Zion National Park

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The next stop on our national park tour was Zion National Park. This is a very popular and beautiful park, that is also quite large! Only relatively small parts of it are accessible to most people, but if you are able to get a backcountry permit, there is much to explore! We were able to get a backcountry permit to camp along the East Rim of the canyon, which was quite beautiful, though I’ve heard the West Rim is the place to be (next time!). Zion Canyon and the surrounding canyons in the park cut deep into the earth in-between two of the layers of the Grand Staircase, an immense sequence of sedimentary rock layers. Zion National Park lies in-between the White and Grey Cliffs. Here are a few pictures that try to capture the enormity of the canyons in the national park:

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Zion Canyon itself is around 15 miles long and can be over 3000 feet deep. The East Rim where we camped was over 6000 ft., while the bottom of Zion Canyon was below 4500 ft. Zion Canyon, like the Grand Canyon, was formed by millions of years of erosion by a river – the Virgin River.

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The non-backcountry areas of the Grand Canyon and Zion are quite different and offer very different experiences. When you visit the Grand Canyon, you start at the tops of the canyon and can hike in; whereas when you visit Zion, you start at the bottom of the canyon and hike up. This allows many people to see several of Zion Canyons interesting features such as the Weeping Rock (a rock wall that has water running continuously down it) and the Checkerboard Mesa.

The Weeping Rock

The Weeping Rock

A rock face above an area called the Emerald Pools

A rock face above an area called the Emerald Pools

The Checkerboard Mesa

The Checkerboard Mesa

Another prominent part of Zion Canyon is an area called The Narrows, which is a very narrow (surprise!) part of the canyon, where there is basically no ground that is not covered by the Virgin River. It is a very popular day hike and also a popular backpacking location. However The Narrows can be quite dangerous, as any rain upstream or in Zion National Park could lead to a flash flood, which has been known to claim lives of even the most experienced hikers. Below is the picture of The Narrows.

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Ultimately, Zion National Park is a spectacular place that I feel like I have only barely started exploring. There is still so much I want to do there and I plan to visit it again soon for some awesome backpacking!

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Grand Canyon National Park – North Rim

There is no place like the Grand Canyon, and the North Rim of the national park was absolutely spectacular.

On the first day of our national park trip, Meghan and I visited the North Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park. For those who do not know much about the Grand Canyon, it is a massively-colossal canyon that has been created after billions of years of erosion from the Colorado River. It is so large that it can clearly be seen from space. Just to give some numbers, it is over 250 miles long, at some points over 15 miles wide, and sometimes over 6000 feet deep! It is hard to capture the magnitude of these numbers on camera, but here are a few photos of the canyon itself.

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Now for those who have never been to both sides of the Grand Canyon National Park, they are quite different. The South Rim, which is at a lower elevation (~5,000 to 7,000 ft), is typically characterized by Sonoran desert flora or juniper/pinyon pine forests. On the other hand, the higher elevation North Rim (8,000 to 9,000 ft) ranges from ponderosa pine forests to more montane conifer-aspen forests, like in the below picture. We visited at the perfect time to see all the aspen trees change into their beautiful yellow fall colors.

Photo credit: Meghan Duell

Photo credit: Meghan Duell

Being a huge fan of mountains and montane habitats, I found myself preferring the North Rim. The cooler temperatures were a plus as well. However, the North Rim does close down during parts of the year due too much snow, but that was not a problem for us! We enjoyed the crisp cool mountain air and epic views of the Grand Canyon – both from Bright Angle Point, where we saw the sunset over the Canyon,

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The San Francisco Peaks, which are near Flagstaff, AZ - over 70 miles away!

The San Francisco Peaks, which are near Flagstaff, AZ – over 70 miles away!

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And Point Imperial, where we saw the eastern end of the canyon.

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The Colorado River as it leaves the Grand Canyon

The Colorado River as it leaves the Grand Canyon

All of it was amazing, and I would love to spend more time hiking into the Grand Canyon from the North Rim and hiking around the Kaibab Plateau, which is the heavily forested, high elevation landmass around the Grand Canyon National Park North Rim. If you look on Google Maps, you can clearly see the Kaibab Plateau, which is a very interesting feature in-of-itself, as the surrounding landscape is mostly arid desert. While exploring the plateau, we happened upon some bison, which are always fun to see due to their size, along with many deer, squirrels, and ravens.

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I hope to explore more of both of these areas in the future and again experience the epicness of the Grand Canyon National Park!

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And we are back!

Hello everyone! I’m back from a brief hiatus, but do not worry, this blog is not going away. Over the past few weeks I was working on a very large grant for the National Science Foundation (NSF). This grant is called the NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant and is worth up to $13,000, so it is worthwhile to put a lot of effort into it. I wrote my grant to do some additional lab work on hummingbird feathers that I will not be able to accomplish without the grant (more later if I get some pre-funding for pilot data). This is a highly competitive grant with people all over the country applying. Wish me luck, because I’ll need it!

I submitted it last week and then took an awesome trip throughout Northern Arizona and Southern Utah to visit 6 National Parks over ASU’s fall break. Each of these parks were absolutely amazing, and I will have a post for each with lots of pictures. Look forward to many fun posts to come and below are a few teaser photos!

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Zion National Park

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Bryce Canyon National Park

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Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park