Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Zion National Park, UT

Our last big hurrah! It's still too cold to go home, and too hot in southern Arizona (I know, you don't feel sorry for us!), so we decide to take advantage, again, of a warmer than usual week and head north into southern Utah and Zion National Park. This post has taken a few days because there are SO MANY photos to sift through to find the right ones, the pictures that will show you how beautiful this park is.
Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway area

The first European settlers here were Mormons and they felt that the canyons and formations were spiritual; hence the name of Zion. We get that sense surrounded by these orange-stained cliff walls up to 2,000 feet high. How could we not?

Numerous alcoves like this one have eroded into the rock faces. Some are actually arches (open on both front and back).
Zion Canyon area

Outfitted with dry suits, these four senior men set out to hike the Virgin Narrows at the end of the Zion Canyon road. The trek is 3 miles to the junction of Orderville Canyon, a common destination. The water is frigid, but even so a few hearty souls cross in only sneakers. They return quickly enough as the water becomes hip deep only about 100 yards upstream. Brad and I stay on-shore this trip; we hiked in the water on our trip here in October 1987 and paid for it with numb ankles. Once is enough!

Rock face near the end of Zion Canyon. During the winter months, we are allowed to drive the entire length of the park road. Starting in March ("peak season" until the end of November), personal vehicles will be banned and a shuttle service will run from nearby towns and the Visitor Center near the park entrance and stop at the various trailheads. Even though it's the middle of February, parking lots at the popular trailheads are full by 10:30 a.m.

Zion is a popular place to climb. These two are about half-way up a 1,000 rock face. Maybe if we were younger...
Angels Landing

Yesterday I turned 55, so naturally today we will climb 1,500 feet to the top of one of the most dangerous, most frightening hikes in the southwest. The first part of the climb is easy enough although steep in sections. Frequent stops to "enjoy the view" are necessary.

Brad overlooking Big Bend in Zion Canyon some 1,000 feet below from Scout's Lookout, the end of the "easy trail" and a great place to enjoy lunch and a rest.

Not a joke. Several people have died here by slipping over the edge. There are no guard rails, only a few chains which provide the illusion of safety and balance. The count of six people does not include those who parished as a result of foul play. Hike with someone you trust!

The trail from Scout's Lookout to Angels Landing follows the spine of a sandstone fin. Here the trail is fairly wide! I am standing in the bottom left. The view is down canyon looking towards the south entrance and the Visitor Center.

Brad on a narrow ledge, but brave enough not to hang onto the chain rope. This view is up canyon looking towards the Virgin Narrows and the end of the road.

Some of the rocks form steps. You can see the narrow fin behind me. From Scout's Lookout, you climb down a few hundred feet, then across a saddle and then up several hundred feet to the peak.

Me at the top, which is not flat, but rather flat rocks sloped downward. It is easy to see how people fall. Even though there is danger, this is a popular trail and we share the summit with about 8 other groups. We are told that in the summer there are so many people up here, it's crowded. I wouldn't want to get bumped here - there would be no recovery as the walls are straight down to the valley floor some 1,500 feet below.

Back down the same way we came up, but going down is always more difficult than up. That must have something to do with perception. This is a great view showing the saddle and the fin we cross. Me standing in front of the tree at bottom left.

Good thing I'm not terrified of heights. Don't get me wrong; this hike is nerve-wracking, yet exhilarating at the same time. Below me, the road follows the Virgin River through Zion Canyon.
Emerald Pools

A disappointing hike (what wouldn't be after Angels Landing?), the Emerald Pools are probably more popular in the summer when the cool waterfalls and sprays provide relief from the canyon heat. There are three pools - lower, middle and upper. This is the middle pool at the cliff's edge where Brad catches the reflection of the steep canyon walls.
Kolob Terrace Road

So let's get away from the crowds and take a trip up the Kolob Terrace Road from the town of Virgin. Here we are outside of the canyon and on a series of plateaux. Green meadows like this one are surrounded by orange sandstone cliffs and rock formations.

It always amazes us how life survives.

These two elks (mom and teenager?) have just crossed the road when we come around a corner. They stay at the top of a hill hiding in the still leafless bushes to make sure we drive past.

The Kolob Reservoir, still frozen. At the Visitor Center, we were told that the last few miles of the road to this reservoir was a sheet of ice and therefore closed. Obviously, it's melted. Temperature up here at over 8,000 feet elevation is 38F or about 3C (still warmer than home!)

I love exploring on "slickrock" - areas of flat or sloping sandstone. It's easy to climb and always marvelously sculpted by forces of nature. These yellow and orange stripes are caused by iron seeping into the sand when the layers were formed millions of years ago.

Looking like a scene out of Lord of the Rings, these beehives are another testament to the erosion forces at work here throughout the millenia - wind, sand and water.


  1. Great pictures guys...makes me want to go back there for the 3rd time..miss you guys. Take care on your return to the frigid north...