The Grand Canyon and Yosemite were on my priority list of places I wanted to visit. What a contrast from big rocks over four thousand feet high to descending from a four thousand foot plateau to a cleft at sea level. I have never seen anything like the Yosemite mountains or the Canyons of the South East American States. Although I visited nine National Parks during my trip to the US, I will limit myself to describing two walks. I was impressed by the management of the National Parks, where through traffic is minimised and an excellent system of free shuttle buses are available through the Parks to scenic outlooks and walks. Scotland has something to learn from this system as we move toward our first National Parks. Although I think there may be some problems of logistics in limiting through traffic on the Loch Lomond road!
One of the highlights of the trip to the USA was sleeping out under the stars at the Monument Valley Indian Reservation and waking to see the sunrise over the rocks featured in so many Western Films.
From my previous writing you may know that John Muir was born in Scotland but was the father of National Parks in the US and there is a thriving John Muir Trust in Scotland. The West of Scotland Branch of the John Muir Trust can be contacted by e mailing [email protected] I could not visit Yosemite without walking part of the John Muir Trail. As it extends to Mount Whitney, I was only doing a very small part of it in one day.
The Trail started in Yosemite and was clearly marked to Nevada Falls. It was June and the weather was clear and sunny. We passed some hikers on the path making for the higher mountains who had been told by the Rangers that there was still a lot of snow higher up. However, this was not a problem for us as we were well below the snow line ascending only about 2,000 feet on an excellent path which was clearly marked. We started at the bridge on the Merced River which is nearly 4,000 feet above sea level and the path zig zagged, or as they say in the US switchbacked , up to Clark Point, looking down to the Yosemite Valley. This is often called the 'incomparable valley'; and is probably the world's best known example of a glacier carved canyon.
At this point, we could have followed the trail direct to the Vernal Falls but we chose to head onwards and upwards to the Nevada Falls at 5,907 feet. It was an easy walk on a good path and eventually we reached a balcony carved out of rock where we met an oncoming mule train. We duly pushed ourselves against the rock to allow the train to pass from there we walked alongside the Falls and then over the top. The Falls are at their maximum flow in June with the snow melts from the surrounding mountains and in later months may be a mere trickle of water.
At the top of the Falls we paddled in the Merced River taking care to keep away from the cascade. Descending on the path at the other side of the Falls, we could see a rainbow effect on the water. Shortly afterwards, the path split to Half Dome, the most famous rock mountain in Yosemite at 8,836 feet. Contrary to the name, Half Dome was never a full dome! There is a walking path leading to the top but our programme did not allow time to reach the top so we continued down to the Vernal Falls at a lower level on the Merced River. At the viewing platform there was a lot of spray from the falls on the aptly named Mist Trail. It was then down to the starting point passing lots of grey squirrels and even glancing a deer at close range.
Yosemite is also noted for the giant Sequoia trees, the El Capitan Rock Climb and black bears which are actually brown.
Zion is one of the smaller National Parks in Utah but quite stunning The geologist, Clarence E.Dutton , wrote in 1880 'Nothing can exceed the wondrous beauty of Zion........in the nobility and beauty of the sculptures there is no comparison' and it really is quite exceptional.
The shuttle bus transported us through Zion, past the wonderfully named Court of the Patriarchs, to the drop off point at the Grotto for the ascent of Angel's Landing. This is around 5,990 feet high but as Zion is located around 4,500 feet above sea level, there is only 1,600 feet of ascent to the top of the rock. It is considered to be strenuous and is a four hour round trip with steep drop offs and narrow trails. The first section of the walk is relatively easy and the middle section has a path with switchbacks thoughtfully provided to take away the steepness. We started the walk very early in the morning to avoid uphill exertions in the heat of the sun, which is very strong in June.
The last part of the ascent for about half a mile follows a narrow ridge where chains have been provided for safety. Some of the ridge required a little hands on scrambling but the climb was worth it for the views down the Zion Valley. As this is serious climbing country, Angel's Landing is one of the few rocks that can be walked up to the top so it is well worth the effort. On the way we stopped for a break and chipmunks attempted to steal our picnic food. The National Parks in the USA have a strict policy forbidding visitors to feed wild animals so the chipmunks left without any food!
I have only written about two National Parks but I feel that Bryce Canyon is worth a special mention as the colours are especially brilliant and remind me of the siq at Petra in Jordan. It is a wonderland of rosy pink rock formed into marvelous shapes, which are constantly changing with water erosion from mesa plateaus to hoodoos and finally pillars. A hoodoo is a weird iron capped rock which resembles a giant mushroom The landscape is vaguely unreal and looks as if it has been created for a film set not surprisingly it has been captured on films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark!
Coming attractions are : walking in the Bernese Oberland in Switzerland, a weekend on the Island of Mull and return to Arran.