Grand Canyon is the product of about 6,000,000 years of erosion by the Colorado River. Zion is younger. They think the Virgin River began carving up its landscape 2.5 to 3 million years ago. I am more impressed by Zion, perhaps because anybody can get down to the river at Zion, and at GC, you have to hike seven miles downhill covering a vertical drop of nearly a mile. Kat disagrees, but she’s made the GC’s Bright Angel trail descent and spent a week rafting the river.
Our last morning at Zion was spent birdwatching with a park ranger. They call the program “What’s Flyin’ at Zion?” Kat and I learned so much about the practice of birding. We’ve used the Peterson Field Guides to Birds (both Eastern and Western USA) for a few years and have worked several years on Cornell’s Backyard Bird Count. But we never knew there was so much ethics to birding. Obviously it’s uncool to blast an uncooperative specimen with your 20 gauge for a better look, but there’s a lot more to it than that. It seems that birders (the serious ones call themselves that) regard our feathered friends as very close to human. For example, you shouldn’t point at them; instead talk in terms of clock directions and tree features to describe to fellow birders the subject’s current location. If you discover an active nest, take a couple of pictures and get out of there: you are making life harder for Mrs. Bird than it already has to be. You must not do anything to impact their way of life: feeding them in a non-sustainable way (they assume your feeder IS sustainable) is not done, even to lure a rare bird into sunlight. And she taught us to spot hummingbird nests – you can easily confuse them with caterpillar cocoons or spider webs. And Letitia the Ranger told us that hummingbirds don’t live on nectar alone. No, they also catch flying insects, and we saw several wing-dancing over the water doing just that. If she is to be believed, each hummingbird child consumes a couple thousand bugs plus the nectar of 3,000 flowers each day. I think she’s missed a decimal or something there, but why don’t you Google it and let me know! But if she’s correct, Mama Hummer’s gotta catch several thousand gnats every day, at least until the kids go off to college.
Zion is right up there with Yellowstone, Glacier, and Grand Canyon. Check it out while you’re still a kid.