Monday, 8 March 2010

Project 4: Zion National Park

At last, no more re-vegetation and no more Lake Mead. For my fourth project I would travel to Zion National Park in Utah to help set up the irrigation system in preparation for the Spring and Summer months where the campsites and surrounding areas require large amounts of water. This is glamourising the job quite a bit as effectively we would be cleaning out ditches but hey-ho, I would rather do that in Zion than just about anywhere.

It was obvious before I went that Zion is one of those projects that most people want. All of the supervisors and past volunteers rate it very highly and many prefer it to the Grand Canyon in terms of beauty. It was also apparent just after entering the park that this could be true as you drive to the bottom and then along the canyon which towers over you from all angles.

We worked the rest of the day that we arrived and the warning we had received about the weather and the cold seemed to be true. It was raining from pretty much the moment we started to the moment we tooled up and there were times where even the beauty of the surroundings didn't count for much. It got pretty low when we had to erect a tent in the pouring rain, cook and eat huddled together under a tarpaulin and then go to bed at 7.30. We had better luck with the weather the next day and for the majority of the hitch to be fair. It only rained on the Saturday night although the mornings were freezing.

One feature of my morning routine was to put the warm water on the stove. Firstly this was so that I and the rest of the crew could have warms drinks but this also helped to defrost my fingers. Imagine holding a shovel for ten hours a day, seven days straight. I would wake up and due to the cold not be able to close my fingers all the way into my palm. One morning my right hand couldn't close and my left hand was clasped shut! Still now I have pains in my right hand first thing in the morning.

Digging and cleaning ditches is pretty easy and doesn't require much thought. After the first day I assumed that by the end of the week I would be ready to kill myself with my own shovel but it didn't work out that way and I was rarely bored. At points where the work does get to you, I would just take a look around and drift off into some random thought. Also, working in a line helps as you can chat the people next to you and it is probably the project where the working day has gone the quickest.

We were also fortunate to have a supervisor who loves Zion and so after work rather than just going back to camp to cook, eat and sleep we would spend a few hours hiking around the park. We managed to hike the Emerald Pools, Watchman, Weeping Rock and Canyon Overlook trails. This allowed us to see Zion from a height rather than the canyon floor and in my eyes only helped to enhance it's reputation as a stunning place to visit. The park rangers at Zion were also fantastic and had collected a weeks worth of fire wood for us. They even provided a tarpaulin so we could keep it all dry. Work hard all day, hike to an amazing location with stunning views, hike back down and then eat a large, lovingly cooked meal in front of a campfire. Add to that an excellent crew with people you enjoy spending time with and it doesn't get much better.

There is supposed to be a lot of light pollution around Zion and so the night sky is not as amazing as it could be. However on one night the moon was so bright that it lit up the side of a mountain as if it were the sun. I woke up at 3am and it was so bright that you could easily see 100ft and didn't need to use a torch at all. Like the scenic drive on the first night I was actually speechless and couldn't quite believe my eyes. I would happily dig ditches on every project if it were in Zion. It is a very, very special place.You can see all of the photos here. My camera did run out and so there are more on my Facebook page.

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