National Park entrance signZION NATIONAL PARK

Natural Inspiration #1

Equipped with my newly decorated walking stick and walking orders from my doctor that I should NOT hike anytime in the near future (What a conundrum!), I set out to discover short, easy trails I could hike in Zion. The first happy revelation was that Zion has a terrific shuttle system that takes you across many must-see stops along a shuttle-only roadway. There is no need to hunt and fight for a parking space at Zion or to walk a long way from your car to the starting point of sights and trails at each stop. There are even shuttles running from nearby Springdale into Zion’s South Entrance if Zion’s Visitor Center parking lots are full. This was a huge concern for me, as I couldn’t envision tackling more than a half-mile round trip at any location, including the walk from transportation to trail head.

On the shuttle, a pre-canned tour guide’s voice provides interesting information about the park, but I have to say it was difficult to see clearly through tinted windows and around multiple obstructions in the shuttle bus framework. You must get out at each stop if you intend to see what there is to see. On the very first stop, we got to see this:

Zion National Park, Utah
Mule deer at Zion National Park
Wild turkey at Zion national park, Utah
Wild turkey at Zion National Park
Zion National Park shuttle
Zion National Park shuttle at the halfway point.

Allow 80 or 90 minutes to do the shuttle ride without getting off at any stops, and you will be rewarded with an 8-minute stop at the halfway point in order to stretch and use the restrooms if necessary. For each stop you get off at, add 10 minutes to your tour time for the next shuttle to appear. If you set off on trails for a short or long hike, shuttles conveniently run into late evening, with the last shuttle leaving the entrance visitor center at 7:30 p.m. in order to complete the full circuit by 9 p.m. Plan accordingly. (Note: shuttle schedule changes throughout the year; check links at end of this article for most current information.)

 

 

 

 

 

I ventured on two different trails at Zion. Even though I didn’t make it to the intended end point of each trail, I saw plenty to satisfy my senses:

mule deer at zion, antlers
Mule deer at Zion. Check out those antlers!

IMG_0612

Zion National Park, tunnels, shortcut to Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon

The Tunnel From South and West Zion to Zion’s East Entrance and on to Bryce Canyon

Zion National Park: one of two tunnels connecting the east entrance of the park to the south and west of park.

The shortest and most picturesque drive to Bryce Canyon National Park from points south and west of Zion is through the one-mile-long Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel within Zion National Park near its eastern entrance. Besides the time savings, there are many sights to dazzle your eyes along the way, so it is definitely worth the drive.

 

 

Zion National Park, Checkerboard Mesa, tunnel in Zion
Zion National Park: Checkerboard Mesa, on the road between Zion and Bryce Canyon. A massive patterned rock mountain that begs to be climbed.
Zion National Park, checkerboard mesa
. . . and so we did!

 

Bryce Canyon National Park, entranceBRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK

Natural Inspiration #2

Like Zion, Bryce Canyon has a shuttle system, but it only goes to a subset (albeit an excellent subset) of sights where cars can also go. One of those stops is Bryce Point. We took our car there and saw amazing rock formations in the valley below the parking area. It was here I felt most frustrated about having a foot injury. This is THE PLACE to hike. Something out of a fantasy movie, hikers moved below like elves among towering hoodoos (a name for the funky formations seemingly dripped like hot candle wax or wet sand into spindly spires.) There are hundreds, if not thousands, of these spires scattered across the valley floor.

Bryce Canyon National Park, accessibility, easy access, Bryce Point, hoodoo heaven, easy trail, awesome quick hike
Bryce Canyon National Park: Bryce Point. The trail towards Inspiration Point is easy enough to do a slow hike. Views are spectacular.

We saw this fully loaded bike parked along the fence and all pretty much said the same thing, Man, that bike has BEEN places!

Bryce Canyon National Park, Jeremie Geumetz, France
Wow! Bryce by bicycle. Wonder where the rider is.

