May 26th-May 30th
After an early start (we were up around 6:30), we arrived in Zion National Park around 10 AM and snagged the last free camping spot. People were already out in droves to celebrate this long weekend which kicks off summer (particularly in this area where the real summer is sweltering hot.) We were very lucky and got a cozy site next to the Virgin River, the river that carved Zion Canyon and created the beautiful scenery that we have today. The campground was crazy all weekend with people arriving around 6:30 in the morning to stake out how would be leaving. In fact, a carload of people sat outside our neighbors campsite for 3 hours before my neighbors woke up and told them that they were actually going to stay another night.
We were both a little tired from moving camp so often, but there were chores to do. After staking down the tent, we drove to nearby Springdale to stock up on groceries for the next four days. We knew it would be hard to move mid-weekend and find a camping site, so we decided to spend the four days in magnificent Zion. Zion was named by a Mormon settler who found sanctuary there (Zion is the Hebrew word for place of sanctuary.) We would have time to explore the park in depth and to relax a couple of afternoons. After lunch, we went to explore the visitor center and then followed a riverside path to the Human History Museum, which showcased how humans (from the Paiute Indians, Mormon settlers, and us today as visitors) have impacted the park. After another short hike from the campground, we relaxed with a couple of cold beers from the Zion brewery and played Scrabble. I don’t want to brag, but I did kick Fabien’s butt.
On Friday, we took the shuttle bus (the car traffic got so bad, they implemented an excellent and efficient shuttle) to some lovely sites on the scenic drive. The first stop was at Weeping Rock, so named because water seems to drip out from the sandstone rock creating a lush, green environment unusual for the arid landscape. At the same stop, we took another trail to Hidden Canyon. This was a serious hike involving passing some scary steep drop-offs. Fab and I passed pretty easily- we’ve been doing so much hiking lately- but several others were struggling from their fear of heights. The Hidden Canyon was a slot canyon, a narrow canyon with parallel steep rock faces. We scrambled over some boulders for a half a mile or so in the canyon. After Weeping Rock, we went to the Temple of Sinawava, a riverside walk that leads us to the famous Narrows. Zion is famous for the Narrows, a very narrow part of Zion Canyon that requires a number of canyoneering skills to pass. We didn’t get a chance to try because it was closed due to heavy water flow. We picnicked in an area called the Grotto and then picked up a trail to the Emerald Pools. These pools of water, another oasis in the desert, were popular with the kids. The nicest pool, the upper pool, was so crowded that we didn’t stay for long. After a good day of hiking, we took it easy at the campsite, reading and writing our blog posts. That evening, we did something called “Ride with a Ranger;” we took a guided shuttle tour (with lots of stops) with a park ranger. She was excellent giving us an overview of the geology, wildlife and history of the park.
We had debated getting a wilderness permit to do an overnight backpacking trip in the park, but the weather forecast was questionable and we didn’t want to risk getting stuck in a flash flood. On Saturday, we drove about 50 miles to another section of the park called Kolob Canyons. This area is at a higher elevation, therefore cooler and greener. We did a 5 mile hike that required crossing a windy river about 100 times. There was a big diversity of plant life and wildflowers, in contrast to the south end of the park. After exploring Kolob Canyons, we made a stop in Cedar City at the Pioneer Heritage State Park. It was more of a living history museum, than a park, with lots of recreations of how pioneer life was (a log cabin, a school, etc.) and a big collection of stage coaches which I found pretty cool. Surprisingly, we had the place to ourselves. Even on this holiday weekend, they had very few visitors. We treated ourselves to an ice cream before making the drive back to camp.
I woke up Sunday morning ready for a good hike. It was cooler and the wind had picked up. After breakfast, we walked up the riverside path to catch the shuttle to the Grotto where we would pick up the path to Angel’s Landing. Angel’s Landing is 5 mile round-trip trail that climbs more than 2,000 feet. The first part of the trail was very easy, though climbing. The last ½ mile is a scramble on narrow ledges and over large rocks. The hardest part was actually the number of people. At several points, the path was bottlenecked with people forced to step away from a guiding rail to let someone pass by. The view from the top was impressive down onto the Virgin River below. We got back to our campsite after an 8 mile hike in total ready for lunch. We spent the afternoon relaxing, and then took the car to the east side of the park to enjoy some more scenic views. The evening was very windy and cold and we were both in our sleeping bags before it got dark outside.
We were up early on Monday, packed up and enjoyed a last breakfast in our campsite by the river before catching the road to: Las Vegas.