Thursday, October 11, 2012

The color of canyons

Back from 10 days in Utah: a couple of days at the Land Trust Alliance convention in Salt Lake City, and the rest in the south around Bryce and Zion Canyons. It was of course hard to leave New England at this time of year, but I expected the colors of the canyons and high desert to rival our hardwood foliage. And they did, almost.

In the categories of grandeur and weather, I must admit the West won, and handily. The walls of Zion Canyon alone are much higher than Maine's biggest coastal mountains, and we were ecstatic to exchange the cool and rainy of last week in New England for warm and sunny. In the matter of color, it's probably silly to compare - the two places are so different. The thousands of canyons show such an astonishing range of shapes - especially Bryce with its dense population of hoodoos - that you want to explore every one of them. Their colors too are amazing: shades of vermilion and pink and rose and dark red and off-white and light brown change hourly as the sun strikes a new angle. The desert floor is more monotonous, red sands mixed with white, the muted grays and greens of tough plants, and the dark green of stunted conifers, with occasional shocking pink flowers of the prickly pear and tiny bright red and yellow flowers widely scattered and almost invisible. Each primary color seems just a couple degrees off true, paler than we're used to, due to the scarcity of water, I assume. The sky, however, was as bright blue as anything anywhere, and much bigger than we normally see.

Yet we do compare. For all the wonders round every corner, and glimpses of Western animals (buffalo, antelope, tarantula, lizard, jackrabbit), and massive doses of photo-therapy, we were ready to come home. The lack of water is the ultimate challenge for people from the east - we must have some kind of gene that makes us crave big trees and lush vegetation and armies of birds and ever-present rivers and lakes and ocean. And, of course, the loud, brilliant, fully charged reds and yellows and oranges of the New England hillsides.

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