Unlike Zion, Bryce Canyon also has a tour route accessible by car. On a Saturday in early May, we had no problem parking at each of the viewpoints. My favorite short hike was at Farview Point where we were able to hike right next to the tops of hoodoos and other formations, like arches and what looked like a 100-story cathedral organ. The winds were strong that day, and the effect on us at certain points on the trail was high exhilaration.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Farview Point, hoodoo heaven, easy trail, awesome quick hike
Bryce Canyon National Park: Farview Point. An excellent “bang for the buck” hiking trail. Take it as far as you have time for, turn around and head back. You’re immediately submerged in hoodoo heaven!
Bryce Canyon National Park, Farview Point, hoodoo heaven, easy trail, awesome quick hike
Bryce Canyon National Park: Farview Point. An excellent “bang for the buck” hiking trail. These hoodoos looked like a 100-foot high cathedral organ. I wonder if music would play if the wind were strong enough.
Bryce Canyon National Park, easy access view, accessibility, hoodoo heaven, natural bridge, awesome views
Bryce Canyon National Park: Natural Bridge, viewable from the parking area.

 

Human Inspiration #2: How Far Determination Takes You

Jeremie Geumetz, France, bicycling South America, Central America, North America, Zion National Park
Hey, there’s that bike again!

At Farview Point, we came upon that bike again. This time, we also came upon it’s owner, the human version of amazing–Jeremie Geumetz, a French bicyclist. When I saw his worn, heavily packed bicycle, I had to know his story.

long-distance bicyling, Jeremie Geumetz, France, South America, Central America, North America
Jeremie Geumetz–a man who clearly LOVES to bike!

“Hi. Can I ask how many miles you’ve traveled so far?”

“I dunno. 17,000 or 18,000,” he answered in a heavy French accent.

Surprised by the response, my brain dug through and re-processed his French-English. “Thousand?” I asked. “Miles?

“Oui.”

From there on, I had a flood of questions, and Jeremie was all too happy to oblige.

Jeremie lives in France. While we were talking, an older couple overheard and joined the conversation, soon discovering they lived only 20 miles away from him, in Belgium.

Jeremie started his trip in Patagonia, South America. His intention is to bicycle from South America through Central America to northernmost North America where he hopes to reach Alaska (weather permitting) by September. With 17,000 or so miles under his belt, he still has another roughly 4,000 to go.

By now, I’d called the rest of my crew over, “This guy has ridden 17,000 miles!”

“When was the last time you shaved?” one of us asked.

He tugged on his beard seeking our confirmation that he understood the question topic, and when we nodded yes, he said, “Columbia.”

“How long have you been on this trip?” I asked.

“Since November 22nd.”

I began counting aloud the number of months since November, “Wow! That’s a long time.”

“2012,” Jeremie said, correcting my counting.

“What?! And why are you doing this? Any particular reason?”

“Not really. I like to bike. We French like to bike.”

And how! This Frenchman loves to bike and he loves to connect with people. He was gracious with his time and patient with our questions–a true gentleman with a warm spirit and a love for life. We all shook his hand as we parted company and told Jeremie repeatedly what an inspiration he was to us. The power of the human spirit is incredible. It can drive us to press toward the outer limits of our existence, to experience something unique and powerful, something that becomes a part of us as we travel through life.

On the drive back to our hotel that evening, we ran into stormy weather. Wild winds whipped our car from every direction. Tumbleweeds raced alongside us on the highway at 60 mph and wicked lightening continuously lit up the sky. The news reports delivered the adjusted weather report: a violent storm was expected to drop two feet of snow at the higher elevations in our area. By morning, the distant Zion mountains were white-tipped, and we wondered and worried about Jeremie. (This is, by the way, the third time recently that my partner and I encountered unexpected snow on hikes in unlikely locations this year: See Snow in Hawaii: Worth the Trip and check out Little Jimmy Trail Camp: Backpacking ‘Sno(w) Problem Along the PCT)

Luckily, before we parted company, I’d asked Jeremie for contact information. I knew I wanted to write about him. Turns out Jeremie has a website; I am listing it here with his permission: www.2rouesvagabondes.fr

He also is on Facebook: Jeremie Geumetz , https://www.facebook.com/jeremie.geumetz

Checking his website for updates, we found out our Frenchman made it through the stormy, snowy night. We also found out he is a talented photographer. Check out his online sites for a dose of inspiration.

