Sunday, June 29, 2014

USA 2014 - Zion Canyon

Parking in the dark and finding your way to the bus is tricky so I was glad I'd packed a little torch for the trip, and we did find our way to the bus stop with a few others for the first bus into the park (during the summer months the majority of the canyon proper is closed to all but these buses to avoid it completely jamming up).

We got off at the third stop as the light of day was breaking:

And then climbed up the emerald pools trail, which was pleasant enough.  The light changed as the day grew:

We stood briefly under a waterfall from the canyon wall, which creates and feeds rock pools:

And then headed back down towards the canyon floor and along the trail towards bus stop four, The Grotto. 

Along the way we saw Juniper Jay and Juniper Titmouse, both life species, this being the latter:

It was still early though and little light about so the images are poor quality. The trail is quite precipitous in places, so I was pleased/relieved to finish it and get down to the canyon floor again, before hopping on the next bus to go one stop further in, to Weeping Rock.

Here we alighted and then having completed the short trail and returned, decided to walk along the river bank.  As this was an unmarked trail we were the only people on it, the views were great:

And shared with a number of birds including this Ash-throated Flycatcher:

This is a view of the river in the canyon:

You get a better perspective I believe from the very lowest level of the canyon:

As usual the landscape and scenery is spectacular:

By lunchtime we had seen all we wanted to see so headed back out to Springdale to one of the many cafes that are only open for lunch (!?) and then enjoyed an early evening meal at the Thai restaurant, which was fantastic, before turning in.

USA 2014 - Zion National Park, Kolob Canyon

For our first stop in Zion National Park, we headed to Kolob Canyon, at the end of our drive from Arches.  It was mid-afternoon with a high sun and very dry and hot, so we only did the short trail to canyon outlook, but it was worth it.

In the trees a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher pipped and called as it foraged around:

Some cactus flowers had emerged:

The canyon landscape is spectacular:

We drove on to our hotel, the Bumbleberry Inn in Springdale on the road into the main park, for an early night ahead of an even earlier start the next day, we wanted to catch the very first bus into the park, which departs before daybreak.

USA 2014 - Arches National Park

We planned a very early start on Tuesday to get up and in to Arches National Park, the one place the locals had said we must visit.  It's a short drive from Moab to the Park entrance and we were soon stopping off to gawp at and photograph the scenery, which is breathtaking:

This rocky outcrop looks like a group of beings in conversation then turned to stone (or something like that!):

And this rock doesn't look like it'll be in place for very long at all:

This gives the impression of a rough knife cut through the landscape or the wall of some monument:

Throughout the park, not unexpectedly, are lots of arches in the stone, like this one:

Another very precarious looking rock:

It's a dry and arid landscape but still has birds, like the Black-chinned Sparrow:

And Bullock's Oriole:

And mammals too:

As we drove further into the park (it's an out-and-back route), the sun rose, the temperature rose with it and served to enhance the landscape and the experience:

Some of the plants were in flower:

On the way back to the car we saw Rock Wrens:

Dangerous looking country:

This is the arch at the start of the driving route, still in the early morning light:

I had to get two photographers to sit down as one in particular was getting himself into everybody's pictures that morning, but they did oblige:

We had decided due to my vertigo not to attempt the walk up to Delicate Arch, however there is a route beneath it and with a 500x combined with a 1.4x you can still get pretty good views of said arch:

Considering it is 'delicate' it's also huge.  We saw people walking under the arch (crazy fools!) and they only come up to the horizontal cracks on the 'feet'.  This is the arch in its landscape for context and with a normal lens:

We headed back towards the entrance, conscious of the increasing streams of cars heading into the park, and stopped at Hidden Arch, an arch in a rock formation, which involves walking on lots of the red sand as you can see here:

While in these rocks we spotted a group of White-throated Swifts, I wanted a picture, so hand-held the camera and waved it around trying to focus on the birds as they flew.  I think this was one of the last pictures I took, and the only one in focus:

We stopped at various spots on the way back out to take more pictures, it really is a beautiful place, probably the most stunning either of us have ever seen:

On our last hike in the park, in ever larger crowds, like us a Violet-green Swallow had decided it was time to take off:

As we left the park there were long queues to enter - as usual the early start paid-off.  We then turned and headed for Zion, some 300 miles away, along Interstate 70, which was an amazing drive.  The landscape is continually spectacular and I really enjoyed it even though it was five hours behind the wheel.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

USA 2014 - Scott M Matheson Wetlands Preserve

The Scott M Matheson Wetlands Preserve was named after a former, late, Governor of Utah, by the Nature Conservancy, in honour of his commitment to conservation, and it is a lovely place to visit.

We arrived late afternoon in the full heat of the day but there's still tree cover, seating and a trail alongside the river:

The red rock provides a great backdrop for bird portraits too:

As evidenced by this House Finch:

and this Rock Wren:

Around the preserve we saw a number of Say's Phoebes, this one look to be a recent fledgling judging by the gape:

Spotted Towhee's sang, scurried and scuffled and then sang some more:

We tracked a Yellow-breasted Chat as it sang and moved, eventually both seeing it and capturing the profile in sympathetic light:

Hot, tired and hungry, we stopped at a veggie and vegan friendly wholefoods store to stock-up on snack foods (for missed breakfasts and lunches) and then enjoyed dinner at one of the veggie-friendly restaurants in Moab.