Zion National Park
October 15, 2009 by Jamie
We recently got back from our five day, four night trip to Zion National Park. This was our first time visiting this amazing place so we made the most of our time there. The cheapest way to visit Zion is to camp so we packed our car full, and I mean it was really full, of all of our camp gear. Everything we could possibly need was stuffed into our little hatchback; tent, sleeping bags, clothes, a stove, propane, blankets, food, cameras, the kitchen sink. Okay not the last thing but we were pretty well prepared. We left Orange County at 6am, we stopped in Las Vegas for gas and Dunkin Donuts, because if you are leaving California you have to stop at a Dunkin Donuts while you are out of state. We ended up getting to Zion at 1pm mountain time which means we managed to get to Utah in six hours which included a one hour stop in Vegas. Not bad. We used the rest of our day to set up our camp site. We also discovered the excellent shuttle system that is provided by the park.
Because Zion can get really crowded the park does not allow cars to drive up in the canyon during March through October. They provide a free shuttle that starts at the Visitor’s Center and goes all the way up the canyon and stops at various trails and scenic spots along the way. The other shuttle also starts near the Visitor’s Center and goes through the little town of Springdale which is just outside the park. Mostly Springdale is full of gift shops filled with useless trinkets. There are a few restaurants, a gas station and other specialty shops. Just outside of the entrance into Zion is a little market where we bought firewood. We didn’t use our fire pit to cook but we did build a fire every night and roast marshmallows. We ended up using our little propane stove to cook our meals, which were mostly soup and foods that required us to add water. It was pretty high class. The temperatures in the canyon did dip down during the night to low 50’s to high 40’s but it was the high winds that were the worst. Other than being cold at night we also have an air mattress that looses air so in the morning we were pretty much laying on the ground. Good times.
The weather in Zion was perfect during our whole trip. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and the clouds were puffy when they were present. It made for absolutely stunning scenery. The mornings, however, were the worst part of the day. Not only was it still freezing, and by freezing I mean in the 40’s because I’m from California and anything below 70 degrees is freezing, the winds had not died down yet so doing anything was nearly impossible. We could hardly boil water to make coffee or open bags of cereal because our fingers were too cold to have any sort of dexterity. I couldn’t wait to start hiking so I could warm up.
For our first full day at Zion we decided to go to the Emerald Pools trails. We hopped on the park shuttle and made our way up the canyon. We stopped at the Zion Lodge which is where the Emerald Pools trails start. When we got off we saw a bunch of wild turkeys hanging out by the lodge. I proceeded to do a photo op with them and tell them how delicious they looked. I’m sure that’s the kind of compliment you give a turkey. We then made our way to the trail head just across a bridge that overlooked the Virgin River. As we hiked up the trail we made our first stop at the Middle Emerald Pools. They are called the Emerald Pools because of the amount of algae that grows in them. We then hiked up some more to get to the lower pools. That’s right you hike up to go lower, I’m not sure exactly how that works but it does. We ended up at a small waterfall which had a walkway just behind it. We stopped just after the waterfall for a snack and then headed back the way we came from to go to the Upper Emerald Pools. The trail for the upper pools was much steeper, full of rocks, narrow at points with drop offs. More good times. We took many breaks, mostly because of me but also because the trail was pretty crowded. After arriving at the pool we rested a little longer. The pool was in a nice shady area and the breeze felt really nice after the sunny ascent. After a while it was time to go back which was much harder for me. I’m really good at climbing but I’m horrible at descending. Bryan had to help me a lot by holding my hand and guiding me down. When we finally got down the trail it was time for lunch so we walked across the street to the lodge and ate at the Red Rock Grill. I find food is even tastier after you just hiked 2+ miles. Bryan decided after witnessing how difficult it was for me to hike down a trail that I should get trekking poles to help me with my balance. So after lunch we took the shuttle back down the canyon and got on the other shuttle into Springdale. We found an outdoor sporting store and found some really great carbon fiber trekking poles. They were a bit pricey but totally worth it as they were light weight and easy to carry. We decided to use the rest of our day visiting the famous tunnel. There are actually two tunnels on the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway but the largest is the 1.1 mile tunnel which was completed in 1930. It is one lane in each direction, has no lights but does feature a “gallery” which is just a large opening that looks out to the rocks. It is so narrow inside the tunnel that most of the time, due to RV’s and tour buses, they will stop one direction of traffic so a few cars can go on one side and vice-versa. After passing through the tunnels we stopped at Checkerboard Mesa Overlook and took a few shots before turning around and driving back to the campsite.
