We had already captured two sunrises that were beautiful, but essentially very similar: gray-purple pre-dawn glow
giving way suddenly to a glorious orangish glow followed by the bright white of day. No clouds to give a brilliant pyrotechnic orgy of color with harkened angels singing hallelujah. The forecast was the same (no clouds) so that, coupled with Dan's overworked knee, persuaded us to sleep in. Relatively speaking...
We had one destination this last morning in Zion: return to the Horseshoe bend and photograph the beauty of the riparian curve prior to the harsh light dropping upon it. Fortunately that deep swath of the Virgin River -- below Angel's Landing -- stays in shadow long after the sun has officially risen. We pulled into the large parking lot just after 8:30 took separate paths down to the river and consequently worked the river individually and in our own private fashion. For me, I wandered upstream and with the aid of my (almost) knee-high mud boots crossed to an island (of sorts) and was able to set up for some very nice shots of both the upriver cliffs in golden light and the deeper shadows down river toward the Great White Throne.
Eventually I worked my way to where Dan was: shooting an old fallen tree that we had "discovered" two days earlier, when we had first visited this area. It is a scenic beauty of a downed giant, with whitened trunk and branches reaching plaintively to the far cliffs, or so it seemed to me. Regardless, the tree made a wonderful subject to work around and photograph from various angles, some images and angles more interesting than others. The sun continued to creep down the high cliff walls and we felt that we had played out this certain bit of heaven on earth as much as we could: it was time for our 'ritual' of real coffee at the Mean Bean Coffee House before checking out of both our motel and Zion National Park.
For a final photo op, we stop at what remains of the Mormon ghost town of Grafton. Of the 4 buildings still extant, the schoolhouse-cum-church and the Alonzo and Nancy Russell Home -- the latter a two-story ranch house with quite a bit of square footage for a town of this size -- are in the best condition. Across from the Russell home is a more ramshackle structure identified as the Louisa Foster Russell Home. It would be forgettable but for the original adobe fireplace that still stands. A last stop at the graveyard on the way out of town reminds me of just how tenuous life was a mere century and a quarter ago: killed by Indians, taken by diphtheria, drowning, a swing accident (!) that killed two teenage girls, etc. A lot of tragedy for such a small town, but hopefully leavened with a fair dose of happiness and the simple pleasures that were unique to Western frontier life.
Dan spins some classic 70's rock on our way home (Supertrtamp, Steely Dan, Lee Michaels, Malo) and I ponder why it took me so long to return to Zion. Twenty-seven years between visits is a bit much. I could say that it has something to do with the NPS' anti-dog policy. Or the fact that the Parks can be incredibly overrun with tourists. Or, that I had been seeking a more primitive experience that is better sought and realized in Wilderness Areas. Or maybe that we have been having too much of good time exploring Europe. Or, I could just say "stuff happens," leave go of over-analyzing, and promise to return NEXT year. Yeah, that works.