Zion National Park Part 5

A Day of Hiking

Tomorrow we leave for Denver, Colorado. So… today we choose our last adventures wisely.

First up… a trail overlooking the Zion Canyon at its approach from the east entrance.

We head by car to drive east on Route 9. As we near the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, I make sure to get a good shot of the window excavation blasted through the rock. Look closely in the picture below and you will see it too. Later, at the canyon overlook, you will see it again.

As we exit the tunnel, there’s a parking area to the right for the trailhead. Luckily we find a space to park the car.


Canyon overlook trail

This short but scenic trail is one of the few “official” trails in the Upper East Canyon. Park sources recommend this hike for first-time visitors to Zion. It ends at an overlook with a great view of the Main Canyon.

The slickrock slabs of this high desert trail provide just enough of an adventure… not too strenuous but with enough places for a dangerous fall.

The mile hike out and back begins just east of the famous tunnel.

The trailhead is across the street from the parking area and the slickrock stairway leads us up immediately.

We ascend less dramatically now, but the views are nothing less than dramatic.

We arrive at the top!

There’s the road below switchbacking into the Main Canyon.

A plaque identifies some prominent rock formations.

We climb on the slickrock.

Here’s the view of the tunnel window I promised you.

It’s beautiful here!

I take a picture of hikers coming and going before we head back.

Below, we step over tree trunks that once stood proudly before the erosive forces of wind and rain left them twisted and beaten down.

As we return through the tunnel and head back to the Main Canyon, Jeff and I play “I Spy” to see who can locate where we just were. We drive slowly and pull over. Both of us agree the circle marks the spot.

And finally, as we head down from the tunnel one last time, I capture the big white rock that looks so out of place on the hillside below. Each time we have driven by we commented on its precarious position. Will it still be there the next time we pass through?


We return to the RV, park the car, feed the dogs, and walk the half mile to the NP pedestrian entrance and Visitor Center where we board the shuttle.

We exit at Stop 7, Weeping Rock, where we plan to hike to Hidden Canyon.

On the way to the Hidden Canyon Trail we take a short side trip to Weeping Rock.


Weeping rock trail

This half-mile round trip trail is the shortest in the park. But don’t be fooled. It is moderately steep and the broken pavement and slippery moss on the rocks make it unsuitable for strollers and wheelchairs.

The trail culminates with steps leading into a carved out alcove where water seeps down from above.

A plaque explains the geology of Weeping Rock: Mud deposited in lowland streams millions of years ago was covered with wind-blown sand. Centuries of pressure squeezed the mud into thin shale layers and the sand into thick sandstone layers. Rain and snow falling on the plateau above soaks into the sandstone. When it reaches the shale it moves sideways to emerge from the cliff face as a spring.


Hidden canyon trAil

We return to the Weeping Rock Trailhead and start hiking up the trail to Observation Point, a strenuous 8 mile round trip hike.

Instead of continuing left at the fork, we head to the right for a 3 mile round trip hike ascending the east side of the main canyon.

With an elevation gain of over 1,000 feet, this trail is quite strenuous as it crosses a few ravines and leads hikers through several deep drop-offs.

Series of chains help us navigate through these exposed sections.

Hidden Canyon is beautiful, narrow, deep, and tucked above the main canyon below. The trail ends at the mouth of the hidden canyon but more adventurous hikers can scramble rocks and continue to explore further up the canyon.

Jeff and I opt out of continuing further. This is actually our 3rd trail of the day. We still have to descend another 1.5 miles and walk back to the RV.

And I have just conquered another hike not recommended for those of us afraid of heights!

Zion National Park Part 4

A Day Off and a Gem of a Trail…

Sunday, March 18th, is cold and rainy in Zion.

So, we relax and do laundry and hunker down.


Rise and shine to a new day…

We walk to the Visitor Center and catch the shuttle to Zion Lodge where we catch the trail to Lower Emerald Pools.

This trail system leads to 3 sets of pools up and down the canyon. Rare in a desert environment, perennial seeps and springs continually recharge the pools. The green algae micro-habitat gives the waters an emerald hue. (plaque at trailhead)

Lower Pool…

Heading to Upper Pool…

Upper Pool…

The upper pool sits directly under a 300 foot cliff face. (plaque at trailhead)

Heading back via the Kayenta Trail to the Grotto Shuttle Stop…

This trail is narrow and steep with numerous rolling hills and unprotected drop-offs. (plaque at trailhead)

At the Grotto Stop we walk back to Zion Lodge on the Grotto Trail along the Zion Canyon Road. We thought there was a trail from here to a grotto, but we were wrong. The Grotto Trail just connects the Zion Lodge Shuttle Stop to the Grotto Shuttle Stop.  …wish we had walked along the Virgin River instead… Oh well…

Before we board the shuttle back to the Visitor Center, I take this pic of the canyon overlooking Zion Lodge:

Zion National Park Part 3

We did it!

