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Much-Needed Tonic of the Wilderness



“ Mountains are calling and I must go,” the famous quote of John Muir and my fascination for nature and mountains, both, go a long way. I remember, when I was a young child, I used to enjoy visiting the hills of the now Uttarakhand, then Uttar Pradesh, where my Grand Parents lived. Now, when I am in Las Vegas, I must go exploring the mountains and nature of the states of Nevada, Arizona and Utah, I decided. The group as usual was ready for another road trip to visit the two world-famous natural landmarks near L as Vegas – the Grand Canyon and The Zion National Park. We made a three-day programme to visit the two natural wonders. On day one, we decided to go to the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas, NV, in our Santa Fe taking the highway 93 south to Kingman, AZ, Williams, AZ and from Williams taking the highway 64 north to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. As we left the city of Las Vegas and hit the highway, after only an hour or so we found ourselves amidst majestic mountains carved from red rocks, and the fascinating shapes and fantastic scale of the work of nature left us dumbstruck and in awe of the Arizona landscape. We were also overwhelmed by the loneliness and deserted nature of that stretch of the road. There were very few exits for restrooms and refreshment and we as a group began to feel restless and tired as we needed fuel for the vehicle and our bodies, both. After driving for a good two hours we came across a gas station where we made our first stop. What took all of us by surprise was the intensity of the wind that was blowing in this region. The winds were so strong that our SUV was being pushed and was shaking and it was an effort to stay on our feet. This was our first experience of the severe weather conditions! Nevertheless, we were out for an adventure and adventure we were having, isn’t it? I was also reminded of a quote by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, “Should you shield the canyons from the windstorms you would never see the true beauty of their carvings.” Thinking about it, we resumed our journey after filling the gas. We were all hungry and needed a cup of coffee or hot chocolate urgently. After some time, we spotted a small shop with a wooden fence. It looked like a very less frequented spot, but we needed to stop. We were pleasantly surprised by the services that this small shop, called “Grasshopper Junction”, provided. The hot chocolate drink was yummy and hot, and we could pick up a few popular snack items as well. We had booked a Recreational Vehicle named ‘Legends’ past the town of Williams, just short of the Grand Canyon Park. The excitement to stay in an RV kept our spirits high, when unexpectedly the temperature began to fall. During the summer season, for the temperature to fall below 0 degree Celsius was just not expected. As soon as we reached our RV, we quickly took out all the woolen clothes we were carrying and started for the Grand Canyon Park. It was five in the evening and we did not want to waste any daylight. The visitors’ centre closed just as we reached there, but the shuttle service was on. The shuttle runs on four routes, Village (Blue Route), Kaibab Rim (Orange route), Hermit Route (Red Route), Tusayan (Purple Route). It was already evening, and we had time enough to choose a route and settled for the Orange route, which took us to the point from where we could take the ‘Rim Trail’. The temperatures dropped suddenly while we were on the route and we were not adequately dressed for such severe and unexpected weather. We were cold to our bones and strong winds were making matters worse. The temperature was below freezing point, the breathtaking view of the Grand Canyon was before us and this was once in a life-time photo opportunity. We forgot about our discomfort and did our best to enjoy the view and grandiose presentation of nature. It took us half an hour to finish the rim trail in the freezing weather. Luckily for us, a shuttle bus arrived before any one of us collapsed because of the biting cold in the summer season!! We were later told that the temperature was in fact 30 degrees below normal!! And we all thought, so much for the adventure! The bus took us to the Main Lodge of the Grand Canyon Park where we had parked our vehicle. From the balcony of the lodge in the comforting warmth of the log fire we again had a breathtaking view of the Canyon in the light of the setting sun where sunlight seemed to clap the earth and it made a picture postcard view. We all felt the call of the mountains in those moments! We came back to our RV safe and sound. We spent the night comfortably as the RV was adequately heated. The dinner of ready-to-eat ‘Biryani’ and breakfast of ‘Maggi Noodles’ kept us up and about. It had started snowing in the morning, so we dropped the idea of visiting the Grand Canyon Park again. We started our journey back early, before snow piled up and blocked the road. Snow in the month of May is absolutely unheard of in this area, but then, as Anupam Kher says, ‘Kuchh bhi ho sakta hai.’ We came back to Las Vegas by evening and relaxed in our vacation Village. On day three, we started our road trip to Zion National Park in the state of Utah, which is closer to Vegas as compared to the Grand Canyon. We had already experienced a tougher route and severe weather that is why we found our journey to Zion National Park very easy and comfortable. We had already found out about the shuttle system at the Zion National Park – there were two shuttle systems, one starting from Springdale Village just outside the Zion National Park, and the other, Zion Park Shuttle system. We chose the Zion park system. Think of this as a guided tour bus within the park. Starting at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, this free shuttle takes visitors on a scenic ride up Zion’s main canyon, making several stops at interesting locations and trailheads, including the Zion Lodge, the Grotto (start of the Angels Landing hike), Weeping Rock, and the Temple of Sinawava (close to the Zion Narrows where the steep canyon walls converge). The mountains are grand. They have high and straight sides. The rocks are red and the vegetation around is green. The virgin river that has carved these majestic and spectacular landforms flows strongly and relentlessly below, presenting the complete picture. The nine known exposed geologic formations in Zion National Park are part of a super- sequence of rock units called the Grand Staircase. Together, these formations represent about 150 million years of mostly Mesozoic-aged sedimentation in that part of North America. The formations exposed in the Zion area were deposited as sediment in very different environments: the warm, shallow (sometimes advancing or retreating) sea of the Kaibab and Moenkopi formations; streams, ponds, and lakes of the Chinle, Moenave, and Kayenta formations; the vast desert of the Navajo and Temple Cap formations; and the dry near-shore environment of the Carmel Formation. We took the Zion Park shuttle till the Temple of Sinawava. This is the end of the line for the shuttle, a beautifully quiet spot where everybody will want to get out and take a stroll to the river. This is the starting point for the Riverside Walk and we took the walk for half an hour. The serenity and tranquility of the river on that day rejuvenated us, but we were told that Virgin River on certain days had become very destructive! I was the only member among the group who decided to stop and take a hike till the ‘Weeping Rock’ which is the starting point for many interesting hikes up and out of the east side of the canyon. The climb was steep and difficult, all other members decided to skip the hike. I hiked till the Weeping Rock point where the water dripping from the jutted -out rock gave the impression of weeping rocks, thus the name! The hike was worth it and the experience once again a once in a life- time thing. That is when I felt that the poetry of the earth is never dead. Places like Grand Canyon and Zion National Park do make one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As long as nature exists, it will bring solace in all troubles! Who wants a future without wilderness? We need the tonic of the wild; we can never have enough of nature!