Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Watchman Trail, Zion National Park, UT, July 13, 2018

Drove up from the LA area to Zion on Friday, July 13. This was mainly because of the planned public star party at Cedar Breaks scheduled for the next day, but also because a friend had taken a picture of the Milky Way, rising above the Watchman area back in late winter, and I wanted to get my own!
There was serious monsoon weather all over the Southwest. I hit a heavy downpour as I approached the Valley Wells visitor center (I-15, between Baker and Primm, near Cima Road). All of the rest areas between Las Vegas and Los Angeles had been closed for an annoyingly long period of time, but, finally, both northbound rest areas were open, as was southbound Valley Wells. I was sort of looking forward to stopping there for the first time in what seemed like a year, but the downpour was serious enough that I drove on.

My only stops that day were at Barstow and St. George. Well, and La Verkin. I realized after I left home I didn't have a towel, so I stopped at the Family General Store, where Utah Highway 9 makes the sharp right turn, out of town, and begins an incline, up towards Virgin. I knew there was a )free) shower in the Cedar Breaks campground that I was staying at the next day, and I was pretty sure I was going to get pretty sweaty from my hiking, tonight, and could really use a shower, tomorrow.

There had been some pretty serious downpours around Zion earlier in the week and as I drove through the Gateway town of Springdale, there was plenty of evidence of dirt having been pushed off the road. I also saw that parking in town was no longer free. I pulled into one lot just to check the price: Flat $20 for the lot nearest the entrance. I don't know if the other lots or along the street have different prices, but $20 seemed kind of steep. If it costs almost as much to park as to enter, I figure more people will try to enter and find parking in the limited area between the gate and Canyon Junction. In any event, my arrival this day was late enough that it wasn't an issue. Only a few cars in front of me, and I had a campground, and the guaranteed parking spot that came with it.
Pitched my tent, then debated my options. I had been toying with the idea of a night ascent of Angels Landing, but the shuttle runs late enough that I'd have had to walk several miles back on the road to get back to my campsite. Also, it was really dark, upcanyon, and I didn't want to get stuck in a downpour. So then it was between scouting the Pa'Rus trail or the Watchman Trail, for where I might hope to set up my camera for some skyscapes. I went with the Watchman.
Yeah, it was hot, and humid, and not very pleasant. But the view was nice. It's supposed to be about 3.3 miles, roundtrip, though I'm not sure where they measure it from. I'm sure it's an extra mile or mile-and-a-half or so longer if you're starting from the Watchman Campground.

As with my Arch Rock hike of the previous month, I got to where I though I might take some shots then pulled out my phone and launched my planetarium software, to see where the Milky Way would be, later that night. Of course, this was pretty speculative, since, at the time, it was pretty cloudy, and getting cloudier.

Later that night, it did seem to clear, so I returned on this hike after dark, with my headlamp. It worked fine. In fact, I discovered that the spiders in Zion have a very reflective set of eyes, and you could see the spider eyes even if the spider was hiding under rocks. I also saw plenty of beetles, a scorpion, and assorted other insect life. Oh, yes, I also ran into four deer, who didn't know what to make of me. Hopefully, they all got safely off the trail, once they finally did decided to move.
There's quite a bit of ambient light hitting the cliffs of Zion from the campground, visitor center, and Springdale. I kept the exposures relatively short so as not to overexpose the clouds or the foreground. Not all that many stars to see, unfortunately. But it was still a nice diversion, in advance of what I hoped would be a star party, the next night, at Cedar Breaks.

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