Jeremie Geumetz, France, long-distance bicycling, South America, Central America, North America, Zion National Park
Jeremie Geumetz. A Frenchman and a gentleman.

 

ANYTHING’S POSSIBLE

All in all, it is possible to see two national parks in just a few days, even with an injured foot. Whatever your condition or situation, it’s definitely worth the trip. Natural inspiration and human inspiration await you. All you have to do is get in a car, on a bike, or on your feet, and open your eyes, your heart, and your soul to a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Get outside, folks, and make a point of checking out the U.S. National Parks. They are amazing!

Happy Trails,

Sue J.

P.S. Stay tuned for our three-week-long National Park road trip in August where we’ll revisit Utah’s Zion and Bryce (this time for some REAL hiking!), as well as Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef in Utah, not to mention Olympic in the state of Washington, Yellowstone and Grand Tetons in Wyoming. We’re traveling in our homemade teardrop trailer (the Silver Bullet) and will bring our 80-pound dog along for the ride. Should be interesting!


LINKS to Zion and Bryce websites:

Zion National Park:  http://www.nps.gov/zion/index.htm

Zion Maps & Guide:  http://www.nps.gov/zion/parknews/newspaper.htm

Bryce Canyon National Park:  http://www.nps.gov/brca/index.htm

Bryce Canyon Map, Shuttle & Hiking Guide:  http://www.nps.gov/brca/parknews/newspaper.htm


 

Sidebar:

Good Eats Nearby:

Ice Cream at Fort Zion Virgin Trading Post, 1000 W. Hwy 9, Virgin, Utah. Omigosh, the BEST homemade ice cream! Unique and delectable flavors. We had the following three and they all were great: Sea Salt Chocolate Caramel Truffle, Orange Cream & Dark Chocolate, and Hog Wild (Brown Sugared Bacon).

Fort Zion Virgin Trading Post is on Facebook as “Virgin Trading Post/FORT ZION”

Bacon-Wrapped Buffalo Meatloaf at Wildcat Willy’s, 897 Zion Park Blvd, Springdale, Utah, outside the South entrance to Zion National Park. An L.A. Times recommended dish comes with a generous portion of meatloaf (a tasty blend of Certified Angus Beef grinds and buffalo grinds, peppers, onions and seasonings wrapped with bacon, crusted with roasted garlic and cracked pepper) on a mound of garlic mashed potatoes topped with a sweet onion gravy and crispy onion strings. A surprisingly delicate, buttery side of Al dente julienne vegetables finishes off the plate.

Wildcat Willie’s:  http://www.wildcatwillies.com/ordereze/default.aspx

Great Dog Boarding Facility:

Doggie Dude Ranch outside the South entrance to Zion National Park in Rockville (800 E. Main, Hwy 9, Rockville, UT 84763). The owner, Filomena, showed us around her dog boarding facility, a large property running along the length of a stream where she’ll take your dog for a daily waterside walk if you wish. In the summer, the dogs keep cool with overhead water misters or with air conditioning in enclosed structures. Be careful when you visit the grounds.  Humans are as likely to enjoy the tranquil location every bit as much as the dogs.

Doggie Dude Ranch:  http://www.doggyduderanch.com/

 

 

 

Migration of Monarch Butterflies: Monarchs Dig the California Sun

I recently interviewed for a blogging job with a nature-based nonprofit foundation. The director of the nonprofit sat and talked with me for two hours about his fascination with nature, especially a recent trip he and his wife had made to the Monarch Butterfly Grove near Pismo Beach, California. The couple was intrigued by the migration of monarch butterflies in and concerned about the decline of California monarch butterfly populations. Inspired by a recent viewing of the IMAX 3D film called “Flight of the Butterflies” at the California Science Center, they found themselves immediately embarking on a two-and-a-half-hour road trip north of Los Angeles to see the monarchs for themselves. The director was a decent wildlife photographer and showed me a half dozen photos of the monarchs that annually overcome the area like a biblical plague. (Photos included here are not his, but mine, except where noted.)

migration of monarch butterflies, decline of monarch population
Autumn leaf imposters pictured here in long hanging clumps in the direct center and right center of this photo.

