Kolob Canyons

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Kolob Canyons is Zion National Park’s less-visited far northwest corner. While the 2,000 foot cliff walls of Kolob bear a significant resemblance to the sheer cliffs of Zion, Kolob still maintains a unique identity of its own.

The narrow parallel box canyons of Kolob feel much more intimate than the grand vistas Zion offers. In Kolob, the nooks, crannies and fingers of canyons and draws feel private and personable.

Additionally, the creeks in the canyons seem greener than the arid climes of Zion. Conifers and dense vegetation crowd the banks of shallow streams.

Kolob is best viewed during the golden hours of the day, when the rising and setting sun shines its light on the high red-orange cliffs before filtering down and scattering through the green nooks of the canyon below where thin whiptail lizards scurry between rocks.

From Kolob’s visitor center, a drive through through Zion’s far corner is a short 5-mile drive, but the scenery and pulloffs make the trip feel far longer than what it actually is.

First, the road passes the Hurricane Cliffs, which are part of the 200-mile Hurricane Fault that comprises the western edge of the Markagunt Plateau. Then, there’s Taylor Creek’s piñon and juniper forests, followed by Horse Ranch Mountain,the park’s tallest point at 8,726 feet. Box Canyon and Timber Top Mountain’s fir and ponderosa pine covered heights round out the scenic views.

It’s no wonder how Kolob Canyons got their name. In Mormon scripture Kolob means “residence closest to heaven.”

You might notice a marker designating a far less tranquil historical period four miles beyond the visitor center, though.

Lee pass bears the name of John D. Lee, the only person convicted of a crime in the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

In 1857 tensions were rising in southern Utah, a territory largely settled by Mormons. That year 1,500 U.S. soldiers were making their way to the territory, and that worried Mormon leaders.

In the two decades before 1857, Mormons had been driven out of both Illinois and Missouri. Once again, miscommunication and prejudice threatened to destabilize the peace. Mormons feared losing their way of life once again with the threat of approaching federal troops. To make matters worse for the Mormons, wagon trains bound for California passed through the territory they lived in. That meant competition for resources and an even greater influx of people in the region.

Tensions boiled when Lee and a force of militia men confronted and besieged a California bound wagon train from Arkansas. After days of exchanging shots, Lee entered the wagon circle and negotiated a peaceful resolution, promising safe passage.

However, when the militia men escorted the settlers from their wagons the settlers were shot and killed. Only young children who could not bear witness to the event were spared. In total, 120 people were killed in the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

After the killing, the Mormon community attempted to cover up the act. Blame was passed on to Native Americans, who the Mormons reportedly joined forces with during the attack.

Ultimately, Utah militiamen and the U.S. Army never exchanged shots. Conflict and disputes were settled through peaceful negotiations. Lee was later executed for his role in the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and in 1870 Lee and another major conspirator were excommunicated from the Church of Latter Day Saints.

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Kodachrome Basin

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On a good day silence lays on Kodachrome Basin State Park like a blanket. Consider Kodachrome a quiet alternative to Bryce Canyon National Park, which is only a little more than 20 miles away.

When the scenic overlooks at Bryce get packed, you can always hop onto Utah 12 and drive towards Cannonville, past lonely ranches that sit beside fields of alfalfa. Just past Cannonville, the road spills out into Kodachrome.

Unspoiled desert surrounds visitors in Kodachrome. Your eyes sweep easily across the park’s flat basins dotted with sage scrub and juniper trees up to an unobstructed blue sky filled with cotton candy cumulus and rosy sandstone cliffs.

When the park is silent–and it often is–there is nothing to be heard, except when the wind blows.

Unique geological features called sedimentary pipes, pillars or chimneys are found throughout Kodachrome. More than 60 of these formations populate the park, and they can’t be found anywhere else in the world.

Geologists still speculate how the chimneys formed–some theorize that seismic activity was involved.

The pipes reach for the sky in the flatlands and from the cliffs like huge industrial earthen chimneys.

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Kodachrome got its name from National Geographic explorers who photographed the area using Kodak film of the same name in 1949.

Writer and photographer Jack Breed was on assignment searching for unknown and unnamed geographical features when he and his expedition discovered arches, colored cliffs and those weird sedimentary pipes.

Breed thought it was just the perfect place for Kodachrome film, which revolutionized color photography.

Before Kodak created the film in 1935, taking color photographs was a long and laborious process that didn’t always produce great results.

Kodachrome revolutionized color film, and gained quite a reputation for its vivid colors and saturation.

