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2007-04 Natures secret garden of Zion

I clambered across the exposed elevated sandstone surface on grazed hands and knees. Attempting to stand, my deck-shoed feet skated sideways ; my heart skipped yet another beat. The next obstacle  a narrow 6ft-wide ledge, swinging chains my only stability, on both sides a 1400ft sheer vertical drop to the canyon half a mile below.

 

I persevered. Moments before, I had been informed, that so far this year, three people had plunged to their deaths from this point. Only one a month - a comforting thought. Normally I have a good head for heights and an unadulterated sense of adventure, but instead of looking ahead, I was simply staring downwards, dizzy, clinging with both hands to a swaying chain. From then on I knew I was not going to complete the final 200ft to the summit. I chickened out. I was content with my climb thus far, and thrilled by the images captured on my digital camera.

 

"Angel's Landing" is one of the most challenging trails (5 miles long, taking about 4 hours) in Zion National Park in Utah. The park itself is, in my reckoning, one of America's best-kept secrets, and unquestionably, one of the most awe-inspiring places I have ever had the privilege to visit. On our recent US tour, we drove from Las Vegas to St George Utah for several performances, and had now been rewarded with a rare day-off.

 

Arizona's more famous `Grand Canyon' was three hours away : Zion a mere 45-minute drive. I had ashamedly never heard of this perfectly planned geological theme-park, with a highly informative Visitor Centre and museum, and was thus unprepared for its `sandstone grandeur, crowned with reverence'. The Zion shuttle-bus has significantly reduced traffic congestion, noise levels and pollution, as it ferries tourists along the snaking canyon floor, past all the major points of interest and trailheads.

 

As the land at sea level rose to form the Colorado plateau, layers of clay and sand were laid down in a series of seas, swamps, rivers, forests and deserts, depositing colossal stone monoliths. The Virgin River -a tributary of the mighty Colorado - cut through, and after millions of years of uplift, erosion, faulting, flashfloods, landslides and volcanic activity, what remains is the world's highest sandstone cliffs, spectacular pinnacles, spires, hanging valleys with pine-covered plateaux - all in all a deeply spiritual, peaceful, scenic place of sanctuary and refuge.

 

Due to the height of the canyon, there exist a multitude of botanical habitats, and wide plant and animal diversity, including mountain lions, lizards, porcupine, chipmunks, big-horn sheep, bald eagles and wild turkeys (`gobblers').

Human use of Zion, and evidence of the area acting as an important spiritual refuge, can be traced back 9000 years. The Anasazi and Pauite Native Americans settled here later, before Mormon pioneers moved in, awarding the area its apt biblical name. Zion National park was established in 1919. Sand Cathedrals, pastel rock monuments, "The Three Patriarchs", and heavenly white altars all stand proud against the cloudless deep-blue Utah skies, raising two and a half million annual tourists to a whole new spiritual plane. Nature herself carved stone faces, shapes and chequerboard designs. Varying levels of iron oxide deposits have colourfully created shades of spectacular reds, creams and oranges.

 

A major goal of environmentalism is the betterment of mankind, the purification of air, and the cleaning up of parks and Nature, so that we all can live happier and healthier lives. At times environmentalists strive to protect nature not for man, but from man. After a hectic tour, witnessing lots of man-made `wonders', to see
Nature, naked, in all her majesty and glory is a true privilege, and a vital spiritual top-up. I wonder what other natural secret gardens the world is hiding from
me.