Angel's Landing at Zion National Park

Hiker Lisa Miller grabs heavy chain near the top of the Grotto trailhead. i

Lisa Miller makes use of the heavy chain provided for hikers near the top of the Grotto trailhead. Scott Carrier hide caption

itoggle caption Scott Carrier
Hiker Lisa Miller grabs heavy chain near the top of the Grotto trailhead.

Lisa Miller makes use of the heavy chain provided for hikers near the top of the Grotto trailhead.

Scott Carrier
A view of the Zion Canyon from Angel's Landing, 1,500 feet up. i

A view of the Zion Canyon from Angel's Landing, 1,500 feet above the Virgin River. Scott Carrier hide caption

itoggle caption Scott Carrier
A view of the Zion Canyon from Angel's Landing, 1,500 feet up.

A view of the Zion Canyon from Angel's Landing, 1,500 feet above the Virgin River.

Scott Carrier
Hiker Lisa Miller looks tiny against the huge canyon walls. i

The climb is daunting for hikers on the way up, and exhilarating for those who've reached the peak. Scott Carrier hide caption

itoggle caption Scott Carrier
Hiker Lisa Miller looks tiny against the huge canyon walls.

The climb is daunting for hikers on the way up, and exhilarating for those who've reached the peak.

Scott Carrier

Utah's Zion National Park draws 2.7 million visitors a year, and a major attraction for hearty hikers is a trek along the Grotto trailhead to Angel's Landing. Scott Carrier recently made the trip, and was rewarded with a nearly supernatural experience:

From the banks of the Virgin River, the yellow-and-red sandstone sides of Zion Canyon rise 2,000 feet. It feels like being inside a huge body. The canyon walls are the rib cage spread open and Angel's Landing is like the heart.

Angel's Landing is the top of a thin, red mesa that stands alone in the middle of the canyon, 1,500 feet above the river. The trail starts out steep and gets steeper. Near the top there are fixed chains to hold on to. The people walking up are sweaty and doubtful. The people coming down are smiling and happy.

There are two couples from France and two couples from Japan... and also the guy who operates the elevator at the Shalimar Hotel in Las Vegas. Four young women from BYU and a young man quoting Henry the Fifth.

There are good, wide steps chopped into the sandstone, but in certain places, tripping and letting go of the chain would be like falling off the Empire State building. Far below, the shuttle bus that carried the climbers to the foot of Angel's Landing inches along the river road.

At the top there's a crowd, a party of people who don't know each other and will never see each other again, all high on gravity. Most are half-clothed college students, but there's also a Bavarian hiker with leather boots worn out in the Alps, and a nurse from Belgium carrying a copy of Desert Solitare in her backpack.

It seems entirely possible, standing on top, that this is a place angels would land. Maybe time travelers and space aliens, as well. It's an altar, 1,500 feet in the air. It feels like all the energy coming off the canyon walls is focused on this spot.

As the sun starts setting, many of the people leave. We stay and wait for a sign from the supernatural world. When we listen closely we think we hear the canyon humming. Then we realize it's the sound of the shuttle bus resonating against the walls of the canyon. We remember we have to ride that bus. We pack up and run down, barely making the last bus of the day.

The Idea Behind 'A Hundred Bucks of Gas'

A couple of months ago I was having lunch with Alex Chadwick and a contributor to our program, Scott Carrier. We were discussing some story ideas for Scott to pursue from his base in Salt Lake City. Suddenly Alex's eyebrows went up. I recognized this facial expression as one that Alex gets just before he's about ready to enunciate a big idea.

So, with his brows skyward, out it comes. "A hundred bucks of gas. That's it!"

That's it? Scott and I simultaneously put on our puzzled faces.

"Yeah," says Alex. "We send you out to do a story, but you can only use up $100 worth of gasoline while doing it."

OK. So it was not a fully formed idea, but like many of Alex's brainstorms, it contained a germ of genius. "Wait," I said. "It's a travel piece. It's a travel series. It's brilliant."

Well, maybe. Or not. But after chewing it over, and trying it out on the Day to Day brain trust, we decided it was a pretty good radio idea for a summer where sticker shock had moved from the dealer showroom to the automated gas pump. And we figured our listeners were always looking for ideas on places they could go on a spare couple days off, or on a summer weekend.

So we set about finding the best writers and reporters we knew, and giving them this simple assignment. Pick a place you've always wanted to go that you can get to — and back from — on a C-note worth of fossil fuel. Write a travel essay about your trip, and illustrate it with lots of sound that you gather along the way. And so, A Hundred Bucks of Gas was born.

Throughout this summer we'll hear from these folks, and take some radio road trips with them. Our friend, Scott Carrier, who was present for the birth of the idea, will take us climbing up a peak called Angel's Landing in Utah.

From Miami, Eric Weiner motors east, through the Everglades to Sanibel Island. He has some interesting encounters with alligators on the way.

Producer Jennifer Sharpe drives from Los Angeles to the desert town of Landers, where she visits The Integratron, a domed-structure that, according to its creator is "based on the design of Moses' Tabernacle, the writings of Nikola Tesla and telepathic directions from extraterrestrials."

Other writers and reporters based in spots from Nashville to Anchorage, and points between, will carefully monitor their fuel consumption, and present their travel tales all summer long. We're betting it will make for a nice season of happy motoring on Day to Day. If not, we'll just blame Alex.

Steven Proffitt is senior producer of Day to Day.

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