Saturday, February 23, 2013

What’s Flyin’ In Zion?

It’s barely nine o’clock on this mid–February morning in Zion National Park. Not much wildlife is out and about yet at this chilly hour (although we did pass the resident wild turkey inhabitants as they busily pecked for their breakfast in a clearing).

Weeping Rock trailhead with river access

Soon we hear the drone of the rotors before we detect its silhouette against the massive canyon walls at Big Bend. 

 Big Bend area of Zion National Park

Still don’t see it? 

Helipoo operations in Big Bend area

Wait – there it is! 

Lucy on the lookout for social trail transgressors and big noisy birds

Get out the binoculars – it's a really big, noisy bird! 

The big helipoo bird at Scout's Lookout

It’s the Zion helipoo! 

Some people will volunteer for pretty much anything, and my friend Lucy and I are no exception. The call came out for volunteers to assist the Zion maintenance division during a recent “helipoo” operation, in which a helicopter was used to remove waste barrels from evaporative toilets at the popular Scout’s Lookout and bring them down to Big Bend parking lot (to be hauled off somewhere and dumped). Lucy and I were stationed downriver at Weeping Rock, and mostly we were supposed to keep people from accessing a social trail down to the river. We were to explain why the trail was closed and offer alternative opportunities for hiking. 

The job description said there would be a lot of down time. This being February there were not that many park visitors trying to access the river (in fact there were a total of none at Weeping Rock) so we really did have a lot of down time. We chatted up a few folks and actually looked for turkeys and littler birdies in the trees and shrubs, but we had such a good vantage point that we more often than not just watched the operation.  We also enjoyed a huge cup of hot chocolate courtesy of the volunteer coordinator who really appreciated our coming all this way to stand out in the cold.

We spent the morning fascinated as the 'copter went up and down, up and down for nearly three hours, bringing down four “full” barrels at a time from Scout’s Lookout (well, it’s got to get done somehow…) and replacing them with empty ones. 

Taking off from the Big Bend parking lot

The helipoo flight pattern was directly over the river in the Big Bend staging area, and it would not have been pretty if, as they were being lifted out and brought down, those four poo barrels had let loose from their rope mooring beneath the ‘copter. Splat! 

Lucy checks out the action

We were nowhere near the actual transfer of the barrels but observed the action from a healthy distance.  Two volunteers were stationed up at Scout’s Lookout on the off chance that some hikers were already up there so their perspective was totally different.  Other volunteers at the Grotto unfortunately couldn’t see a thing. 

The helipoo was waaaay up there!

Dropping off/picking up at Scout's Lookout

On the way down

All of a sudden there was no more activity in the air. The distinctive drone of the rotors had disappeared. By one o’clock the sun had warmed the canyon and the big bird had flown away as abruptly as it had appeared. My fellow volunteer and I looked at each other, exclaimed “Well, that was interesting!” and set off unhurriedly back down the canyon, hoping to see some more of those wild turkeys. 

And no, we did not get to ride in the helicopter.

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