Saturday, April 1, 2017

Part the Third: Zion

Darkness had fallen while we were driving to our hotel in Springdale, Utah the night before, so we had no preconceptions when departed for the park in the morning.  Sure we saw mountains around Springdale, but it wasn't the same as what greeted us along the Virgin River valley.

It was quite a cold morning, there was ice on the trail and I was wearing all the layers I'd brought, and feeling grateful that I'd included mittens and a knitted headband to supplement the hood on my jacket. It was early enough that the bottom of the canyon was in shadow, but as we walked along the riverside trail, the sun rose and illuminated the rocks and water.  The colors changed and became more vivid as the landscape brightened around us.

The riverside trail ends at the Narrows, where in order to continue hiking you need specialized gear- waterproof hiking boots and dry suits to let you hike up the riverbed.
The Narrows

We'd decided that it was too chilly to make that attractive, and turned back to explore other parts of the valley.   We set out to hike up to the Emerald Pools- by this time the sun was warming the valley substantially.
The trail took us a gentle rise up the side of the canyon, giving us new views of the river and valley.

We attained the Upper Emerald Pool while it was still in deep shadow.   The trickle of water that filled it landed on a bank of ice.  As the sun crept across the pool, and lit the cliffs above, the water volume increased from a trickle to a steady stream.

The water was utterly clear, and without touching, you couldn't tell whether ripples in the bottom were modern sand or ancient seabed.   In fact they were both.
At this point we had hiked much of the moderate trails, so we took a stab at the West Rim Trail, which ends at Angels Landing- a very steep cliff.  Even from the lower part of the trail, the views were fabulous.
In places the contrast between the strata of the cliffs and the marks of the water that carved the canyon were striking.
After a rather steep and open stretch- where I kept to the inner cliff wall because the ankle high curb on the outside of the trail did not give me an immense sense of security!
West Rim Trail
--the trail turned back out into a high canyon, and then led up a series of short steep switchbacks known as "Walter's Wiggles".   They take their name from Walter Ruesch, the park's first superintendent, who had the trail to Angel's Landing constructed in 1926.  Here we are looking down on them.   Yes, that's another hiker starting up them on the first switchback.
Looking down on Walter's Wiggles
I made it up as far as Scout Lookout, which was a saddle before the final ascent to Angel's Landing and gave fantastic views on both sides of the ridge.
The final ascent was more or less straight up, with chains embedded in the rock so you could pull yourself up.  Being late in the afternoon, there were a lot of people coming down, and no place to stand to let them pass.   I opted not to attempt it.
I spotted a number of mule deer on the way down.  They were pretty blase about the hikers.
At the bottom, I took even more photos of the river, but the colors were so amazing and gorgeous, I never got tired of looking at it.
And while the sweeping views were entrancing, the nearer landscape was also interesting.  The vegetation is very different from what I see in the east, naturally, so I was always looking at the pinion pines, the sagebrush and cottonwoods, the occasional cactus and agave, and even the dead wood along the trail- twisted into fantastic shapes by the environment and then left exposed.
We were loathe to leave the park while there was still daylight, so we took another short hike up to a feature called Weeping Rock.   What happens is that rain and snow fall on the tops of the canyon and the water sinks down through the porous upper layers until it hits a denser layer, and then it runs on top of that layer until it reaches the canyon wall and runs out.  The water supports a variety of vegetation.  The trail runs up to the base of the rock wall and then into an undercut so you actually stand behind the falling water and look out at the valley.
At this point we were starting to think about dinner so we reluctantly left the park.   The next morning we cut through the park and stopped to take the short hike to the Canyon overlook.   It was warmer and brighter than the day before and the overlook trail caught the morning sun.
The view from the overlook was spectacular.  Here we're looking down the valley from near the east entrance.
We continued on our journey with sun and sky and the colorful rocks still dazzling our vision.  Zion is aptly named, I think, "Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth".

And if you haven't had enough, here's the whole slideshow:


  1. Wow! Your hikes were gorgeous!

    We did Faye Canyon in Arizona a few years back. Yes, definitely a much different landscape from what we see in the east.

  2. Glad you had a good trip! I've been to Bryce Canyon, but didn't have a chance to hike there--on the bucket list!