Zion (2)

Above: The canyon floor in Zion National Park.

Sometime during the summer of 2001, I got it into my head to go hiking in the backwoods of Utah – most likely due to coming across photographs of Bryce Canyon in National Geographic or some similar publication. It was quite ambitious for my first trip outside of Europe, especially since my research had highlighted the appalling lack of public transport and the worrying presence of bears and scorpions. Nonetheless, I worked out a short itinerary from Salt Lake City and, this being the era before the criminalisation of air travel, headed off with few misgivings.

Kolob Canyons

Above: Kolob Canyons, Zion National Park. Below left: The Mormon Tabernacle, Salt Lake City.

Mighty Mormon Organ

Back then, I wasn’t paranoid about getting shot and walked the sixteen blocks from the airport bus station to my hostel without a second thought (the hostel owner found this incomprehensible – one of the first things he said to me was, “Only an Englishman would walk sixteen blocks”). An intercity bus took me down to St. George the following day (dropping me off at a fast food restaurant, where I sampled my first – and hopefully last – root beer), and I walked (again to general surprise) to the local campsite. Once settled in, I went looking for supplies and was directed towards the local Wal-Mart, a few miles away. There were no pavements, and so I had to plough through the furze on the roadside while about one out of every four cars beeped at me (when I asked the campsite proprietor why this happened, he shrugged: “Just sayin’ hi”).

Snow Canyon (3)

Above: Snow Canyon State Park. Below left: Zion National Park.

Zion (3)

Over the following week or two, I hit up this corner of the state’s main attractions: Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Kodachrome Basin State Park and Snow Canyon State Park (unfortunately, there wasn’t time to do Arches National Park as well). Looking back almost ten years later, much of this is now a montage of immense sandstone cliffs, roadrunners (Geococcyx californianus; actually a member of the cuckoo family), pine trees growing in sand, preposterously huge camper vans (practically mobile houses) and eerie hoodoos (small sandstone pillars formed through erosion and weathering).

I had a day to spare in Salt Lake City on my way back to Europe, and made myself rather unpopular at the Church History Museum by asking why the church leaders (whose portraits were prominently displayed) were all old white guys. The attendant replied that the church was a family, that men were the natural leaders of families and that age was equivalent to wisdom.

Kodachrome Basin (1)Kodachrome Basin (2)

Above: Kodachrome Basin State Park. Below left: Snow Canyon State Park. Below right: Lava tunnels in Snow Canyon State Park.

Snow Canyon (2)Lava tunnel

Zion (1)Snow Canyon (1)

Above left: Zion National Park. Above right: Snow Canyon State Park. Below left: Dixie National Forest. Below right: Forest from Zion National Park.

Dixie (1)Dixie (2)

Queen VictoriaCedar Breaks

Above left: A hoodoo shaped like Queen Victoria. Above right: Cedar Breaks National Monument. Below: The Under-the-Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park.

Under-the-Rim (1)Under-the-Rim (2)

Bryce Canyon (2)Bryce Canyon (1)

Above: Bryce Canyon National Park.

Duke rose (1)With an afternoon to myself (while the ladies of the household went down to the mall and the gentlemen immersed themselves in technology), I borrowed a bicycle and went down to the Duke University campus again to check out the much-recommended Sarah P. Duke Gardens. Having forgotten to bring a lock along, I was rather encumbered and so didn’t see quite as much of the place as I would have liked – there are around five miles of trails, and I had to stick to the main ones. Even then, I was rewarded with an abundance of plants, flowers and insects and could have wandered for hours had food and socialising not been calling me.

Duke asterDuke iris

Duke rose (2)Duke rose (3)

Duke chapel (1)Kate’s graduation (actually a hooding ceremony for PhD students only) took place on the enormous, leafy and fairly grandiose Duke campus, which occupies some prime real estate in north-west Durham. Upon receiving her hood, she gave her advisor a big hug and set off a chain of copycat events lasting the entire ceremony (this gave us some light entertainment as we spotted the fake/awkward ones, in addition to trawling the programme for the longest, shortest and lamest thesis titles). We sweated our way across to another building for some post-ceremony food, which was uniformly excellent – the room even contained, opulence of opulences, an ice sculpture.

In addition to the official events, we were treated to a great barbecue at Kate’s place and had plenty of time to make friends with her and Toban’s dog Huey, a very lovable rescue with a penchant for being chased around the garden.

Huwie (1)Huwie (2)

Duke graduationDuke chapel (3)Duke chapel (2)

Atlas beetleThe week before last, Amy and I took a very long (around 2700 km) road trip down to North Carolina (in the USA) to attend Kate’s Ph. D. graduation. We opted to drive there (taking around two fourteen-hour days) rather than fly in an effort to save the environment – even taking infrastructure into account, multi-occupancy cars are far greener than aeroplanes. The stand-out event of the trip was our GPS inexplicably taking us along single-track roads through the middle of Kingdom Come State Park and then (almost) over a bridge that wasn’t there anymore. As we turned around to find an alternative route, a dog raced out from a nearby house and tried to attack the car, stalling us for several minutes while we crept forwards to avoid running him over. We later found out that the GPS was set to avoid toll roads, which would have cost around $8 for time savings of 1-2 hours.

Poison dart frogsOur first excursion in the subtropics was to the Durham Museum of Life and Science, a renowned centre for the natural sciences a short walk away from Kate’s house. We were given some indication of what to expect there when we were woken up by twittering cardinals, saw large turtles in a stream, were warned about copperhead snakes (Agkistrodon contortrix) on the path and stumbled across a concrete brontosaurus on our way there. We had also (coincidentally) arrived just in time to catch an insect feeding (of fruit flies to poison dart frogs and crickets to assassin bugs) and a butterfly release (of newly-hatched specimens from Ecuador).

Ecuadorean butterfly (1)Ecuadorean butterfly (2)

Orchid mantisAfter a quick tour of the rest of the insectarium (including an orchid mantis, Hymenopus coronatus, and various spiders, beetles and caterpillars), we braved the sweltering heat to explore the fairly large outdoor section of the museum and quickly met Ranger Greg Dodge, who was walking around showing an eyed click beetle (Alaus oculatus) he’d found to various visitors. As we wandered around the wetland habitat, spotting bears, red wolves (Canis lupus rufus), ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta), blue and green herons (Ardea herodias and Butorides virescens respectively) and lots of insects and frogs, he would show up every now and then to tell us about what we were looking at and what we’d seen on the drive down (principally roadkill, but also lots of turkey vultures, Cathartes aura).

Eyed click beetleRing-tailed lemur