We set out for Zion, forty miles from our home, early in the morning when it was still dark. We’d heard about how busy the parks are, and it was a Saturday. This picture of the park and its sign were taken on the way out of the park, when we were going back home.
Dawn was just breaking over the rocks when we entered the park. Seeing the huge boulders looming above us as the sun climbed higher, we knew it was going to be a special day. Not far inside the East Gate we stopped for our first adventure at the Canyon Overlook trail. This is one of the oldest trails in the park. The trail was only a mile in, but the surface was rocky and we had to climb a bit. It was probably a good thing that we missed the sunrise because we might have tumbled down a cliff if we hadn’t been able to see! This was the only time in the day that we were looking down. For most of the visit to Zion, we were looking up while passing through the bottom of Zion Canyon.
We were hiking above the narrows of Pine Creek, which forms a “T” with Zion Canyon at the end. There is a view of Zion at the top right of the above picture, and the road we would be taking into it. Looking back on this hike later, we were so glad we did it. It felt the most like our normal hiking in nature, had the fewest people, and was the only one that we went on all day that wasn’t either nicely paved or soft dirt. The morning was quiet, and the beauty was all around us.
Back on the road, we soon disappeared into this tunnel. Like the trail we had just hiked, it was completed in 1930 and is 1.1 miles long. There are a few great windows cut into the mountain, but otherwise there are no lights and no ventilation.
The road through Zion Canyon itself is closed, and the only way to experience it is to ride a shuttle from the visitors center. This we did, getting off at stops that we were interested in, which made for a relaxing day of exploration. The shuttle comes and goes every few minutes, is included with the cost of getting into the park (actually, our Lifetime Pass), and doesn’t need advance reservations. We were still early so there was no wait.
We got off to look at the Court of Patriarchs. From left to right, they are Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, named by a Methodist minister.
We were always craning our necks to view the immense sandstone rocks overhead, beautiful in their various colors of tan, ochre, and white. The Virgin River carved this park millions of years ago.
The next shuttle stop was for Emerald Pools; we took the hike to Lower Emerald Pool.
The water dripping from the high cliffs glistened in the morning light. Emerald Pools is named for the color of the algae that grows here. At the top of the cliff are streaks in various colors; those are caused by water passing through the natural chemicals in the rocks. You can also see this effect in the photo at top of the blog.
Back on the shuttle again, we rode to the end of the road and took the Riverside Walk. The crowds were growing. This is a very popular trail.
The two most popular trails at Zion are Angel’s Landing and the Narrows. Although strenuous because it is a high altitude climb up the rocks, Angel’s Landing now requires a permit because the trail has often been so crowded. Riverside Trail leads right into the Narrows, where the cliff walls rise high above the river on both sides. The hike is totally in the Virgin River, and it’s possible to follow it for several miles. That would have required us to rent equipment, something we did not want to do on this Zion exploration day.
This couple is unwittingly modeling the equipment that can be rented for the Narrows: waterproof coveralls and backpack, shoes, and thick wooden walking poles. The rocks are large in the Narrows and I’ve heard the walk can be compared to walking on slippery bowling balls. In April, the water is waist deep farther up the canyon. It looks like great adventure. That’s for next time – if we don’t wait too many years to return, that is!
There was a steady stream of folks heading into the Narrows, and it picked up as we watched. Later, as we hiked back, Riverside Trail was even more packed with people on their way in than it was when we came. I would not like to be here in the middle of summer. Looking at the view up the river, though, it must be an incredible hike.
There was all kinds of merchandise for sale in the Visitors Center with the logo “I hiked the Narrows!” So Cal took my picture here in the river, so I can also say “I hiked the Narrows!”
Unbelievable for all the people around, but a couple of deer appeared for their morning walk. One of them wore a tracking collar. They looked like they were used to this scene, and were careful about where they were fording the river.
Back on the shuttle bus, Zion Lodge was a great place to stop for snacks and to supplement the lunch we had packed. As the day wore on, the shuttles became full, but never so bad that we had to wait in a long line for them. We agreed that the last day of April was a very good day for a visit.
Zion is a very easy way to experience a National Park, if one doesn’t have a lot of hiking experience. With the shuttle and the paved paths, it’s possible to have a relaxing day at the park. With all the trails added up, we walked about 6.5 miles in the day. It was very easy walking except for Canyon Overlook trail. As with all National Parks, arriving early or later in the day is key. We recently spoke to someone who said Zion is his favorite park. The only thing he did in Zion was to hike Angel’s Landing, awesome in itself. His day was very different than ours!
Next time – exploring near Bryce National Park, Utah