Friday, April 13, 2018

The Other Zion - Utah: Day Two

a prickly pear cactus, in bloom, Zion

I approached Zion National Park with trepidation. Really. But not because I have an inherent hostility to Mormon’s appropriating Jewish place names for their sacred expanses. As a non-Christian I don't care if Mormons are Christians, if they have a legitimate place in the pantheon of creeds – I have no vested interest in such details. Despite the outward appearance that I practice some kind of unwavering orthodoxy, inside I conceive of the slope upward to the Divine as crisscrossed with multiple trails and all leading to the same, inexplicable, ultimately baffling place.

No, my fears are more modern and primal: crowds… the human hordes. The internet is festooned with warnings about swarms of homo sapiens mooning about this park. In the past decade alone,
line; not my picture
from 2007 to 2017, attendance at Zion Nation Park has doubled, from an already unsustainable 2.6 million to 4.3 million a year.  Nearly 4.3 million people every 365 days cram into the relatively narrow canyon to experience Nature.  Must we elaborate on this irony? No, we can speed past it.  Simply put, if Zion greets us with lines of cars and crowds both inside and outside of park, we need another Promised Land. Far better off we would be to simply park the car on the side of the road, and take a hike up a desert wash to some unnamed (for us) and unknown (for us) mesa.  Then we will call this unpeopled place Zion.

a slope of prickly pair cactus

There is an added feature to my fear.  As the first official stop on our trip, this visit may very well set the tone for the entire tour.  If we leave Zion, the Promised Land, negatively overwhelmed, stumbling with regret, disgusted with our species – will we right ourselves for the remaining days?  I suspected it would be a difficult task. We are supposed to be traveling at a middling time for hordes.  Late March is not the peak season – that is the summer when temperatures reach in excess of 90 degrees. Why would that be peak?  There is also a mini-peak during “Spring Break” and chronologically our trip falls in this zone.  But is it really Spring Break?  We arrive the week before Easter.  Doesn’t Spring Break commonly occur after Easter?  But really the point is moot.  For regardless, it is someone’s Spring Break somewhere, as we near the park.  And they are probably headed for Zion.      

Part of Zion’s problem with crowds, but only a part, is geography.  The popular southern end of the park is a narrow valley flanked by
the writer, heading up
magnificent, soaring peaks. So when cars start pouring in, there is little room for them.  At the entrance, our machines get lodged into the narrow neck of an hour glass.  But there is no ordinary hour glass.  Behind us is an expansive glass bulb of space just below the level of infinity.  But ahead of us is a narrow neck, and that neck continues on the other side, and does not end for miles.

So, as I have stressed, this is a narrow Zion.  Shuttle buses transport visitors to various trail-heads, but one must reach the parking lot and find a spot to even attain field position.  And lo and behold, the
cars slow.  But it is not from the park space pollution – the road has been closed to one lane.  Now the sand has been channeled from a slender tube to a tube within a tube. Things are not
looking favorable. But the movement of cars obeys the teleology of small spaces not yet overly encumbered.  We move along.  We lurch stubbornly forward until we see the Ranger’s booth ahead.

Somehow we did make it through the booth.  We roll beyond the entrance.  The lot was full.  We took a turn around once, and, on the second orbit, found an empty space.  We did it; almost painlessly' an expletive I have never used before fell from my mouth: “sweet asshole.”  I don’t know what that phrase may mean, but it was meant as an affirmation of positive thinking against the dark shadow of the bitter negative.

Yes, you have probably made the observation that I am spending a great deal of time discussing parking, or more precisely the fear of not parking.  Yet the operative word in parking is “space,”
cedar tress abound
space, the investigation of its properties, how we react to it, and it responds to us, how it molds us and we mold it – is the major factor or motivation for this trip.  Here the tiny parking space  of Zion is key to open far grander spaces: the majesty of the West, the physical symbol of the open Self, the endless Over-Soul.  I am nearly jumping in the parking lot.

We decide to hike up The Watchman Trail, just behind the visitor’s center.  It is only three miles round trip, and a three hundred foot climb.There is nothing particularly strenuous about the hike; this is not a test of endurance. This is not Zion’s backcountry. Rather, it was a visual revelation. Each time you turn, you have gained elevation, and each time you turn, the valley below shrinks.

At mid-point there is an indentation in the rocks that is shaded and damp. We take a break, and notice maiden hair ferns, which demand moisture, growing in a damp crease against the rocks.  But most of the way up it is spiked shrubs, prickly pear cactus, and clustered forbidding, stunted trees.

At the top is a loop trail, and each time the trail approaches the
ledge, the view of the valley is laid out before us, sweeping north. 
This is Zion – the Promised Land – or someone’s Promised Land. And the God of this land is space, both the element of space that is “empty” and the contrary element that is “full.”

Full and empty all are all around us, and the world proceeds up and down, in and out of an arch of this existence.  The further up, the thinner, sleeker the space; the world puts on its leisure wear, and becomes a sprinter. All is light and fleet footed.
We are not in our cars or at our desks or crammed into hallways elbowing the neighbor's we are supposed to love.  We are open and free.  We are here:

valley view, from the top of The Watchman Trail, i
valley view, from the top of The Watchman Trail, ii

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