Wednesday, April 20, 2011

California Condor #57 in Zion National Park, Utah

  The California Condor population steadily declined during the 20th century until, in 1987, there were only 22 California condors known to exist in the world.  The last of the free-flying condors were taken into captivity in that year and a captive breeding program was initiated.  Reintroduction into the wild began in early 1992 and continues today.  In 1996 several pairs of breeding condors were released into the wild in Arizona, 30 miles north of Grand Canyon National Park.  Since that time the condors have spread into southern Utah; 70 condors currently soar over the skies of northern Arizona and southern Utah.
Climbing to the top of Angel's Landing.
  It’s a sun-drenched October morning in Zion National Park.  Tim and I catch the shuttle into the park for today’s hike to Angels Landing.  The Angels Landing trail is strenuous and grueling.  The hike is described in the Zion National Guidebook as follows:  “The hike starts along a gradually ascending path by the Virgin River then starts up a series of steepening switchbacks.  There is a small brook through Refrigerator Canyon, a cool, shady mostly level walk under tall Ponderosa Pines.  From Refrigerator Canyon the trail climbs the impressive Walter’s Wiggles, a series of steep and short switchbacks.  After Walter’s Wiggles you reach Scout’s Landing at 2.0 miles, a wide, sandy lookout.  From Scouts Landing the trail makes a final steep 0.5 mile ascent to Angel’s Landing, 1500 feet above the valley floor.  The last half mile requires a 45 minute effort of steep climbing on ridgelines, aided by chains anchored in the rock.  From Angel’s Landing there is a 360˚ view of Zion Canyon.”
  We arrive at trail’s end and, as promised by the guidebook, are treated to a top-of-the-world view.  What could surpass this?  How about the sight of a critically endangered California condor?  Other hikers atop Angel’s Landing point out the huge bird, perched on top of a nearby ponderosa pine.  As we relax and settle down on the rocky outcrop with our lunch the condor takes flight, flapping and soaring above us.  We can see a white tag on his wing identifying him as “Condor 57”.  The magnificent bird completes six circles over Angel’s Landing.  The shadow of his nine-foot wingspan falls on the precipitous rock face before he disappears over the cliffs on the canyon’s western edge. 
Condor 57 Soars over Angel's Landing.
  The hike down from the top of Angel’s Landing to the trailhead is hard on the knees but we’re so exhilarated by our condor experience that we barely notice.  When we return to the visitor center I report the condor sighting to the ranger and he asks me to fill out a form providing details.  Later I look up Condor 57 on the internet and discover that our bird is a male, born in captivity on May 20, 2001 and released in Vermillion Cliffs, Arizona on September 25, 2002. 

  Welcome home, Condor 57.  May you enjoy a long and productive life. 

For more information on California Condor reintroduction go to:

Information on Zion's National Park and the Angel's Landing trail may be found here:  and

1 comment:

  1. Nine-foot wingspan?! Wow. What a magnificent bird - and thank you for all the background and links on condors.

    Glad you were willing to push through that 45-minute half-mile to bring your readers this story.