I remember seeing pictures of Zion National Park whenever family members went over to the US and thinking that whatever else happened in my life, one day I was going to go THERE! When I first started planning my own American adventure, it was the absolute top of my list. So needless to say, there was no way me and dad were going to drive into Utah without making a stop there. I had some idea of the beautifully strange landscape I was in for, but I was pretty excited to finally be seeing the place with my own eyes.
Like most US National Parks, Zion has it’s fair share of places that will knock your socks off with their sheer scale if nothing else, but driving in from the East is a nice gentle introduction to the park. The enormous cliffs are still hiding in valley and the way in curls through a land of smaller domes and strange rocks. I don’t mean to downplay this section at all, far from it. The rocks may not be enormous, but the colors and patterns here have a wonderful otherworldly look to them. The strange swirly patterns that cover the landscape really do look as if they’re from another planet. The mind boggles trying to imagine what natural forces would have caused this small part of the globe to become so bizarre. Sometimes I think nature has been attending some pretty weird art classes.
To get to the main valley from here, the road goes through a long tunnel through the cliffs. It’s mostly enclosed in rock but there are peep holes cut into the rock as we drive through that offer little glimpses of the main canyon. It’s a bit of a drive to get to the other side, and traffic backs up through here, but the little sneak peeks are pretty incredible. These teasers are nothing compared to the view that awaits us on the other side though. We’re up high in the cliffs and can see the breathtaking views all around the valley. Ridiculously, there is a traffic jam in this beautiful place because all the cars are backed up from going through the effectively one-way tunnel, so rather than follow the throng into the valley, we make a stop for some breakfast and cliff gazing.
The traffic clears and our bellies are full, so we head down into the valley to look for a campsite. In retrospect, I don’t know how we managed this, far more organised people than us were having trouble finding sites the next day, but we arrive around noon and quickly find a campsite with a great view of the surrounding cliffs. Someone up there likes us. We have a quick stop to set up camp and then get our boots on for a hike.
There are no cars allowed on the main road up the valley during the busy season but there’s a free shuttle bus that runs pretty regularly. We take it all the way up the road to the trailhead for the Riverside Walk. This is also where you start walking in to do the Narrows, a famous walk that goes up the river through a narrow canyon (as in there’s not actually a path, you walk in the river). It’s worth taking the road up this far even if you’re not doing one of the hikes, the scenery on the way is spectacular. We originally had intentions of doing the Narrows but there was some major flooding the week before we arrived and the river is so muddy that we decide to give it a miss.
The Riverside Walk is pleasant enough but is really more of a stroll than a hike, and it’s so easy that it attracts a lot of people which spoils the place a bit. It’s all very pretty but it’s so busy that we constantly get stuck behind people who are walking slow which makes it quite a frustrating walk at times. One thing I do enjoy about it is that the high volume of people attracts some very mischievous thieving squirrels. At one point I see a couple working in pairs. One distracts the tourists with various adorable antics and the other sneaks into their backpacks while they’re not looking.
We have plenty of light left after the Riverside Walk so we head further down the valley to the Emerald Pools track. This trail is much more up our alley. It’s a nice casual climb, nothing too strenuous, but enough for a bit of a workout and to put the crowds off. The pools themselves are pretty but the real star of the show is the gorgeous views across the valley on the climb up. The cliffs are incredible and I can’t get over the wonderful combination of colors here. The red rocks are similar to Arizona but the bright greens in the trees are almost reminiscent of Vermont. It all looks like some sort of fantasy world. I half expect dinosaurs to come strolling up the river.
Our walking done for the day, we head back to camp for a beer as the sun goes down over the beautiful cliffs. It’s a lovely clear night with a big moon and the air is soft and balmy. Dad star gazes while I indulge in a bit of night photography. I haven’t got a tripod but a combination of our picnic table and an old beer box serves pretty well. It’s a wonderful scene to look out over. The moon lights up the beautiful cliffs, the stars are twinkling bright behind them, and little campfires blaze merrily at the base. Zion has a wonderful presence about it. The valley feels so safe, ringed in by the beautiful cliffs. It gets into your soul in a way that is really quite special.
Listening to: Fractured Air – Calexico