Zion National Park

Utah 2018: Zion National Park—Day 2

Just around the corner from our lodge was Cafe Soleil. We ate breakfast there and then headed for the Zion Canyon Visitor Center to catch the park shuttle. We planned to ride it to the end of the line—Temple of Sinawava—a forty-minute trip. Along the way we discussed which trails to explore, knowing we couldn’t cover them all in one day. Now I understand what visitors mean about there being a lot of good hikes in Zion, and we could’ve spend a week hiking this park alone. 

I overheard a park ranger comment that Memorial Day weekend was the busiest time for the national parks, and even though we had arrived eight days earlier, the crowds had already begun to gather, mostly several big groups of foreign tourists. In retrospect, I should’ve booked the trip in late April or early May. We queued up for the shuttle, and because the park staff was well organized, the wait went fast.

At the Temple of Sinawava, the final shuttle stop, #9, we left the bus and began the first of the three hikes we had decided on—Riverside Walk, Weeping Rock, and Emerald Pools.

Riverside Walk, formerly known as “Gateway to the Narrows,” is a paved sidewalk and an easy trek along the Virgin River and is roughly two miles round trip. The Narrows Hike and the Narrows “Thru-Hike” are much longer—full-day to multi-day hikes and through water. We will save these for another visit, now that we are more familiar with the area and know which hikes require more time. 

Weeping Wall in Canada is a set of one-thousand-foot-high cliffs located in the Columbia Icefield in northern Banff National Park, Alberta. In spring and summer, the cliff faces are covered in cascading waterfalls. In the winter, the waterfalls freeze to become a spectacular wall of ice. In the case of Weeping Rock in Zion, a mini-Weeping Wall, spring water seeps through the Navajo sandstone at one hundred feet overheard, percolates slowly through the less porous Kayenta sandstone layer, and “rains down” on the hikers below. 

Of the three short hikes, I enjoyed Emerald Pools the most, so it came as no surprise that it is the most-hiked trail in Zion. The rock path skirts behind a soft-flowing waterfall, the mist cooling on a hot afternoon, and has nice views of the canyon.

No, we did not hike Angels Landing, and I have no intentions of doing so. If you are braver than I, and most readers probably are, let me know how your hike went. But before you go, read this blog post by Amanda Williams:https://www.dangerous-business.com/2016/04/angels-landing-hike-zion/

I’ve been lucky to have traveled a lot of the world and now have my sights set on some must-see places in the US. I can check Utah off my list but know a repeat visit is in my future. Of the ten most-visited national parks in the United States, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is #1. I began day hiking in the Smokies back in the early ’70s while in college at Lincoln Memorial University. 

In 1978, I visited the Grand Canyon (#2) on a road trip to New Mexico and this month hiked Zion (#3). Behind Zion is the Rocky Mountain National Park (#4), which I plan to visit in June, and I’ve backpacked most of Yosemite (#5) in the late ’80s and early ’90s, as well as Olympia National Park (#8) while attending the University of Oregon, shortly after my Timberline Trail introduction. As I write this blog post, I am researching Yellowstone (#6), Grand Tetons (#9), and Glacier (#10). At some point, I will visit Acadia National Park (#7) in Maine, which looks quite interesting. 

After our Emerald Pools hike, we stopped at Zion Lodge for a late lunch on the patio and to give our feet a break. We ended day two the same way day one drew to a close—takeout, wine, and deer watching on our patio at Cliffrose Lodge & Gardens.

Next weekend: 6/29 and 6/30—Bryce Canyon, Utah.

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Utah 2018: Zion National Park—Day 1

Take a hike—in Utah!

In my junior year at the University of Oregon, I fell in with a group of avid backpackers. Over the years, I had been on many day hikes: Toco, Trinidad; Namibia, Africa; and even the wilds of the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, when I attended Lincoln Memorial University. But the backcountry aficionados I met in Oregon were hardcore wilderness trekkers, and I had no idea what I had signed up for when I joined them to backpack the Timberline Trail—a 38.3-mile hike around Mount Hood, rated difficult, and with an elevation gain of nine thousand feet. 

My biggest mistake, besides tagging along with these veteran hikers? New Vasque hiking boots, and I was not in the physical shape of any of my fellow hikers. But I survived the first day, pushing myself to keep up with their vigorous pace, and I completed the fourteen-mile hike. When dinnertime rolled around, I opted for sleep over food; I’d need the rest to tackle day two. 

During most of the four-day hike, we walked in silence, drinking in the beauty, lost in our own thoughts, and savoring the silence. I don’t recall encountering any other hikers until late on day four, when we neared Timberline Lodge where our route had begun and now ended. I do recall some nasty blisters and wondering why my feet were sweating so badly, never imagining that they weren’t sweating but bleeding. That aside, this was the start of a lifelong love for backpacking. 

Flash forward to Utah. I’ve always wanted to hike the Mighty Five, so I booked the trip for late May 2018. I decided to fly into Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) rather than Las Vegas, even though I planned to visit Zion National Park first and Arches National Park last. I don’t mind a long drive on the front end of a vacation, but I’m not keen on ending with one, and the distance from Arches National Park in Moab to McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas is six and a half hours compared to a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Moab to SLC.

We arrived in Salt Lake City at 11:30 a.m., picked up our rental SUV, and were on the road by noon, making good time. But as life will have it, the drive from the airport to our hotel in Springdale took well over seven hours. Around eleven that morning a Utah trooper was alerted to a man driving erratically in the southbound lanes of the I-15 freeway. Before the driver could be stopped, the car crashed and the man was ejected from the vehicle. He died at the scene, shutting down all southbound and northbound lanes while an investigation ensued. In two hours we had gone less than twenty miles, so we exited the I-15 and crawled through the congested city streets to the first restaurant we spotted—Kneaders Bakery & Cafe—and ordered lunch.

An hour later the side streets had cleared, and a mile south of the fatal accident, we jumped back onto the I-15 and drove to our hotel—Cliffrose Lodge & Gardens. The lodge borders Zion National Park and is on the Virgin River, a tranquil and beautiful setting with a backdrop of the red cliffs at Zion. 

Parking in Springdale can be a problem, even at your hotel—more cars than parking spaces. On two occasions we had to ask the front desk to find parking for us. Evidently, six cars in the hotel lot belonged to locals who couldn’t find parking on the street. So the best way to get around town is to use the free Springdale Shuttle. And to see the park, take the free Zion Canyon Shuttle, which leaves from the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. For more information on both shuttles and times and locations of pickup and drop-off, click on this link: https://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/shuttle-system.htm.

Our first evening in town, we ordered takeout, bought a bottle of wine, and enjoyed a relaxing dinner on our patio overlooking the Virgin River. As dusk descended, we watched mule deer munch on the lodge’s lawn and nibble shrubs, until the sun sank low over the red cliffs of Zion and a waning crescent moon graced the darkening skies.

Read more about Lincoln Memorial University (LMU): Lincoln Memorial University (LMU) and MaracaiboLMU and Panama, and Bouchercon 2015: Murder Under the Oaks – Raleigh, North Carolina

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