Tuesday, March 7, 2017

My Southern Utah Adventure: Part I - Zion National Park

For my next trip, I decided to stay a little closer to home. (If that's not interesting to you, my next entries will be about my trip to the opposite side of the globe.)

So I flew from my new home on the East Coast to my old home in the Rockies to visit some of the places I should have visited while I lived in Utah.

For those who don’t know, Utah is home to five national parks—Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion, also known as the Big Five. That's more than any other state besides California and Alaska. (Much to the chagrin of Utah’s legislature—but I digress.)

One could spend years exploring the wonderland that is Southern Utah, one of the most geologically interesting places on Earth. We, however, only had a week to complete the circuit.

The first stop on our journey through the Big Five: Zion.

Zion is the most popular of the parks—probably due to its relatively close proximity to Grand Canyon. And, of course, to its world-class scenery.

The first thing you might notice about Zion (other than, you know, the towering red cliffs and majestic vistas): It's crowded. Painfully so. We waited nearly an hour to get on the (mandatory) shuttle bus that takes you up into the heart of the park.

Fortunately, once you're out of the bus and hiking, the crowd situation becomes a lot more tolerable.

We start off with the Emerald Pools hike - it's simple and not too strenuous, and a good way to break in our hiking muscles.

At one point you walk under a waterfall.

Don't forget to turn around and admire the landscape.

The reward at the end of the trail: Some pools in the shade of the cliffs.

Next up, the famous Narrows, one of the most iconic hikes in America. What makes it so memorable? The hike takes you directly up the Virgin River as the walls of Zion Canyon grow narrower and narrower around you.

No, you're not walking next to the river - you're trudging through it.

So after double checking that there wasn't a flash flood watch, I laced up my waterproof shoes and prepared my trekking pole and entered the Virgin waters.

And I soon realize... Hiking in water is hard work.

For one, you can't see the bottom - and being a river, the ground isn't quite perfectly smooth. Meaning that one second you could be in water up to your ankles, and with the next step you're up to your knees. And there are rocks of varying sizes littering the bottom, making for uneven footing. You quickly learn to test out each step with your trekking pole.

Secondly, those waterproof shoes you rented aren't so waterproof after all. No matter how tightly you lace them, they begin filling up with each step - making things even more uncomfortable and cumbersome.

But you keep on going anyways, because the walls of the canyon are closing in around you, and around each turn you might see something new - like a waterfall running down the sides of the canyon.

It's hard work, and it's worth it. It's beautiful and unique and unforgettable.

Go and do it.

Just wear good shoes.


The next morning we leave Zion - and the drive out of the park is also stunningly beautiful. You climb higher and higher until the valley is far below and you get a whole new perspective of the landscape. And it stays beautiful, even after you've driven through the mountain tunnel and left the boundaries of the park. Because Southern Utah is just that cool.

Next stops: a national monument, and then our second national park.