When the director of this nonprofit first showed me a photocopy of his photos from the trip, I wondered, Where are the thousands of butterflies? In some photos, all I saw were pictures of dull, densely leaved trees; in others, some close-up shots of the monarchs and their caterpillars. I felt foolish at first, but on closer examination, the butterflies crystallized into view. The director mentioned later in our conversation that when it comes to natural wonders, it’s common for people to not see what is right in front of them.

After our meeting was over, I searched the internet and found a video of the migratory monarchs. They were clustered en masse on eucalyptus and pine trees, their beautiful orange wings flickering like blinking lights on an early Christmas tree. I felt a rush of emotion at the wonder of it, and even wiped a tear or two from my eyes. Admittedly, nature does that to me. So, I, too, set out with a camera to a migratory site along the California coast north of Los Angeles. I’m so glad I did.

migration of monarch butterflies, decline of monarch population
Adult monarchs shown here forming clusters on eucalyptus trees. The scientific name for the monarch butterfly is Danaus plexippus.

I didn’t make it all the way up to Pismo Beach, which seems to garner the title of the “best spot to see monarchs” but there are plenty of other locations to witness the California monarch butterfly migration, albeit with smaller populations. At these less-populated sites, it might take a bit of patience and self-education to locate monarchs, but it’s still pretty darn cool when you find them. Even though the butterflies are draped from the trees in clear view, depending on the temperature and cloud cover, instead of bright shades of orange, folks may see what I did in the photo: the underside of wings colored a dull yellow-brown that make the butterflies look like dead leaves on autumn trees. They are clustered together on branches of eucalyptus keeping warm while waiting for the sun, at which point they will take flight in search of water. The fact that they sometimes look like dying autumn leaves strikes me as apropos because monarchs arrive at Pismo and much of the central and southern California coast in late October each year. Those that travel to Mexico for overwintering tend to arrive between October 31 and November 2, coinciding with All Hallows Eve, All Souls Day, and All Saints Day respectively. To the Mexican community, the monarchs symbolize the annual return of the dearly departed, a joyous and reverent time of year.

migration of monarch butterflies, decline of monarch population
Pictured here is an adult monarch showing off its beautiful wings. Monarchs have a 30-day metamorphosis from egg, to caterpillar, to chrysalis, and finally to adult butterfly.

Whether it is in California or in Central Mexico, overwintering monarchs will not make it out of their winter location alive. Instead, after four months of near dormancy, they will become active, feeding and mating until they die. It is their offspring that will make the trip back north in the spring. Each spring and summertime generation of offspring will have a short lifespan—as short as two to six weeks—continuing the mating, dying and propagating cycle as each successive generation makes its way further and further north. Once the colder fall weather creeps in, the migratory cycle starts all over again.

California’s monarchs will only be in the area until about March, at the latest. By then, their caterpillar offspring will have eaten through the surface of their eggs, gorged themselves on milkweed plants, and will have emerged from their chrysalises ready to head back north.

Migration of Monarch Butterflies and the Decline in California Monarch Butterfly Populations

Monarch Butterfly Grove boasts the highest overwintering monarch population in the United States, but it is not the only destination of monarchs in North America. In fact, monarchs that reside west of the Rocky Mountains tend to overwinter in coastal California, while monarchs residing east of the Rocky Mountains tend to overwinter in Michoacán, Central Mexico. There are exceptions to these rules but overall, there are two primary population sets in the United States. Monarchs can start their trip from as far north as Canada, but the butterflies destined for Mexico (some 2,500 miles from southeastern Canada) represent the bulk of the migratory butterfly population. Several hundred million monarchs arrive in Mexico each year, though the numbers are dwindling. Those destined for the California coast once topped out at 230,000 in the 1990’s but now run only in the tens of thousands.

migration of monarch butterflies, decline of monarch population
Even the bees love eucalyptus trees, especially the flowers.

What’s So Great About California?

So, what exactly lures monarchs to the California coast? Is it the warm California sun? The superior dining options? The Beach Boys music playing off in the distance?

