Hello, Utah!

Utah Welcome SignWith the first day of Spring right around the corner, we sprinted out of Nevada and into Utah – our 46th state!  This is one state that Steve and I are really looking forward to spend a lot of time in.  It’s so full of amazing places, and we hope the three months we’ve allocated is enough.  As usual, we’ve planned our stops to best take advantage of the weather at various elevations, thanks in part to the advice of our RV friends who have done it before (especially Pam, who sent us a detailed email last year – thanks, Pam!).  So now we’re ready to get our “life elevated”, as the state’s slogan suggests.

From that welcome sign it’s not hard to imagine that huge slabs of granite and Navajo Sandstone dominate many parts of this state.  That means many of my future posts will be laden with – you guessed it – amazing rock formations rising from the earth. Zion National Park

We think Utah has successfully advertised their five spectacular national parks (Zion, Arches, Bryce, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef), and we intend to visit them all while we’re here.  Our first stop was two weeks at Zion National Park.

Located in southwestern Utah, Zion N.P. encompasses some of the most scenic canyons and souring cliffs anywhere.  It’s characterized by high plates, a maze of narrow deep sandstone canyons and striking rock towers and mesas.  Just that description of it inspired us to take plenty of time investigating it.  Doing so during Spring Break presented some challenges that couldn’t be avoided, but we did our best to mitigate the time spent with the masses.

Zion National Park

Zion National Park viewed from the southeast

Our lofty goal was to tackle all of the listed hiking trails within Zion Canyon, and to see several other area sights.  From early March through October, access to all trailheads in the canyon is via a well-run free shuttle system that follows the six-mile Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.  It makes eight stops along the way into and out of the canyon.

To avoid the masses, our strategy included crawling out of bed at 5:30am (Steve’s already awake by then) so we could catch the first shuttle at the visitor center at 7:00am.  That meant there was just enough sunlight to begin our hikes once we were dropped off, and we were able to enjoy the sunrise on several mornings.  Perfect!

Observation Point Trail

Steve takes photos of Angels Landing at dawn

Hiking – Day 1

On our first hiking day, we jumped off at stop #7 (Weeping Rock), where the trailheads for Observation Point and the Weeping Rock Trail, plus the spur to Hidden Canyon, were located.  We were the only ones to get off the shuttle at that stop, and we started the 4-mile ascent to the top of Observation Point all by ourselves.

Observation Point

The rising sun shines on our destination

Observation Point Trail

This was one of the two most strenuous classic hikes in the park, as it began gaining elevation right at the trailhead and rose a total of 2,150′.  We followed the path as it zigzagged its way up the steep reddish Navajo sandstone mountainside.  The mostly paved path was steep enough to encourage us to take several water and photography breaks.

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We crossed a semi-dry stream bed and passed into Echo Canyon, a beautiful hanging chasm with a deep gorge where water gnawed relentlessly into sandstone pockets.  The sculptured walls closed in to a narrow shaded area, and towering above was the flat face of Cable Mountain – lit up from the sun’s reflection.  Awesome!

Echo canyon

Crossing into Echo Canyon

Cable Mountain

Looking up a sheer wall that is Cable Mountain

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It’s was about 40′ down to the stream that ran through this beautiful chasm

Slot Canyon

Looking down through the water-eroded rocks

The path next opened into an open vista, and a display of stone sculptures and slick rocks dotted with pink manzanita blooms greeted us.  There were also many red Indian Paintbrush flowers blazing away.

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Crimson Paintbrush

Indian Paintbrush

Manzanita blooms

Manzanita blooms

Purple Penstemon

We huffed and we puffed (but we didn’t blow anything down), as we continued along another series of exposed switchbacks at Mount Baldy.  Below, the Virgin River with shuttle buses running alongside looked pretty distant from here, but we still had a long way to go.

Virgin River

The trail leveled off at the top of the mesa, and as we skirted the rim we could see our destination.

Observation Point hike

We had to walk along here to get to our destination

Observation Point Trail

We traversed a flat and sometimes muddy trail through piñon-juniper forest on the final mile

We made it!  The image below shows Zion Canyon with the Virgin River snaking through.

Observation Point, Zion National Park

Alone at the top with big smiles after over two hours of tough climbing to 6,508′

From the high perch we enjoyed our reward – breathtaking views of Zion Canyon and the cuts along White Cliffs that created the arduous switchbacks we followed.

White Cliffs

Can you spot the hikers ?

Observation Point Trail

The trail in the middle is the one we followed, while the zigzag to the right went to Hidden Canyon

The faraway tip of Angels Landing was 600′ lower in elevation, and we had no idea (yet) what those folks had gone through to get to their destination.

Angels Landing

Hikers at the tip of Angels Landing

Observation Point

Sculpted mountains to the west

On the way back down we met a large procession of folks heading up, and since we were the first ones descending from the peak we were asked questions about the view from the top.

Observation Point Trail, Zion NP

The rocks were ablaze as we descended

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Echo Canyon

Looking back at where we were a couple of hours ago, we saw a crowd building at the summit.  It was so nice to have the place to ourselves while we were there!

Observation Point

Hidden Canyon Trail

Next we took the spur trail to Hidden Canyon, since it was right off the trail we were already descending.  After a series of steep switchbacks followed by a series of chain-assisted walks along a narrow ledge, we headed into the canyon.

Hidden Canyon trail

That zipper trail took us into Hidden Canyon

Hidden Canyon

Moss-covered canyon walls lead to another chain-assisted trail on the way to Hidden Canyon

Hidden Canyon

Yeah, the chain is strongly recommended here.  One mis-step and you’re a goner…

Hidden Canyon trail

We ended up stopping after entering the mouth of the canyon.  There was a huge rock obstacle that required more scrambling and longer legs than I was capable of handling.  We came up short of seeing the free standing arch in this canyon, but it was still a challenging trek.

On the way back down we caught a glimpse of our next destination – an enormous alcove where water seeps (and apparently weeps) – Weeping Rock.

Weeping Rock

Weeping Rock alcove from a distance

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Standing under the beautiful alcove with cool water sprinkling on us from above was a welcome relief after many hours of hiking.

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We noticed only moss and algae growing, but we learned that during the summer months blooming foliage can be seen precariously hanging out of the moist rock.

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By now we were pretty much exhausted and shuttle stop #7 was getting crowded, so we decided to head toward home.  At the visitor center we followed one more short trail, the Archaeology Trail.  We had inadvertently walked part of it in the morning as we searched for the shuttle depot in the dark.

Archeology Trail

This is where we were this morning as we wandered around in the dark!

We followed the trail until we reached a promontory that gave us another perspective of Zion Canyon and the surrounding mountains.  It was satisfying to review all the ground we had covered during the past past hours.

Zion National Park

The arrow points to Observation Point, where we were early that morning

What a great day it was!  We had hiked all of the trails originating at the Weeping Rock shuttle stop, well over 10 miles of strenuous trails that culminated with unforgettable scenery.  To reward ourselves, we stopped at the Zion Canyon Brew Pub just outside the park gate to enjoy what turned out to be an excellent glass of stout, according to Steve.  We somehow ended up stopping there several more times after other long hikes in the park, but that’s another post…

 

Next up:  Feeling crazy?  Let’s try Angels Landing!