Southern Utah 2: Zion

Zion gets its own post. This place is incredible.

The complete awe starts the moment you enter the park. We drove in and were suddenly surrounded by these huge beautiful walls of stone made out of  more colors than I ever imagined rocks could have. Then you’re abruptly in the 1.1 mile long Carmen Tunnel. Every once in a while there would be a window cut out of the side wall and you’d have the most picturesque view of Zion. When you start to believe that you’ll never get out is when you are birthed into the most marvelous piece of heaven this world has to offer.

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We drove to the campground we’d decided on staying at. We waited in a line and talked about how crazy it was that there were so many people here this early in the season. When we got to the camp director she told us how lucky we were. The place was already almost completely booked.

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We left the car and headed straight to the shuttle bus station right next to our campground. It was a free shuttle that left pretty frequently and would take you all the way to the end of the campground and back.

We hopped off at the Emerald Pool Trail. It had a Lower, Middle, and Upper Trail that also connected with the Kayenta Trail to make a big loop. It was beautiful and perfect for our first hike of the first day. We saw waterfalls and golden pools. Billy appreciated how the water cut through the rocks and fell forever. The falls were really high, and when the wind blew it would blow huge droplets all over.

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After that hike we decided to ride the shuttle to see the end of the canyon to help wrap our minds around how huge this place was. The walls surrounding us were immense. It was impossible to truly get used to how colossal they were. On the way back we stopped at the Pa’rus Trail and walked back to our camp. At one point on the walk a big ol’ stink bug reared his booty at Billy and he screamed like a little school boy.

Day 2: The next day we woke up with the sun and after breakfast headed over to Angel’s Landing. I’m not going to lie. I was pretty nervous. But there was no reason to be! I wasn’t scared so much of the actual hike as I was of everyone’s fear mongering. Everyone I talked to before we got there told stories of how scary and deadly this place was. But it really wasn’t bad at all.

The first part of the hike was the most strenuous. You have to go up several steep switchbacks called Walter’s Wiggles (he’s the one that designed the trail). The whole way up you sweat like a pig, breath like an obese water buffalo, and your heart in your chest feels like a fluttering, dying bird.

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After two miles of practically vertical walking you get to Scout’s Overlook, which has two trail heads. One of them led to the half mile spine of Angel’s Landing. Like I said, it was only scary in the beginning until I started doing it and realized it wasn’t that bad. My limbs were shaking from the fear. But then I realized I wasn’t about to fall off the mountain, so I turned into a little mountain goat and scrambled up the rest with no worries. The hike was amazing. The views the whole way up were incredible. Most of the time you could see out both ways because you were surrounded by sheer cliffs. There were chains a lot of the way, but the rocks were pretty grippy and more safe than completely relying on the chain. When we reached the landing we sat on the edge and ate our hiking snacks and enjoyed the view. The cute chipmunks kept running up to us hoping for free handouts.

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When we got back to Scout’s Overlook we decided to take the other trail. It was by far the less popular choice. There were six people on the whole trail. We didn’t know where it led but we ran into a serious-looking hiker hiking our way. We caught him (when he was re-taping his entire boot because it was completely falling apart) and asked where it led. He explained that it was a 16 mile hike. He told us if we had the stamina it would be worth it to keep hiking.

So we said why not and hiked on.

It was pretty rough.

It was a punishingly steep trail, but it was well worth it. We ended up hiking around 11 miles that day, most of it straight up. Somewhere on the trip up the tendons above my outer ankle bones started to become unbearable. With every step my boots dug into them. We kept going up and up a whole mountain. Along the way we passed some beautiful checkerboard mesa. When we breasted the top we debated what to do. Storm clouds and loud wind were ominously close.

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There were signs saying there was a spring 180 yards away so we went searching for it. It ended up being less of a spring and more of a mucous filled cesspool. We went another direction and Billy wanted to crest this steep knob on top of the mountain we’d just climbed. He was really wanting to do it so I followed. We had to scramble and climb a bit, and then we walked along a very muddy and crumbling deer path to wrap around and get a gorgeous view from the top of the world into the other canyon.

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Once again it was well worth the effort. And once again I was so grateful I’d married him. Who else has such an adventurous spirit? Who else would push me like he does?

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After many pictures and some relaxing we started heading back down. My feet were killing me with every step. The trip down was just as stunning as the trip up, though. It was so peaceful and green and quiet on this trail. We reached Scout’s Overlook and saw a rainbow beneath us.

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Then we wiggled down Walter’s Wiggles and headed for the bus.

By the time we got home both of us were completely worn out. We put on our sandals and decided we had enough energy to go see the Big Bend and the Court of the Patriarchs overlooks. It was nice to be walking around in slippers and not climbing any mountains. We got back to our tent and found a demon squirrel sized hole in the mesh of our tent (we didn’t have any food in there, either). We shoved toilet paper to make sure no bugs got in and went to sleep with the sunset.

Day 3: The next day was our recuperation day. We ate breakfast and then hiked Canyon Overlook. We actually had to drive to this one because it was towards the entrance of the park. When we parked and got out there were three mountain goats above us.

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There’s only one in this picture.

It was a short hike and pretty easy. It was beautiful in the early morning. The view at the end was colored rosy from the morning sun.

