Almost 7,500 years ago, around the year 5446 BCE by modern calendars, a star exploded, sending incredibly bright light out into space. The light from that supernova reached Earth on July 4, 1054. Chinese astronomers recorded a bright new star that suddenly appeared in the sky. It was so bright that it was visible both day and night for months.
Halfway around the world, Chaco was near the height of its power, a ceremonial and administrative city and center of trade whose grandeur was unmatched in the Ancestral Puebloan world. A culture deeply attuned to the cosmos—multiple structures at Chaco were oriented to the solstices and equinoxes—the Chacoans would have born witness to the new star. It is possible that they recorded the supernova—now faded into what modern astronomers know as the Crab Nebula in the constellation Taurus—on a remarkable pictograph panel near the western end of Chaco Canyon.
Continuing our day in Chaco Canyon on May 20 , Sean and I determined to hike to see the Supernova Pictograph.
Tuesday, March 22,  was our final afternoon on St. John. Hungry after our six-plus-mile hike to and around Reef Bay, we had a leisurely lunch at Miss Lucy’s very close to where we were staying at Concordia. The next day we would have to say goodbye to St. John and make our trip by boat, plane, and car back to wintry Chicago.
But we still had time for a couple more adventures.
Nestled in a valley near the center of the south side of St. John, there is a grotto of freshwater, a sort of naturally occurring cistern. Near the water’s edge is a collection of petroglyphs depicting what appear to be faces and symbolic shapes. The petroglyphs were made by the Taíno people, who inhabited the Greater Antilles and the northern Lesser Antilles at the time Columbus’ invasion began in 1492. This place of reliable freshwater was clearly important to the Taíno. It was to this most remote part of Virgin Islands National Park that our adventures would take us on Tuesday, March 22 , our last full day on St. John.
On Monday, March 21 , we went snorkeling at Waterlemon Cay, one of the premiere snorkeling sites in Virgin Islands National Park. Skipping it on our first trip had been my biggest regret, so I was very excited to see what it had to offer.
Transferred to the National Park Service upon the establishment of Virgin Islands National Park in 1956, Annaberg preserves and interprets the legacy of chattel slavery in the Danish West Indies, which supported St. John’s small piece in the Caribbean’s massive and world-altering cane sugar industry. Located on a bluff on the island’s north side, and commanding an astonishing view, the site was unexpectedly our destination on Sunday morning, March 20 , the vernal equinox.
On Saturday, March 19 , we decided to stay over on the eastern side of St. John, nearer to our home base at Concordia. We hadn’t actually been planning to go into Cruz Bay every single day of the trip, but somehow had. Also, we figured that with it being the weekend the more famous beaches like Trunk Bay were probably going to be packed. So we decided it would be a good day to return to a favorite bay from Sean’s and my previous trip: Brown Bay, nestled on the north side of St. John—almost to East End—and accessible only by a hike two-hundred feet up and over a ridge. On our first trip to Virgin Islands National Park, Brown Bay offered the most spectacular snorkeling of the trip. The return didn’t disappoint.
To close out our first full day at Virgin Islands National Park, and to raise a toast to Saint Patrick’s Day , we hiked to the southeastern most point on St. John, the sheer-cliffed peninsula of Ram Head. The hike to Ram Head is splendid, and it was a highlight of our first visit to the National Park. But first we had our first dip into the Caribbean Sea of the trip, an afternoon swim at Saltpond Bay.
Late afternoon on Sunday, February 13 , we capped our time at Arches National Park with the hike to Delicate Arch, one of the iconic views in the entire National Park system. Strategically, we decided to do the hike not only on Superbowl Sunday, but actually during the playing of the game. It was a smart move. We had gorgeous late afternoon light and there were only about a dozen folks there with us.
On Sunday, February 13 , we spent the second of our two days in Arches National Park. We centered the day around two celebrated hikes: Devils Garden and Delicate Arch. Devils Garden Trail is a loop route twisting through a broken landscape at the end of the Park Road. In some portions it is a broad path. In other sections it involves scrambling over slickrock. The complete hike with all side trails to see arches and other formations is a solid 7.8 miles.
By early afternoon of Saturday, February 12 , we were halfway through our first of two days exploring Arches National Park. Already we’d gotten in a solid two-hour hike and checked out some of the famous roadside formations. We knew that we would be doing the longer hike at Devils Garden the next day. And our plan for the extremely popular Delicate Arch hike was to go at the end of the day on Sunday, during the Superbowl. So for the rest of that Saturday afternoon, we decided to check out the Visitor Center and more short hikes and formations along the Park Road. But first lunch.