The warm California sun has a lot to do with it. Monarchs need to escape freezing weather but they are content to winter in slightly above-freezing temperatures. They also require water for drinking but need to be protected from the elements. Coastal California fits the bill for warmer winter temperatures and a marine layer that provides just enough dew and moisture to make monarchs happy. The areas that monarchs like best are those that have plenty of eucalyptus trees to hang out on all winter and plenty of milkweed plants to lay their eggs on in the spring. Milkweed is the one and only food source monarch caterpillars like to consume. The consumption of milkweed makes monarchs poisonous to eat, which is key to keeping their predators away and allowing monarchs to survive and thrive.

What’s NOT So Great About California?

There is so much that is not known about monarchs and their migration patterns that pinpointing the reason(s) for a decline in California monarch butterfly populations becomes an exercise in  speculation. Some of the culprits likely to influence the monarch population are:

          Urbanization, human overpopulation, and the misuse and overuse of natural resources

          Increased pollution

          Changing weather patterns

          The overuse of pesticides affecting food sources and water sources

Random weather events can have a catastrophic effect on the monarch population as well. In 2002, a bad winter storm in Mexico caused the death of so many monarchs that some forest floors were almost two-foot thick with dead butterflies. Logging activities in Mexico have impacted the population as well. And in the United States, urban and suburban sprawl threatens populations by overtaking natural habitats—homes, buildings, and highways are popping up more than dandelions in a spring field.

As interconnected as the earth’s ecosystem is, there are too many factors to definitively say what is causing the fluctuation of population even in just one little area. But if you live anywhere along the coast of California on up to Canada and love the gift of seeing the monarchs each year, there is something you can do to be part of the solution rather than the problem.

migration of monarch butterflies, decline of monarch population
Shown here is a monarch caterpillar enjoying milkweed. Milkweed also doubles as a nectar source for adult monarchs. Milkweeds belong to the family Asclepiadaeae, derived from Askepios, the Greek god of medicine and healing.

What Can You Do To Encourage The Butterflies To Stay?

Whether the monarchs are in California for a temporary visit or are considering making it their permanent home, coastal Californians can extend their hospitality by sprucing up the accommodations:

          The most immediate and effective thing you can do to ensure the survival of monarch butterflies is to plant as much milkweed as you can. It is a critical food source for monarch caterpillars, so make room on your property for milkweed. Plant it, or at least resist the temptation to cut it down. Remember, if there is no milkweed, monarchs will not have a place to deposit their eggs.

          Plant pine, cypress, and eucalyptus trees on your property. Monarchs tend to overwinter in groves with these particular trees.

          Natural Landscaping: Nothing says “I love you, Mother Earth” more than using natural landscaping on your property vs. overusing pesticides and over-manicuring. Reconsider your use of weed killers. Nature has graced us with plants and weeds that serve an important purpose in the food chain. When planning out your garden, try to use plants indigenous to the area. Do your part to help the ecosystem do what it does naturally.

          Less is more—less square footage to live in, that is. Instead of being part of the urban or suburban sprawl where building bigger and bigger houses and patios and living spaces is the norm, why not downsize or at least resist the desire to takeover more natural habitats? Humans and nature are in a battle for resources and humans are winning. Use what you need but leave the rest. Try totilt the scale in favor of nature.

With just a little consideration for nature and preparation for one of its most fascinating annual miracles on the California coast, maybe next year, the monarchs will come to your home to visit YOU! In the meantime, if you live in the area, be sure to visit the Monarch Butterfly Grove between November and February. Admission is free!

Check out the following links for more information related to the migration of monarch butterflies and the decline in California monarch butterfly populations:

·         IMAX 3D film, “Flight of the Butterflies” at the California Science Center: http://www.californiasciencecenter.org/Imax/Features/FlightOfTheButterflies/FlightOfTheButterflies.php

·         MonarchButterfly.org has great information on the Monarch Butterfly Grove near Pismo Beach, including population counts and the primary viewing locations all along the west coast of the United States:  http://www.monarchbutterfly.org/

Sources of Milkweed Seeds and Plants:

·         LiveMonarch.com provides free milkweed seeds:  http://www.livemonarch.com/free-milkweed-seeds.htm

·         MonarchWatch.org provides a list of sources of milkweed seeds and plants: http://monarchwatch.org/bring-back-the-monarchs/resources/plant-seed-suppliers