Zion National Park

After three glorious days hiking in Bryce Canyon, we took a long day and drove down to Zion (with a few stops along the way – next blog post!). Southern Utah is a beautiful place, in some places reminiscent of West Texas and in some places reminiscent of my planet of origin… 🙂

Planning ahead, we had cleverly acquired tickets on the Zion shuttle for a reasonable time, so we walked from our hotel up to the Visitor’s Center (less than a mile) and got in line for the shuttle bus (running at half-capacity, they actually pulled every other seat out of the buses!). The line moved pretty quickly though, and we got on the bus to ride up into the valley.

Zion is a different kind of animal from Bryce Canyon. Bryce was all about the hoodoos. Zion is more about the cliffs! I don’t think a day went by that my wife didn’t dangle her feet over some thousand-foot sheer cliff – just because it was there! Now, if I started to get close to the edge, that was a different story! She seemed that I’d be looking through the camera and not where my feet were…

We rode the shuttle up to the Grotto stop and crossed the Virgin river to the Angel’s Landing Trail. It starts out as a well-maintained paved trail, not unlike walking a nature trail in the suburbs. Well, except for the stunning beauty of the sheer cliffs all around you! 🙂

After a flat stretch, you start a little uphill until you come a series of switchbacks, as you can see in the gallery above. Farther on you come to Walter’s Wiggles (named for Walter Ruesch, Zion National Park’s first superintendent)- a series of 21 very tight switchbacks going up a steep incline. It’s a fun climb, and it gets steeper and steeper! Unfortunately, as we knew before we got there, the chains were closed – and there was a park ranger standing (well, sitting!) guard at the “Trail Closed” sign. Not that we would have gone past it…

Since Angel’s Landing was closed to us (we’ll be back!), we decided to go on along the West Rim Trail. The views are great and there are plenty of places that need climbing, as you see below!

Since we didn’t want to go 28 miles to Lava Point, we turned around after a while and went back the way we came. The walk down Walter’s Wiggles was almost as much fun as the walk up, and a fitting way to close the day.

The next morning we thought we’d do the Emerald Pools Trail. This is a relatively short trail (only 3 miles) with a bit of up and down, our friends at Alltrails rate it as “moderate.” The trail starts at the Zion Lodge, crossing the river on a footbridge not unlike the one to Angel’s Landing the day before. Hmmm…I didn’t put that picture up, I’ll put one in this gallery.

The Lower Emerald Pool has a nice waterfall (which you can almost see in one of these pictures). As often happens, when we travel at the end of summer the flow is fairly low! The trail to the Lower Pool is fairly flat, but you start going uphill as you head to the trail over to the Middle Emerald Pool, which was so low as to be barely a pool!

From there, we retraced our steps a bit to the trail that leads to the Upper Emerald Pool. This is a rocky trail up the slope so you have to watch your step, and it climbs about 400 feet in a quarter-mile. But the effort is worth it! The Upper Pool is a nice oasis-like area, surrounded by trees and large rocks that make for good seats.

I do have to say that the pools were not, in fact, emerald green. As you can see above, the water was extremely clear! They tell me that the name comes from algae growing in the pools during the warmer months, but it was pretty warm while we were there and I didn’t see any! Maybe it was because the water was so low.

We left the pool after a brief respite and went back down toward the Lower Pool, but before we got there we took a left turn and headed down the Kayenta Trail. That trail takes us down to the West Rim Trail that we took toward (alas, not to!) Angel’s Landing. We crossed the river there and walked back to the Lodge on the Grotto Trail.

It was early when we got back to the Lodge, so we looked around the Lodge a bit, stuck our heads into the store, grabbed a drink, then caught the bus. We went up to the last stop, the Temple of Sinawava. This is where you go toward the Narrows. For various reasons I wasn’t prepared to go wading in the river on that particular day, so we just did the Riverside Walk.

This was one of my reasons

This was other people’s reaction to the warning.

But it’s a pleasant walk along the river. We walked to the end of the (wide, paved, accessible) trail and back. At the beginning of the trail there’s a lot of green space between the trail and the river, some of which is occupied by the local fauna.

