I forgot to mention all the Joshua trees. I saw my first a week ago Saturday in the land between Death Valley and Mount Whitney, the lowest and highest points in the continental United States. The trees look otherworldly, with bunches of needles jutting out in strange directions.

They were hundreds of miles from Joshua Tree National Park. They grew like mad across the wind-pounded expanse of the Mojave Desert — but only at certain elevations. A lesson in biodiversity that just happens to be the name of a popular U2 album.

I never took a single picture of a Joshua tree, though. They were always growing along the routes between where I’d been and where I was headed.

I can’t say for sure whether Joshua Trees even grow in Southern Utah, but they do seem to symbolize what I remember most about spending a week there: Patches of green in the desert. It was surprising to find pine forests covering vast swaths of the region. Green meadows are not out of the ordinary; farming happens, assuming there’s access to irrigation. Trees grow from between cracks in giant
stone monoliths.

If you come expecting a moonscape, you’ll be disappointed.

More random thoughts:

  • If the Grand Canyon seems to be proof of a Higher Power, then Bryce Canyon seems to be evidence of Alien Intelligence — with a sense of humor. The stone formations called hoodoos look like they might be statues of previous tenants from another dimension.
  • The waters of Zion canyon are as interesting as the cliff walls — especially the water seeping through the walls. You wonder how something as huge as Zion could be carved by river erosion alone, then you learn that water seeping into seams between layers of sandstone freezes and expands every winter, forming cracks that weaken the rock. After a few winters (or maybe a few thousand), gravity does the rest of the work, pulling down chunks of canyon wall.
  • You could spend several vacations just gaping at rock formations visible from your car. I can’t imagine how much totally cool stuff must be visible from the backcountry trails and dirt roads.
  • It’s OK to be a tourist. We did a few short hikes on this trip but my main goal was to see the main attractions. Those canyons will still be there the next time I stop by.
  • It’s OK if it all doesn’t fit in the viewfinder. Close-ups are more fun