The film became a favorite of National Geographic photographers and amateur photographers alike. Kodachrome film captured the Hindenburg crash, the Kennedy assassination in Dallas and countless family outings.

Ultimately, digital killed Kodachrome, and Kodak decided to discontinue it.

However, Kodachrome Basin State Park still bears the name of the film, with the approval of Kodak, of course. The name serves as a tribute to explorers and photographers in search of a world of vivid color.

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Although Kodachrome offers horse rides, hiking and camping it’s relatively easy to avoid people there.

When I visited in early August with my father we didn’t see another soul besides the park ranger that greeted us at the entrance gate. The only other vehicle we saw in the park was parked inside the campground.

Animals can be as sparse as other people in the desert sometimes, especially during the heat of the day. Long-eared and gangly-legged jackrabbits bound in between sagebrush when the day is cool. Often, raptors can be spotted in the sky.

I was fortunate enough to watch a pair of golden eagles gliding along the rim of Kodachrome’s cliff. The huge birds shone in the sun, and it was so quiet that their cries carried all the way down to where I stood watching, binoculars in hand.

Bryce Canyon’s Hoodoos

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Bryce Canyon’s Natural Ampitheater 

Bryce Canyon’s name is a little misleading, because it isn’t a canyon. Bryce Canyon is  actually a series of massive natural amphitheaters eroded into the Pink Cliffs of the Paunsaugunt Plateau in Utah.

Unique rock formations called hoodoos steal the show in Bryce’s amphitheaters.  Hoodoo derives from the word voodoo, and carries similar connotations. Spainards believed the rock formations held a mystical appeal to Native Americans.

Although Paiutes did not revere the hoodoos, they told tales of animals and birds living in a city that was turned to stone by Coyote, who believed he had been mistreated by the city’s residents. The product of that transformation was the creation of the hoodoos.

It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to see the hoodoos as a stone city, or to see faces among the rocks. The spires of arches of these badlands look like a terrestrial city of towers and castles. Admittedly, some formations do take a bit of imagination to interpret. IMG_20160727_145541326The formation of Bryce Canyon began 60 million years ago when sediment dropped and consolidated on the bottom a body of water called Lake Flagstaff. Then, the Colorado Plateau lifted unevenly 16 million years ago creating a series of plateaus we call the Grand Staircase today.

Resulting variations in the hardness of rock layers of limestone, siltstone, dolomite and mudstone help create the hoodoos. Water flowing through the cracks of soft rock erode away from harder rock layers, creating capstones with long necks–the spires of hoodoos. The constant freezing and thawing of snowmelt, and runoff from rainwater ensure the landscape will continue to change. In fact, it’s estimated that the Pink Cliffs recede one foot every 50-65 years due to erosion.

Sometimes the hoodoos seem alive, and that’s not just because the formations undergo constant change due to erosion. During the day, it appears as if the rocks change color and even shine in the light. You can track the progression of clouds and the sun by the changing colors of the hoodoos. IMG_20160727_115050830_HDRThe shades of red, pink, brown, yellow and black that color Bryce Canyon are caused by rust. Iron oxide colors the rock because it is either found within the rock formation itself, or it is carried into the rock by groundwater. Hoodoos are also colored by bacteria that ingest dust and produces iron that sticks to the rocks creating an effect known as desert varnish. Additionally, evaporating water creates salt deposits adding streaks of white to the hoodoos. IMG_20160729_092225713

Visitors to Bryce Canyon can take in the park from several viewpoints along the park’s main road, but the best way to appreciate the hoodoos is to actually hike down in them. You can avoid the crowds on longer trails, and you get a much more intimate experience. It’s one thing to look out into the amphitheater, but it’s entirely different to be on its stage looking up at the hoodoos. The difference is like looking upon the ruins of a city melting into cliffs and dunes, and actually being in it.

That isn’t to say that the views from the Pink Cliffs’ edge isn’t impressive. They provide the best panoramas of the surrounding hills and mesas that spread out in the rolling greens of fir and ponderosa pine trees for as far as the eye can see.

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Live at the Thompson House

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Local H: Ryan Harding (left) and Scott Lucas (right). The power duo that sounds like a four man band.

When I saw Local H was coming to Newport to play at the Thompson House on their Anti-Folk Revival Tour in Drop-D with Filter and Helmet, I knew I had to go.

I circled the date in my mind (8/13/14) and salivated at the thought I might actually get to see one of my favorite bands live.

That might sound crazy, but I never thought I’d get the opportunity to actually hear Local H live. The band–always a power duo and always fronted by Scott Lucas–had dropped their first album in 1995, and I didn’t know how long Lucas was going to keep at it .

