Monday, May 23, 2011

Backpacking Zion National Park

I haven't been able to work much since I've been home from my trip due to this thing or the other, but one project I was really looking forward to and would not miss for anything was the backpacking survey scheduled in Zion National Park.  I haven't done much work in national parks, none besides Mammoth Cave, and once upon a time it was my goal in life to get a permanent job at a park out west somewhere.  Well, this survey would have to do.  I packed my backpack full of food, warm clothes, and a tent.  We arrived in the southwest area of the park known as the petrified forest at a trail head where we were to hike in a couple of miles to the camp.  The area that stretched before us was burned and desolate with views of the beautiful rock formations Zion is known for in the distance.  We found what was barely a trail and began the march with a huge backpack, and most of us with our work packs on our front.  It was heavy! 

The loss of the trail made it difficult, but we trudged on following a creek bed and using the map to guide us.  After 2 of some of the longest hiking hours I've spent we finally found our camp.  It was perched on a knol overlooking a beautiful stream.  The only problem was that stream was our water source and it was a bit of a hike up and down.  Water is essential so me and my crew made the trip, filtered the water, and came back to camp with enough time to make dinner and go to bed.  The next day we began the survey and discovered exactly what obstacles we were going to have to face.  The terrain was very rocky, strewn with lava boulders from a nearby caldera.  Which if you could see the ground could be dealt with but long grasses that took over after the 2006 fire often came up to my thighs blocking my view of the ground.  Water seemed to be a problem right from the start.  One of my crew members didn't feel the need to bring adequate water so the rest of us had to give up ours for him making for dehydration and frustration.  And the NATS!! Every time we stopped to record something they swarmed and bit.  By the end I looking like I had chicken pox covering my neck, face, ears, and arms.  They were incredibly annoying and itched like mad.  There was no relief so those of us affected the most were almost driven to insanity. 

We were able to move campsites the last 2 nights putting us right next to the stream, which was nice given the difficult days.  I was able take a quick cold bath at night before dinner which really lifted my spirits.  There was a beautiful spring coming straight out of a rock overhang covered in orange flowers down stream a bit which made it even nicer. 

At night we could hear the coyotes calling just after sundown, but other than that it was quiet and peaceful out there.  We managed to finished the survey in only 5 days, which required some 10 plus mile days.  It was hard, hard work and most of us were ready to go.  The hike out proved to be a bit less of an ordeal because we knew where we were going and how far.  I felt a lot stronger and very accomplished when we reached the trucks.  We headed into Springdale for some lunch.  A meal never tasted so good after only dehydrated and canned for 5 days.  Some of my co-workers said they never wanted to do a backpacking job like that again, and although I did share in some of the negativity at times, overall I found it to be an adventure and a good work out, both of which I needed.