We wake up to snow on the mountains surrounding our campground.

But the sun is shining and we are psyched to tackle an iconic 5.4 mile adventure hike.

The Angels Landing Hike is rated Double S for Strenuous and Scary. The description from the Zion National Park Information Sheet reads:

”Long drop-offs. Not for young children or anyone fearful of heights.” (LIKE ME!) “Last section is a route along a steep narrow ridge to the summit.”

What is not mentioned is just how narrow some steep sections are! But I decide to give it a try. Jeff reminds me we can always turn back.

Angels landing

The shuttle lets us off at The Grotto Stop where we cross the street and take the bridge across the Virgin River. We look up at our destination… yes, that’s it… the top of the rock formation below.

It’s 11:47. Ahead of us is the challenge of a strenuous climb of some 1500 feet that will require us to hang on to chains as we scale a knife-edge ridgeline with steep drop offs on either side.

We wind our way up to the mouth of Refrigerator Canyon.

From here we loop up and through the canyon walls into a series of 21 switchbacks known as “Walter’s Wiggles.”

No pain, no gain… I keep focusing on the spectacular views.

Meanwhile the road and river grow smaller below.

The ascent through the switchbacks leads to Scouts Lookout and the intersection of the West Rim backcountry trail and Angels Landing.

Scouts Lookout is a great place to take a port-a-potty and snack break, shed the backpack and extra gear, and catch the first glimpse of the last half mile and first set of chains to the summit. Here’s where many hikers give up their plans to continue to the Landing. Some freak out while others decide it’s not worth it to fight the crowds going up and down.

The squirrels certainly enjoy the crowds, however. They scurry out whenever they hear the crackle of plastic unwrapping.

I won’t lie, I am a bit intimidated by what lies ahead of me. But, I’ve made it this far and am committed to the last scary and strenuous stretch. Actually it doesn’t look so bad from here, just crowded. Of course I can’t see the summit.

We have to wait before going up as a long line of hikers descends the slickrock ridge. Then our turn comes. I fall in with a group and take it step by step. There’s no time to look over the edge. You have to just concentrate, hang on, and not slip and fall.

Somehow Jeff and I get separated. When I find a space to stand off to the side I wait for him. But he’s having second thoughts and considers going back. I, on the other hand, cannot give up yet. I am determined to haul ass, conquer my fears, and make it to the top. Selfishly, I leave him behind and get adopted by a group of co-eds from BYU. I hang with them… get it?… hang… chains… groan. Unfortunately Jeff has my iPhone in his pocket but I can’t worry about that now. No one is taking pictures anyway.

A second set of chain railings ends and we traverse a narrow 2-3 foot wide passage with steep drop offs on either side. Did I mention that there is nothing to hold onto? I feel like I am  walking in midair. I just stay in the moment and carefully place one foot in front of the other and concentrate on my hiking shoes.

We maneuver around a huge rock and the area widens out like a side saddle. Looking straight ahead I catch sight of the summit. OMGeez Louise… it’s straight up!

I look behind me and I see Jeff making his way up. I knew he wouldn’t back out! As he hands me my phone to get a picture, he explains how the crowd of hikers was offsetting to him. (It’s a one lane highway up here with no room for passing. So traffic is frequently stopped leaving you to find a precarious but secure spot to place your hands and feet while waiting your turn to go. After centering himself, Jeff was ready to complete the hike.)

I take a picture of the final climb to Angels Landing. There’s a steady flow of people going up and down. (I circled some hikers on the ridge in the picture below to give a better perspective.)

The picture above is deceiving because after walking around the evergreen in the foreground you have to make your way down a bit before scaling the last section of chains.

I take a breather and hand my phone back to Jeff for safe keeping. My peeps are ready to go and I leave Jeff behind once more. (If I think and wait too long, I will get scared. So I don’t think and just keep going.) What you can’t see in the picture above is how close the guy in the red shirt is to the edge.

At this point of the climb everyone on the ridge becomes friends and conversations blend. We coach and encourage each other. We find out where people are from. We work out a traffic system. We look out for each other as we hang on for dear life.

Finally, we reach the top! And just as I’m wishing I could take a picture to capture this moment, I hear Jeff’s voice. He’s made it too and I get to take a picture after all.

I decide to walk out a little further and as I hand my phone back to Jeff he quickly snaps a picture of me… King of the Mountain… Look, Ma, no hands!

My young friends from BYU line up for a picture.