We drove back and hiked the Watchman. My favorite moments of our trip is when we would pause on a hike and sit somewhere with a beautiful view, the warm sun and the cool wind, yummy snacks, and each other’s company. After we finished the Watchman we hiked all five minutes of the Archaeology Trail. That one wasn’t really worth our time.

Then we headed out of the park. Right outside of the southern gates there is another shuttle system that takes you the whole length of the city right outside: Springdale. We rode the bus to the end hoping for something cool to see. Unfortunately there wasn’t much. I got excited when the bus driver pointed out a museum, but the “museum” was a tiny room off a gift shop off a restaurant filled with a handful of taxidermy animals that didn’t even belong in the area. How many crocodiles have you seen in Zion lately? After that disappointment we rode straight back to the park.

Fun fact about Zion- there are no showers in the park. There are some right outside the gate in Springdale, but neither of us liked the idea of paying five dollars for eight minutes. We were both pretty gross though so we “showered” right outside our camp spot. Billy dumped water on my head as I shampooed it and then we wet some of our old clothes and wiped down. It worked surprisingly well. Our German neighbor walked by as Billy was helping me with my hair and said “Dat’s true love” in his thick accent. It was pretty funny.

After our showers we went and checked out the museum they have in the park. It proved to be much better than the one we’d visited earlier. We listened to a Ranger’s Talk about fossils. It wasn’t the greatest thing in the world. After that we walked around and saw all the exhibits. We learned that this place was originally called Mukuntuweap- meaning “straight up land.” Now it’s called Zion- meaning “place of quiet sanctuary.”

That afternoon our friends Lyman and Annie joined us. We went and quickly did the Weeping Rock hike again. It was pretty late so we all rode down to the end of the canyon and rode the last bus of the day back to camp.

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Day 4: The next day we hiked Observation Point. It was an eight mile hike that takes 4 1/2 hours to complete. The initial part of the trail was steep switchbacks.

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But then you end up in a slot canyon called Echo Canyon.

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After the switchbacks and the slot canyon the whole hike is alongside really high cliffs, so it was always really beautiful. I love when the scenery changes completely every so often on a hike. When we got to the top we all sat on the sheer cliff and ate and talked and watched the other people and the chipmunks run around.

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When we got off we went to the lodge and charged our phones and read our books and waited for my boss and his son to join us. We relaxed back at the camp until they arrived and then we all ate and talked around the fire until we decided to head in for the night.

Day 5: The next day was the Subway. This hike is the reason why our friends were joining us. To hike the Subway you needed permits and to drive into a whole other canyon (the Kolob Canyon). Bob, my boss, was the only one that’d done this hike before, so we considered him our tour guide. He didn’t feel comfortable doing it the harder way (going from the top to the bottom) due to the water (it was still too cold and it was higher than normal) so we went in from the bottom and then got to the Subway, turned around and hiked out the way we came in. It was absolutely beautiful. The whole time we hiked upstream and hopped cautiously across rocks and logs, being careful not to dip our toes into the cold water. Eventually we were forced to start walking in the water and we gave up all abandon about getting wet. The water was frigid, the kind of temperature you couldn’t really get used to. There were waterfalls cascading down the slate rock the whole hike up. It was pretty serene. It was fun hiking with our group and playing games like 20 Questions and getting to know each other better.

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When we got to the hollow that the whole slot canyon is named after we marveled at how majestic it all was. After we decided our cold feet couldn’t take any more we climbed out and found a dry spot in the sun to eat our lunches. Billy stayed behind to take more pictures. He got back to us soaked. As he was taking his last few photos he’d slipped and fallen in. Don’t worry though. He didn’t get the camera wet 🙂

After our break we hiked back out. The rocks were pretty slick with algae. Three of the six of us ended up slipping in. I’m proud to say I was not one of them. At the end we had to climb the steep trail out of the canyon. It was the quickest elevation gain we’d had to climb on our whole trip. Which is saying something.

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That little crack in the earth is what we climbed down to and then back up from.

The whole hike took about five hours. When we got back to our camp we wanted to do something easy, so we all put on our sandals and “hiked” the River Walk Trail to the Narrows. We would have hiked the Narrows, but the rangers deemed it unsafe due to the velocity and height of the water.

Day 6: The next morning we got up and said goodbye to Lyman and Annie. Then we went with Bob and Derrick to the Hidden Canyon. The first part was switchbacks up to the hike. The trail gets a little scary.

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Derrick’s fear of heights overcame him so he and Bob headed back down. Billy and I forged on. We reached a sign that explained that this was the end of the maintained trail and that scrambling was required if you wanted to continue. Somebody had scratched in the word MAJOR before the word scrambling.

And they were right. It got pretty technical. We were actually straight up climbing some parts. We hiked about a mile and a half by our estimates before we finally had to decide to turn around.

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A lot of climbing.

And that was the last hike we conquered in Zion National Park. We will definitely be coming back.

Someday.

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2 thoughts on “Southern Utah 2: Zion

  1. Wow, you really did a lot in Zion. My hubby is afraid of heights so we decided not to do Angels Landing but we loved Observation Point. Your photo of the slot canyon there is great. Canyon Overlook was gorgeous too. I definitely want to go back and do The Subway and Narrows, among others!

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