Both parks were stunning, and on a tip from a local in the Bryce area, I took the less-frequented Bryce Point Loop and connected it with the more traversed Navajo Loop to see the Hoodoos. As promised, I didn’t see a soul until I got to the Navajo.
Zion was a different story. The Narrows, where the river is the trail visitors hike along below towering canyon walls, was packed.
Everyone had the same thing in mind that blistering hot day: cool water. The crowds left me craving something…less obvious.
I was feeling a little tourist-ed out, so I welcomed the chance to be alone, and enjoyed some baked polenta with sautéed mushrooms and an icy pint of Zion Canyon Brewing Company’s Jamaican Style Lager at the n0-frills watering hole.
“There’s only one thing left for you to do,” my waitress, Alicia, said. “Go see Earthquake Hill.”
“Just remember to look out for rattlesnakes — they’re all over the place right now.”
“So what is this place, exactly?,” I asked.
“There’s four mansions up against the canyon wall that got screwed in an earthquake back in ’92,” she said. “I remember the year, cause I’d just moved here from California, and I wondered if I’d brought the earthquakes with me.”
She described how she and her friends would walk up the mansions’ still-intact stairs and sit out on the edge of the buildings with a cold beer, soaking in the unadulterated views.
I liked the sound of that, so I jotted down her directions — drive back towards the park, turn left after the Spotted Dog Café, look for a dirt road off to the right, and hike up the hill — and took off.
I parked and, ignoring the “No Trespassing” sign, hopped over the chain barrier. An older woman who was watering her garden eyed me suspiciously, but I just made my way up the hill until I was out of her line of sight.
As the “road” melted into the natural landscape of brush and poky shrubs, I took slow, deliberate steps, looking and listening for rattlers. No mansions yet.
I came up over a small hill, hoping they would appear.
Instead I saw a deer.
She stared at me with her big doe eyes, then calmly turned and walked to the right. My instincts told me to follow her.
That’s when I saw the remnants of a stone fireplace.
But, there were no intact mansions inviting me to alight on their frame and enjoy a desert sunset. Just rubble and debris.
The sun was hanging lower in the sky, and I still had a three-hour drive to Las Vegas, so I stopped by the Bit and Spur on my way out of town.
“Hmmm. I guess I haven’t been up there in a while,” Alicia said. “I can’t believe they’re not standing anymore.”
I thanked her for the unexpected mini-adventure, and snickered to myself when I realized that sometimes it takes a curious outsider to update insider knowledge.
Follow Shannon’s adventures on Twitter @CuriousTraveler and on Instagram @ShannonSwitzer
Shannon is photographing with an Olympus PEN E-PM1 and an Olympus Tough TG-820.