Hello Utah, and Zion National Park!
With 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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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!
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.
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.
The trail leveled off at the top of the mesa, and as we skirted the rim we could see our destination.
We made it! The image below shows Zion Canyon with the Virgin River snaking through.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Standing under the beautiful alcove with cool water sprinkling on us from above was a welcome relief after many hours of hiking.
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.
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.
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.
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…