Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Southwestern Utah Vacation - A Word About NPS Shuttle Buses

The last time we were at Zion National Park (1996), I remember talk of the Park Service introducing a shuttle bus system.  The idea did not appeal to me.  I am, after all, an American, and I love having a car at my disposal.

How wrong I was!  The shuttle bus system ROCKS!

The advantages of the shuttle bus system include less congestion and pollution, better hiking options, a opportunity for camaraderie and information, and flexibility of activities within the family.

The shuttle was introduced to Zion in 2000.  Each year, starting in March and going into the beginning of November, cars are not allowed to enter Zion Canyon past Canyon Junction.  Canyon Junction is where the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive begins and heads north while State Route 9, the road on which you enter the park from Springdale, heads east in the direction of Bryce Canyon National Park.  (The only exception to the no car rule seems to be if you are staying at the Zion Lodge in the park.  You are given an access card at the entrance station which allows you access along the road to the lodge. From what I can tell, the access card does not allow you to stop anywhere else.  You would still need to use the shuttle to see the sites).

The shuttles runs in a continuous loop from the Visitor Center to the end of the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive at the Temple of Sinawava and back again.  There are nine stops in all, and the shuttles stop at each location on both the way up-canyon and the way down.  On the way up-canyon, a recorded message explains the geologic and human history of the canyon.  The shuttles arrive at each stop less than 10 minutes apart, so if you see one pulling away, another will be there shortly.  The total round-trip takes about 80 minutes.  The town of Springdale also has a shuttle system that connects to the park system at the Visitor Center.  The shuttles are all free and you can hop on or off at any stop.

If you have been to a National Park, you know that there can be lines of traffic to get into the park.  Once you get in, traffic can slow to a snail's pace if someone decides to pull over for a photo opportunity.  Often, you must keep your fingers crossed to find a parking space at the trail head.  The shuttle system has changed all that!  The shuttles were virtually alone on the road.  The parking lots are empty and you can get to any trail head you want by simply hopping off at the right spot.  Pollution in the park has been reduced by not only eliminating all the automobiles, but also by the use of Propane on the shuttles.

The shuttle also opens a whole new set of possibilities for hiking.  If you have a car, you need to plan your route so that you return to your car.  This is not the case with the shuttle.  You can start hiking in one place and end up someplace else.  No backtracking.  With only a limited amount of time and limited endurance, it is nice to be able to hike a trail in one direction.

One of the other advantages of the shuttle I hadn't considered was the feeling of camaraderie that could develop - something that would not happen if we were all locked in our individual automobiles.  On one of the days we were in the park, it rained and snowed.  We were soaked after doing a short hike on the Riverside Walk trail.  We got on the bus to head back to our hotel and get dried off.  At one of the other stops we picked up a group that had hiked to the Emerald Pools and was colder and wetter than we were.  The Emerald Pools hike had been our original plan, but after seeing the weather, we had opted for the easier, shorter hike.  We got to talking and laughing with this other group and learned about some of the hikes they had done.  After that, we kept seeing them and saw them again at Bryce Canyon and even at the airport in Las Vegas!  We continued to share hike information every time we met up.

Another advantage of the shuttle is being able to go your own way once you enter the park.  Because we were visiting the park before peak season, we opted to drive to the Visitor Center each morning.  We talked with the Ranger about possible hikes and then grabbed a shuttle to the appropriate stop. However, we could split up if we needed to.  We weren't relying on one car.  On the last day, we needed to get our airline boarding passes for the next day.  Two of us headed back to the hotel, and the other two finished the hike and then took the shuttle deeper into the canyon for one last chance at taking some pictures.  When we got back to the Visitor Center, we picked up the Springdale shuttle and were dropped off across the street from out hotel.

Bryce Canyon also has a shuttle system, but it wasn't in operation yet for the season.  I actually missed having it available.  If it operates as efficiently as the one at Zion, it would expand the hiking options and allow you to see more of the park in less time because you wouldn't have to return on trails you took to get into the canyon.

I don't know if the shuttle system would work well in every park, but the one at Zion made me a convert.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Granby - McLean Game Refuge: Fish & Birds

Things are finally warming up a bit.  Temps were in the mid-50's making it another perfect day for a walk in the game refuge.  This time I started on Canton Road, walked down the still icy woods road and turned right in the direction of Trout Pond.  As I crossed the bridge over Bissell Brook, I spotted the small fish in the picture below.

Not long after that, I heard a woodpecker.  The picture I got isn't that great, but it is definitely a Pileated.

Pileated woodpecker.

I turned left on to the North Trail and climbed to the ridge.  Now I was headed in the direction of Kettle Pond.  I was hoping to hear the cacophony of Wood Frog calls, but I heard and saw nothing.  In previous years, I have seen thousands of them in Kettle Pond while half of the pond was still covered with ice.  There is no ice now, so I suspect I missed the mating season.  Check out this cool video on how North American Wood Frogs freeze and then thaw.  Amazing.

Looking down the North Trail.
A nice walk, on a nice spring day was capped off by being able to add a new bird to my life list - a Wood Duck!  They are much more skittish than the Canada Geese or even the Mallards, so I didn't get a close-up shot.  Still, I am happy to be able to add this beautiful bird to my list.

Two Mallards, two Canada geese, and two Wood Ducks.