Monday, December 14th, 2015
Julia and I awoke on what would be our very last day in the town of Springdale. For the last few days, we waited patiently for a snow storm to hit that we had been hearing about all week long, but it never came, that is until we looked out the window this morning. It was snowing and the mountains were covered in it! This seriously could not have been better timed. Rather than pack up, check out, and go home, we stayed for the day and spent our last hours here exploring through a new snow covered Zion. With our camera gear mounted up and ready to go, we voyaged into the park for one final doozy of a venture.
“The Starship was iced over with a fresh coat of the cold stuff.”
Zion National ParkGPS Coordinates: 37.3222826° N, 113.1833173° W
With one last flaunt of my Annual National Parks Pass, we rolled through the park entry booth and headed into a winter dreamland. The morning air throughout the park was crisp and lightly breezy. Julia and I decided to hit the canyon floor first and then migrate to the tunnel and all points beyond along State Route 9. This is the second year in a row that we’ve been fortunate enough to get a nice snowfall during a huge road trip. Last year’s 2014 Sierra Venture was the first major snow event that we experienced together.
“The difference a fresh snow makes, such a wonderful sight.”
Before getting too much further, Julia and I stopped near the west entrance of the park and started taking images of the surroundings. The Watchman mountain was looking incredible and even it’s mountainous neighbors were looking fantastic. This was pretty amazing considering we were just shooting at this very same location yesterday during our Lazy Sunday at the Virgin River. The snow clouds were still floating heavily in the sky which concealed the various peaks around us. Snow was falling lightly and sporadically around us.
“The first amazing sight we experienced was a snow covered Watchman.”
“We hung out at the west entrance for a moment, Julia was totally enamored with this new scenery.”
“Bridge Mountain was wearing a fog brimmed hat.”
“A group of snow covered cholla cacti huddled near the west park entrance.”
As we entered the canyon floor, we decided to make a quick stop at a place that was already pretty amazing without snow. The Court of the Patriarchs took on a whole new look with this weather. The massive, jagged peaks stabbed skyward and dissaperered into the low moving clouds. The trees all around us were loaded to capacity with fresh snow on their branches, adding to an already magical scene. A service road provided a path for us to get closer and capture this magnificent view. We must have fired off a hundred photos here, but time was ticking and we had much more to see. We set off further into the canyon, stopping at all the places we could along the way.
“The Court of the Patriarchs was looking quite magical this morning!”
“There was such a dense piling of snow on even the most frail of branches.”
“The drive into the other areas of the canyon floor was gorgeous!”
“Cliff sides and peaks throughout the park were covered in a cold fog.”
The Calming Effect of Winter
Julia and I pulled off the road just north of Angel’s Landing to take a small hike down to the Virgin River. There were a lot of great photo opportunities here. The cliffs at this end of the canyon were simply massive. The low passing clouds were coming in and moving out overhead, concealing and then revealing the cliffs and peaks above. The look of it all was that of a mysterious winter landscape and we wanted to capture every bit of it. This time of year is my absolute favorite and for one simple reason, the snow. There’s just something beautiful about the way that it silences the ambience of the surrounding environment and replaces it with an abnormal quiet and a sense of calmness. Winter is definitely a relaxing season for me and without a doubt the best time to travel.
“This was a side of Zion that I had never experienced before and I was in love!”
“The snow brought out an incredible amount of detail and contrast against the red Navajo Sandstone.”
“Facing Hidden Canyon from the Virgin River on the north side of Angel’s Landing.”
“It was nothing but smiles like this all morning!”
“The north face of Angel’s Landing had a beautiful cascade of snow covered trees draped across it.”
“The famous Angel’s Landing peak with a good helping of snow on top.”
“This was the view on the way out of the canyon floor.”
Onward to Higher Elevations!
Leaving the entrance at the canyon floor of Zion, we took State Route 9 eastbound and up the switchbacks to the Zion – Mt. Carmel Tunnel. Starting at an elevation of 4,000 ft (1,219 m), the highway exits the east end of the tunnel at an elevation of 5,200 ft (1,585 m). The region here is what I refer to as “Zion’s Backyard” and with 1,200 ft (366 m) of elevation gain over the canyon floor, the snow should be rather abundant there.
“State Route 9 toward the Great Arch and the switchbacks.”
“We were getting closer to the tunnel, here you can see one of the tunnel windows.”
“Sentinel Peak stands at the entrance to the Zion canyon floor.”
The Sentinel Rock Avalanche
Sentinel Peak is a beautiful and very photogenic mountain. At an elevation of 7,157 ft. (2,181 m) it is certainly one of the higher peaks at Zion National Park. Sentinel Peak was however a much taller mountain. Recent studies have uncovered evidence of an ancient avalanche that originated from that mountain approximately 4,800 years ago. The avalanche was immense and spread over an area 2 miles (3.2 km) long by 0.7 miles (1.1 km) wide and left a massive natural dam of rubble 650 ft (198 m) high which blocked the flow of the Virgin River.
This blockage occurred at what is now the main entrance to the canyon floor of Zion National Park. Back then, the canyon floor was a much more rugged and narrow passage. Over time, the Virgin River filled the canyon with water and a giant lake 400 ft. (122 m) deep and 2.5 miles (4 km) long had formed and lingered there for roughly 700 years. During that time, sediment filed the bottom of the newly formed canyon lake until eventually the body of water that was given life by an avalanche, soon expired and drained away revealing the more flat and tranquil canyon floor that we know today.
“Now we escape through 1.1 miles of tunnel into what I call Zion’s Backyard.”
“A brief video compilation of all the driving we did that day.”
“The snowfall was even better than I thought in this area!”
“The highway was looking pretty clear up here and so far no signs of black ice.”
“I imagine these guys were the reason for the clear highways.”
“The sun and blue skies were making a lot of great photo opportunities up here.”
“Zion’s Backyard”, as I like to call it, is a completely different experience than the canyon floor. The riddled surfaces of the Navajo Sandstone peaks here can be very alien looking. Combined with winding roads and hidden slot canyons, this area of the park makes a completely new adventure. The snow up here was significantly more abundant than the canyon floor so decided I stay for a bit longer. We were fortunate to have explored the petroglyphs and slot canyons earlier last week because access to those places was almost impossible with these conditions. You’ll find no complaints here however, waking up to this was an absolute gift.
“Julia snapped a great shot of me having a grand old time in the snow.”
“Looking back, we had reached the point where chains would be necessary, but we didn’t have enough time.”
“It was time for us to make tracks, but not without a little writing in the snow.”
“Upon leaving the small town of Springdale, it started to snow yet again.”
“The drive back to Las Vegas was a long one, so we stopped at the first In-N-Out we could find.”
“With the setting of the sun, comes the end of another fantastic photo venture.”
Julia and I were about to wrap up the biggest road trip on record. An 18 day romp through the great American Southwest. We started in Henderson, Nevada on Julia’s birthday and made a gigantic 2,512 mile (4,043 km) loop ending in Vegas with a drink at the House of Blues and a Blue Man Group performance which had us heading home in the early hours of my birthday. The sights and experiences that we had on this trip were unparalleled by any of the previous photo ventures we’ve made to date. The memories alone have been some of the best and I will never forget these moments which I believe are what matters most in life. Julia had the time of her life and so did I.
-Until the next travel blog, remember to get out there and “Shoot the Planet!”
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