The next day we started out another freezing morning by taking the shuttle all the way to the end of the scenic drive. The stop was called the Temple of Sinawava and the trail was called the Riverside Walk. The trail was two miles round trip, it was completely paved and it paralleled the Virgin River. At the end of this trail the river continues up the canyon. There is a very challenging hike that goes up the river to a place called The Narrows which is one of the most frequently photographed places in Zion. You have to get back country permits to do this hike and they recommend you do it as a day hike. I hope to one day come back and do that hike so I can get a look at The Narrows. Even if you don’t do the full hike you can still walk up the river and we wanted to try it too. We weren’t prepared at that time but we vowed to buy some water shoes and return the next day. Since the Riverside Walk was fairly short we decided to take the shuttle down the canyon and stop at all of the shorter trails. The first we stopped at was Weeping Rock which is a half mile round trip hike up a paved walkway to a rock that drips water. The most fascinating thing about this rock is that it takes 1200 years for the water to drip down to where we could see it from the point where it lands on the top of the rocks. Our next stop on our trip down was to the Court of the Patriarchs which is an overlook to three huge cliffs that stand side by side. The Patriarchs are named Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Our final stop was to the Zion Human History Museum where we watched a short film about the history of Zion and the Mormon settlers who lived there. There is also a photo spot right behind the museum that features three distinct rock formations. One is the West Temple which is the tallest peak in Zion and another is rust stained and called the Alter of Sacrifice which is pretty much the most awesome name for a rock. After lunch we walked from our camp site to a trail called Watchman. This trail is considered moderately difficult but for me it was pretty strenuous. It’s a very steep, rocky trail which seems to go on forever but it has a great view of the park from the top. I can say I had a lot more fun going down the trail than going up, it was also a lot easier thanks to my shiny new trekking poles.
On our final day we took our car out and drove to the other side of the tunnel. Our plan was to go on the Canyon Overlook trail but unfortunately the parking situation made it impossible. We instead drove to a neat sandstone formation off the road. This was probably one of my favorite things to photograph since I love texture and lines. We got back in our car and drove back towards the Canyon Overlook trail, luckily we found a place to park this time. This trail was also steep and rocky with a few drop offs (I think this is a theme of all the trails) but I found it easier than the Watchman trail and of course it had an spectacular view of the canyon at the end. After lunch we decided to end our Zion trip with a walk up the Virgin River as we had vowed the day before. We purchased some cheap water shoes from the market and off we went down the Riverside Walk to the rocky shore of the river. Hiking in the river was difficult to say the least. The water was freezing, I know I use that word a lot but when I stepped in the water it hurt, it was that cold. There were a lot of smooth rocks in the river which made it hard to balance on top of the fact that we were walking upstream. I saw Bryan having a hard time and since he was holding our Mark II whilst in knee deep water I handed him one of my trekking poles. We made it about a quarter mile up before we decided to turn around. Apparently just a few feet up from where we turned around the river got very steep and I wasn’t about to get all waste deep in that icy water. We went back to camp and Bryan built our last fire and we toasted our trip with multiple servings of s’mores. While sitting next to the fire a family of deer happened by our campsite, we sat and watched quietly as the mothers and babies grazed. It was a perfect ending to an even more prefect trip. Yes, it was perfect, even though it was cold in the mornings, windy at night, there were no showers and a squirrel ate our trash. It took us a lot longer to get home then going out there, we traveled a total of 878 miles, but it was absolutely worth it to get to visit such a perfect place.