I was especially concerned because Lucas had suffered a damaged vocal cord while on tour in Russia after a mugging the previous year.


To call Local H a ’90s grunge relic would be doing Lucas and his band a disservice, because his sound has evolved and matured over time.

However, most people know Local H for their single “Bound for the Floor”, a song off the 1996 album As Good as Dead with a catchy riff. The song helped the record go gold and climbed the mainstream rock charts and the alt rock charts.

The band was poised to top their performance in 1998 when they released Pack up the Cats, a seamless concept album that displayed how far the band had come in a short time.

Sonically, Pack up the Cats was more polished–the bass popped, the distortion was soaked in energy, and Joe Daniels’ drums pounded out in frenzy. It was post-grunge Cheap Trick: pop rock, served hard.

However, Local H’s label–Island Records–was in the midst of a merger, and when the merger occurred the album was put on the back burner.

The album’s story about a self-absorbed rock star making it big and going bust took a tragically ironic turn. It could just as well have been about a two man band from tiny Zion, Illinois getting dumped on by a record label (maybe?).

But Lucas survived, changing drummers twice. He’s released eight studio albums total (not including EPs and two albums consisting totally of cover songs), including Whatever Happened to PJ Soles?–an album about a mid-life crisis in ode to the actor–and Hallelujah I’m a Bum–a record about the 2012 election and economic desperation.


Only one thing gave me pause about the Thompson House show: the poster said those in attendance had to be 21 or older. I was 19.

Nevertheless, my best friend’s sister had a friend who’d played at the Thompson House before. I had a way in, and a group to go with.

When we arrived at the Thompson House I was surprised that we didn’t have any trouble getting into the red brick mansion that sits in the shadow of Newport on the Levee.

We paid our $20 and were prompted to put on bracelets indicating we were underage.

In fact, we weren’t even the youngest people there. Although most of the people in attendance were in their 20s or 30s there was one kid who couldn’t have been any older than 13 with his dad. Both were decked out in black Local H T-shirts. The kid put on a show by playing a drum kit that happened to be in the front of the house.

The Thompson House has a gutted feel to it. Its inner spaces are kept clear for crowds, save for a couple bars with limited seating space towards the front of the house and the back of the house. It’s safe to say things were probably very different when John Thompson was born here in 1860. Thompson’s claim to fame is the Thompson submachine gun, made famous by gun-toting gangsters and U.S. servicemen in World War II.

There are a few rooms to mill about in, but the main attraction is the stage area in the rear of the house. Here, Local H put on a show.

It began simply. “Hey everybody. We’re Local H,” Scott Lucas said matter of factly. And then he and his new drummer, Ryan Harding, launched into their set list.

Once they started, they didn’t stop. It began with the energetic “All Right (Oh Yeah)”, then it hopped into the blitz of “Heavy Metal Bakesale”. Unexpectedly, the Chicago power duo launched into a cover of Lorde’s hit pop song “Team”. Lucas did the song justice, while keeping true to form.

From there, they bounced between the desperation of “Another February” and favorites like “Bound for the Floor”. They nearly played songs from all of their albums, including Hey Killer, which was still several months away from release at the time.

All the while, scantily clad women passed through the darkened room offering shots while onlookers from above leaned over balcony railing with beers in hand. Basically, it felt like a frat mansion if there were such a thing.

To me it was euphoria. Watching Lucas work his footpedals, switching between his bass pickups so he could play both guitar and bass at the same time was a revelation. Even better, the band retained the same sound they record in studio. Local H was back at it.

After the show, I got to meet Harding and Lucas at their merch table. I abstained from asking questions about lyrics and song titles so as not to risk sounding desperate. Instead, I complimented the set list. I bought Local H’s new EP, asked for an autograph and was satisfied. We stuck around late into the night to see Filter and Helmet play (talk about a ’90s reunion).

When my friend Paul spotted Local H packing up, he suggested we go get a picture. We approached Lucas, and asked if he’d take a picture. At first declined. Disheartened, I thanked him anyway.

Then, with newfound energy, Lucas said “No, come here. Get over here.”

Instead, Lucas came to me and wrapped his arm around my shoulder, reached for the phone and tried to rattled off a few selfies. He’d probably had a drink or two by then, but was still amicable.

He’d grown out his mane again like he had back in ’96. There were some silver hairs in it now though. “The old guy still freaking has it,” I thought.

 

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“Hi, I’m Scott” — Lucas’ autograph on my EP.