I made a quick trip to southern Utah last week. The plan was to mountain bike Thunder Mountain, near Bryce, then move down to Springdale to ride around Hurricane, and, of course, ride the road through Zion National Park. There's no better way to see the canyon than on a bike. It all worked out very well, except for the part about the parks being closed.
Bryce was under armed guard. A very nice ranger, carrying a couple of guns, was blocking the gate and turning people away. But this is the National Park Service, so he was turning people away with one of those greasy-spoon restaurant placemat maps, showing people what else they could do in the area. He pointed to a road on Forest Service land that was not technically closed, and said there was a good view into Bryce from there, but that whatever we did, we must not cross the fence into Bryce itself. Wink, wink.
So we went down the road to climb the fence. There were a couple of hundred people along the rim. Most people were climbing over the fence and hiking about half mile into the forbidden park to get a look. A woman from Australia, with her pant leg actually caught in the barbed wire fence, said, "Fence? I don't see any fence." A group of Germans stood there, leaning over the fence, but not about to break the rule and step inside.
From there, we drove to Zion. The Mt. Carmel highway that cuts through the park is a state highway, and they can't close that.
There was a sense of high anxiety in Springdale. The shutdown was still new, and people were trying to figure it out. The phones were ringing off the hook, and all the calls were cancellations. This week the place has to be pretty slow. Businesses and their employees were bracing for the worst. To their great credit, everybody in Springdale was making a huge effort to salvage vacations for people who had spent thousands of dollars to arrive at a locked gate. Everybody had a suggestion for a special hike or bike ride that was outside the park. They wanted to know what we had been doing so they could pass recommendations on to others.
The guys at Zion Cycles, a great little bike shop, put us on to a new ride that was some of the best slickrock riding I've done in years. Little Creek Mesa a bit hard to find, but well worth the effort. The disappointment for people who had traveled great distances to see Zion had to be huge, but the whole town was working to make the best of it. The economic loss to that community is terrible. If they opened the park long enough for all of Congress to jump off Angels Landing, it might be a good thing.
We're about a month away from opening day at PCMR. The last couple of storms have me thinking about ski season. After last year's terrible winter, everybody is hoping for a big snowpack this year. The people who make the long-term guesses for the National Weather Service are, or course, locked out for the time being. So we are left to other sources for the winter forecast.
"Weather Advance" has a map that shows 14 Western states as "about average" in the snow total category. There is a "Winter Battle Zone" across much of the South, and "Much Above Average" in New England. Somehow, when you include as much area as there is in 14 western states, you inevitably arrive at something that is about average. Very useful.
The Old Farmers Almanac map shows climate patterns precisely divided along state boundaries, with Utah as "Cool with Near-Normal Precipitation," while just over the line into Wyoming, they can expect "Piercing Cold with Normal Snowfall." So dress warmly when you make that trip to Evanston.
My best forecasting tool is the hornet nests. If they are high in the trees, there is supposed to be deep snow. Last year, there simply weren't any hornet nests. This year, I've only seen a couple. Budget cutbacks? Furloughed hornets? They are high in the trees, which is encouraging. But two hornet nests is hardly a basis for a solid prediction. It's hard to go wrong with "close to normal," since nobody has any idea what "normal" looks like anymore. That's my forecast, and I'm sticking to it.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.