When we reached the end of the trail, we turned around and walked back. When we reached the trailhead, we kept going! We walked along the river all the way down to the Grotto, as the sun sank slowly below the canyon walls.

On Tuesday we had decided to go to a different part of the park, so we didn’t get shuttle tickets. Instead, we drove through the park, past the entrance to Zion Canyon (where private vehicles dare not tread) and out east on Highway 9. There are a lot of trails out that way, we’ll have to do more of them when we come back! This time we were going to take the Petroglyph Trail to Slot Canyon.

On the Petroglyph Trail, you start walking along a dry (at least when we were there!) creekbed that goes under the highway. A little way in, there’s a break in the brush to your left and you follow that up to the base of the cliff. And there you find…petroglyphs! Pretty cool…probably over a thousand years old.

After you pass the petroglyphs you come to a place where you climb out of the creek up onto the rock. Alltrails shows the way to the slot canyon. But…

My wife said, “We can climb that!”

So we did. If you see that pointy little hoodoo up there, that was our goal. At first. Turned out, that wasn’t the top!

This was the view when we got there, that little hoodoo standing behind us. So, being us, we kept going.

In the gallery below are some other pix from the climb and the view we got from the top! The cell phone has an altimeter that’s showing 6075 feet (based on the GPS), only about 700 feet above where we started, but a fun climb! Then, of course, we had to go back down…

That was just a small side trip, we still hadn’t made it to the slot canyon that was our goal. So we followed Alltrails across the rock and down another dry streambed until we found the canyon. It wasn’t as tall as “Wall Street” back in Bryce Canyon, but the light was good and there were some neat formations, as you can see!

Then back down the road. Heading west on highway 9, just before you get to the long tunnel, you come to the trailhead for the Zion Canyon Overlook trail. This was a fun little trail, only about half a mile out (and the same back, surprisingly) but it takes you through some interesting terrain. If you’re going to sidle across a narrow ledge, I recommend doing it over the 5-foot dropoff here rather than the things those other crazy people do! And there’s a beautiful view at the end, along with a precipice for my wife to dangle on. You’re actually looking down one of the side canyons (Pine Creek? I can’t recall) into Zion Canyon.

That was the end of our hiking day, but it wasn’t the end of our day! Back to the hotel for a snack and a rest, then off into the night…

As you see in the photo above, there is a road going through the canyon over which we are looking, That’s Highway 9, a road on which we did many miles, several of which covered a bunch of switchbacks leading from the entrance to Zion Canyon up to the tunnel. Around those hairpin turns there are several parking areas where you can stop and check out the views. One of them looks rather like this at night:

Have I mentioned the sheer rock walls in Zion? 🙂 That’s the northern part of the Milky Way, not quite so dramatic as the view toward the core, but lovely nevertheless. And as an added bonus, you get the Andromeda Galaxy there on the right edge!

Our last day in the park we again skipped the main canyon, starting our day on the Watchman Trail which starts near the Visitor’s Center. It’s about 3 miles, out and back, and not too difficult. The photo below is from the trail, about as high above the canyon floor as we got. Our destination is there in the foreground.

After that pleasant hike, we did a road trip, this time heading up to the northwest part of the park. The Kolob Canyons are a series of “finger canyons” entering the valley along the western edge of the park. This is yet another area we need to revisit, because I really want to hike out to Kolob Arch! But not this time. Instead, we just drove out to the end of Kolob Canyon road (where there is, again, a fantastic view) and did the short hike out on the Timber Creek Overlook Trail.

When I edited this, the view of the Kolob Canyons was on top. On the bottom is the view looking south from the end of the trail. In the distance on the right is the plateau containing the Grand Canyon. If you can see that far! After a stroll back to the trailhead, we returned to the hotel – with a couple of interesting stops along the way (next blog post, I promise!).

And once more into the darkness! We had rather a busy night that last night. First we stopped at the bridge over the river by the entrance to Zion Canyon. We moved on the the area around the Petroglyph trailhead, then we went up to the Overlook again. That trail is a completely different experience in the dark!

Zion was an amazing place and we’re definitely going to have to go back there, even if everything had been open we’d have missed so much! I’d recommend everyone go there. Just not on the days we go back… 🙂

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