First I drop into the visitor's center to get oriented. Following my normal procedure, I look for the longest, steepest dayhike, talk to a ranger about the trail conditions, and go for it. Here at the northern end of the park, there's an 8-mile loop dropping down into the canyon called Fairyland Loop. Perfect.
It is with difficulty that I restrain myself from gushing about this park. I would say the entire place is a postcard, but I think that would be giving postcard companies too much credit. It's just beautiful - dramatically, exotically beautiful.
There's snow on the ground here, and where there isn't snow there's mud. The elevation is several thousand feet higher than Zion, but the weather has been warming, and the temperature in the sun is comfortable.
I descend into the canyon, gaping like a tourist from California, transfixed. Over the centuries, the sandstone here has been sculpted into an endless variety of shapes, including isolated columns called "hoodoos." As I hike, the camera clicks away madly in an utterly futile attempt to capture the magic of the place.
I turn the corner, hoodoos rising above me like the ruins of an ancient temple. Out here, that hardly seems like a metaphor. This is a temple. These are ruins.
Observing the stones and branches scattered around the trail, I am reminded of how nature is so effortlessly random, while man remains, by and large, doomed to symmetry. Even man's attempts at randomness are defined in terms of the absence of symmetry (a-symmetry). Nature's randomness is not defined by anything.
Man is a part of nature, but he is not the same thing; they exist in a sort of parallel symbiotic relationship. God grants life to man through the processes of nature, and God grants life to nature through the words of man. One could hardly maintain that the animals fully existed before Adam named them, and in the same way nature does not exist apart from the delight and observation of man. If there was no man, there would be no nature, for there would be no one to enjoy it and give it a name.
The leaves of the low-growing manzanita here are a brilliant yellow-green, almost giving the shrub the appearance of a wildflower. When the leaves die, they turn a rusted copper color,* falling from the branches and lying in the path like old pennies. Unlike old pennies, I do not pick them up, because they belong where they are - crunching under my muddy boots and decaying into the sandy soil - a million microscopic molecules that will eventually be drawn into the roots and veins of future manzanita bushes, reaching for the sun and reveling in the profound ecstasy of photosynthesis. Life goes on.
*I know: copper doesn't rust - it oxidizes. But I'm a writer, not a metallurgist.