I take a few more pics before descending.

These are pictures of Zion Canyon looking over the Big Bend area toward the Temple of Sinawava:

This next picture is a view from the other side of Angels Landing looking out  toward the south.

Down we go. I am so looking forward to being back at Scouts Lookout standing in one piece on terra firma.

Once again we encounter long waits as we let ascending hikers pass. Amazingly a few hikers ignore the queues and chains and stride up and down with poles making their own paths over the slickrock.

When our group arrives back at Scouts Lookout, we are strangers no more and we cheer our collective accomplishment. My college friends have officially adopted me as Grammy L and invite me to visit them on campus.

Jeff and I pause for the iconic OSU OHIO picture even though none of us went to The Ohio State. We all went to colleges in Ohio though.

We find our backpack and a rock to relax upon as we hydrate and eat trail mix and an orange.

I talk to 2 young women waiting for their boyfriends to return from Angels Landing. After watching YouTube videos they decided to opt out of the last half mile climb. I’m glad I didn’t know too much before hand. I plan on viewing some later, though.

As we travel back down the remaining 2 miles to the Grotto Shuttle Stop, I take one last picture of the Wiggles. At least this time it’s all downhill.

Exhausted, but exhilarated we arrive back at the trailhead around 4:15 and take the shuttle to the Visitor Center. But wait, we have another half mile walk to the RV. Tomorrow our muscle groups will be talking back to us. But, WE DID IT!!!

Zion National Park Part 2

Zion-Mount Carmel Highway

We wake up to a foggy mist blocking out the sun and head by car to Kanab, Utah for a late lunch, early dinner.

Up we go on the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, a 25 mile road connecting the canyon in the west to Mt. Carmel Junction in the east. The East Entrance to Zion NP is midway through this drive.

The fog adds an element of mystery to the rock walls as we travel up through a series of 7 switchbacks from the canyon floor to the sandstone cliffs above.

The tunnel

Despite the many challenges faced by construction crews from Utah and Nevada in just carving out the Zion to Mount Carmel Highway… rock slides, sloughing cliffs, large boulders needing to be blasted with dynamite, and one fatality… the most significant challenge was the 1.1 mile tunnel through the heart of the sandstone cliffs connecting the switchbacks from the west to the new road from the east.

Construction began by blasting gallery windows into the cliff. From these openings crews were able to access the interior of the cliff and bore through the rock. The windows also provided lighting, ventilation, and routes for clearing away excess rock debris.

Two years and ten months later, in July of 1930, the tunnel was dedicated and officially opened to traffic. (nps.gov)

The tunnel is 2 lanes across and can accommodate 2-way traffic with some restrictions. Vehicles 11 feet 4 inches tall or taller OR 7 feet 10 inches wide or wider require a special $15 traffic control fee so that you can drive down the center of both lanes. (park brochure)

Immediately after exiting the tunnel from west to east, we encounter an other-worldly land of twisted, twirly rock formations that we nickname “the wavies”.  They look like layers of flaky phyllo dough and frosting swirls on a cake.

The wavies

The mist turns to rain, turns to sleet, turns to papery bits of rushing snow.

Checkerboard mesa

We turn into a pullout to get a picture of this dome covered in horizontal and vertical cracks. Erosion, wind, and rain caused the horizontal cross-bedding. Freezing and thawing over eons created the vertical cracks. (plaque at viewpoint)

We pull out from the viewpoint and continue to Mount Carmel Junction where we head southeast on US Route 89.

Seventeen miles later we arrive in “Little Hollywood”.

Kanab

Kanab is just north of the Arizona border on 89. The city has a history as a filming location for many movies and television series, such as The Lone Ranger, Death Valley Days, Gunsmoke, Planet of the Apes, Mackenna’s Gold, and many others. (en.m.wikipedia.org)

We grab a bite to eat at the Rocking V Cafe and enjoy the Kanab-A-Dabba-Doo Burger with Garlic Smashed Potatoes.

rockingvcafe.com

rockingvcafe.com

Returning through the tunnel, it’s late afternoon and there’s still fog over the canyon walls.

Zion National Park Part 1

Oh, Wow!

The most prominent feature of Zion is the steep red rock canyon carved by the North Fork of the Virgin River. Zion Canyon stretches 15 miles long and spans up to half a mile deep.

Access to Zion Canyon  Drive is via the Park’s South Entrance off State Route 9 in Springdale, Utah.

The East Entrance is on Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, also known as SR-9, and passes through the 1.1 mile long tunnel nestled inside the rock. No Visitor Center is located here.

The 3rd Entrance is the Kolob Canyons Visitor Center off Interstate 15 at Exit 40. This 5 mile scenic drive is located in the northwest corner of the Park.

