Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Zion National Park

Woo hoo! What a great, fantastic, amazing place!

I was in Las Vegas for a Interbike, the big bicycle trade show in the US, and had managed to get a little extra time off, so I could rent a car and drive on up to Zion National Park in Utah. Why didn't I stay in Vegas, one of the major vacation destinations in the country? Well, I'll write a more detailed post with my thoughts on that city, but for now, let's just say it's one of my least favorite places to be. I'm just not a Vegas kinda guy.

So off I went last Friday to Zion. The drive was fun, and I marvelled at how the landscape changed from Nevada to Arizona (you pass through a tiny corner of AZ) to Utah. Particularly the transition from Nevada to Arizona... you can almost see the border in the land. No offense to Nevadans, but I really find the AZ/UT scenery prettier.

I arrived At Zion about noon, which gave me just enough time to get a taste for the park. Enough of a taste to say I really want to come back some time when I have a week or so to spend. I had been to the park once before, but it was dark by the time I got there, and I never really saw much of anything. This time, I climbed on the shuttle bus (cars are not allowed on the main road in season) and looked at the park literature, trying to figure out which trail to explore, since I wanted to do some hiking. I stopped at the Zion Lodge for lunch, and considered the popular Emerald Pools trails... but their very popularity made me shy away. A friend had suggested the Angel's Landing Trail, if I felt up to it. Looking at the park materials, it sounded challenging, but also really cool. So I decided to try it out, figuring I could always turn around if it proved too much for that day.

If you look at the picture at the top, you'll see a high peak there in the middle of the picture. I didn't realize it at the time, but that's where I was headed... right to the top of that! It's about a 2.5 mile hike up there, with a lot of altitude gain, as you might guess. And there are parts of it where they've installed chains on the trickier bits so you have something to grab onto when you're faced with a sheer dropoff of over 800 feet! It's actually not as scary as it sounds... or at least I didn't think so, but I have zero fear of heights, so your experience may be very different. I have to imagine that fear of heights would really change one's perception of this hike. For me, it was fun, challenging and spectacularly beautiful.

I did reach one spot where I thought about turning back and not completing the whole hike. There's a lovely spot about a half mile from the top where you can sit and admire the views... and watch folks navigating the last strenuous and tricky bit! There's a couple of signs up there at that point....
The "oh crap" stick figure sign didn't really deter me. The smaller brown sign however did specifically mention the hazard of lightning... and I had heard thunder on the way up. It was pretty clear by the time got to these signs, but I overheard a few folks on the way down talking about near lightning strikes at the top. Heights, as I said, don't bother me... getting hit by big bolts of electricity is another matter. So I sat a few minutes, watching others scramble up or down the last half mile, and enjoying the view where I was, and pondered. Here's a shot of one of the steep bits to the right there, complete with chains.

Anyway, after a few minutes of thought and just soaking in a beautiful day, I thought "when the heck am I going to be here again?" That cinched it for me, and I headed up to the top. Sure, it was challenging, but not unreasonably so. And the view from the top was just amazing. Along the way, I encountered a bunch of chipmunks and lizards, more than I would have expected that high up.

One of the first things I encountered in the last stretch was a ridge about 30 inches wide, with a chain down the middle as a handhold, with sheer dropoffs to either side to rock at least 800 feet below. Wow! That's the spot where I think a person afraid of heights might just "freeze" and not be able to make it. For me it was fun. You can see what it looks like from above to the left here.

The next part was basically a scramble up steep rock faces with and without chains for help. At the top you find a large, flat rock surface, with a wide open view all around. Amazing, beautiful, incredible place! And well worth the effort to get there.

The hike down was less eventful, but lovely. I took the opportunity to look at some of the plant life, and stopped at one point to listen to the singing of tree frogs, a sound you don't expect to hear in a desert climate.

Finally, just as I was reaching the canyon floor, I came upon a gentleman with his friends, who proceeded to introduce me to Farnsworth, the tarantula he'd found and picked up on the trail. Now, in general I like spiders, and I know that US tarantula bites are typically not serious, but I don't think I'd be so bold as to scoop one up and let it crawl on me for a while. But that's just me. Here's a shot of Farnworth, just for grins:

All in all, an amazing hike, and a beautiful day. I'm so glad I decided to try that trail and push on to the top. You can see how glad I am by the goofy grin on my face here in a picture I took at the top, with the Great White Throne behind me:More pictures at:



The Driver said...

Glad you enjoyed your westerly visit.

Anonymous said...

What a great idea. How long was the drive from Vegas to Zion?

Tim said...

The drive is about 3 hours, all told. I drove up in the morning, explored all day, then stayed at a motel in St. George, UT that night. This left me a 2 hour (ish) drive to Vegas and my flight the next day.