3dparks.wr.usgs.gov

Enough info for now. It’s time to hit the trail and experience the mesmerizing majesty of Zion. We can walk to the South Entrance since we are staying a mere half-mile away. So, let’s go!


The watcHman trail

Starting at the Visitor Center, along the east bank of the Virgin River, this hike passes by the South Campground, employee housing, and a construction yard.

But nothing can spoil the beauty beyond… the blue sky, white clouds, bright green evergreens contrasting with the sage-green shrubs, and of course the red, brown, pink, salmon, gold and white layers of the Navajo Sandstone.

After crossing the road restricted to employee and maintenance vehicles, we head upward into the cliffs and get close up and personal with some canyon walls.

The trail is moderately strenuous due to the 600 some feet gain in elevation. But I use my picture-taking need as an excuse to take a breather.  And no, the hike does not proceed to the top of Watchman, but to a viewpoint on top of the first layer of cliffs overlooking the main canyon.

It’s crowded here so we take the loop trail and get some amazing views of lower Zion Canyon and the town of Springdale where we are staying.

The end of the trail also offers views of the Towers of the Virgin and Watchman Mountain. Since I don’t  know this at the time or what these rock formations look like, I miss these photo ops. My excuse is that the sun obscures their view. I just take pics that inspire me.

This is also the “loop less traveled” and we share the solitude with a young family taking a lunch break.

As we head back, it starts to rain hard intermittently. But I still stop to take pictures.

The Towers of the Virgin are in the distance below…

And I capture Watchman in the pic below…

Another downpour threatens again…

…and when it hits we find shelter underneath a rock. Two hikers from Germany join us.

When the rain stops we slosh our way through the red mud, collecting the clay soil on our hiking boots. Each step gets heavier. But the inconvenience of the mud doesn’t stop me from taking a few more pics as we continue back to the trailhead.


Zion canyon scenic drive

Wet and muddy we head back to the Visitor Center and catch the Zion Canyon Shuttle. Starting here the shuttle makes 8 stops along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive from the Visitor Center to the “Temple of Sinawava” where the canyon narrows.

Private vehicles are not allowed beyond Stop 3, Canyon Junction, which takes you to Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, the tunnel, and the East Entrance of the Park.


Riverside Walk

We take the shuttle to the end of the line, Stop 9, The Temple of Sinawava, and walk the 2.2 out and back trail along the Virgin River at the bottom of the canyon. Since the path is paved it is rated wheelchair accessible with some assistance.

It’s still raining off and on but it does not ruin our day. Clouds gather and disperse, coloring the sky various shades of blue and gray.

Actually the weather adds an eerie sense of grandeur to the ferns, trees, moss, and river on the floor of the canyon…

as the imposing weeping walls of rock embrace it all…

The paved trail ends as the canyon narrows into a gorge.

We watch as a few folks wade into the water as they continue into the Zion Narrows, a day-hike following the Virgin River as it winds through a 2,000 foot deep canyon that narrows into 20-30 feet wide passages. A longer hike requires a backcountry permit. Either way, you will get wet.

When we return to the trailhead we board the shuttle back to the Visitor Center. It takes about 40 minutes to get there as the shuttle has to make 8 stops along the way.

From the Visitor Center we walk back to Zion Canyon Campground where we are staying. It is also a Quality Inn motel. That’s our RV to the right of the couple walking toward us:

What a great day!

Leaving Las Vegas

Heading to Zion National Park

Continuing northeast on Interstate 15 for about 90 minutes, we cross into the tip of Arizona after passing through Mesquite, NV.

The landscape changes.

Thirty minutes later we enter Utah.

There is no denying that we are in Utah. Just look at the spectacular rock formations.

We exit the 15 onto State Highway 9 in Hurricane, Utah. Following the 9, we pass through La Verkin and Virgin and arrive Springdale, the gateway into the southern entrance of Zion.

We arrive at Zion Canyon Campground 3:30 Mountain Time.

What a gorgeous setting! And we are only a half mile away from the entrance to Zion NP.

After setting up “camp” we drive into the Park and end up on the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway that leads to the mile long tunnel to Bryce Canyon. The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is closed to all vehicles except for the Shuttle that runs from the Visitor Center to the Temple of Sinawava making 8 stops along the way.

We reach the tunnel and turn around, deciding to drive through it another day and maybe hike the Canyon Overlook Trail on the other side of the tunnel.

On our way back we stop at a turn-out and take some awesome pictures:

When we return to the RV, I relax with a glass of wine (okay, you got me… a mug and a bottle…) and watch the sunset bounce off the rocks beside us. Another perfect day in RV Land…