Soaring cliffs of sandstone narrowing to slot canyons cut by the Virgin River are some of the special features of the popular Zion National Park, located in the southwestern corner of Utah. Zion sits at the edge of the Colorado Plateau that has been uplifted and tilted by plate tectonics, then shaped by wind and water into amazing shapes. Just to bend your mind a little – the bottom layer of rock in Zion is the top layer of rock at the Grand Canyon to the south.
The park has three main sections to explore – the less visited Kolob Canyons to the north, the main (popular) section that runs along the Virgin River, and the East Canyon accessible by road through a mountain tunnel. Of course, we explored them all.We arrived to the area on a weekend so we headed to Kolob Canyons on the NW corner to avoid crowds in the main part of the park. Kolob has a 5 mile scenic drive with gorgeous views at the end, even better from the viewpoint that’s a mile-long hike from the parking area.Photographs could never do justice to reality – they just don’t convey the sense of majesty here.
Farther down the canyon we took a 5 mile hike into the finger canyon at Taylor Creek, surrounded by red Navajo sandstone cliffs… …that gradually narrow to a double-arched alcove at the end. The sun lit up the wall of one side of the narrow canyon, and the reflected light made the wall in shade glow a deep fiery red – stunning.We were a little early for spring – a few willows started sprouting their fuzzy gray pods, but ice chunks were still falling from the little waterfall at the alcove. I’ll bet it’s especially beautiful in the fall.
The next day we ventured into the main part of Zion, now so popular that no cars are permitted in the main canyon from mid-March through late November. We last visited Zion 25 years ago, and the increase in popularity shocked us. People are loving many of these parks to death! The bus system is very efficient, but with Spring Break crowds we were a little disappointed in the lack of solitude to appreciate this very special place.The views in the main canyon are breathtaking, and would have been even more beautiful if the cottonwoods along the Virgin River had more spring color. We were about two weeks too early!There are a number of hikes in the canyon – we chose to make an early start to see the Emerald Pools, though the trail to the lowest one was closed because of a rock fall. The upper pool was a perfect spot for a lunch break. Beautiful!We did a few other short hikes in the afternoon, skipping the famous but strenuous climb to Angel’s Landing. We did that hike 25 years ago with our friend Dave, though I never made the final scramble (which is done while clinging to a chain to keep from falling off the cliff) because I had bronchitis. Jim did it carrying a 20 lb. knapsack full of camera gear and tripod.
We capped off our day walking up to the end of the canyon called The Narrows. We were hoping to hike up The Narrows, which involves wading in the river and keeping a very sharp eye on the weather – flash floods can occur from storms even far away, and there have been fatalities here. Unfortunately the spring runoff and recent rain turned the Virgin River into a muddy torrent so the Park Service closed the area for safety. Autumn would be a better time to try. Regardless of the little disappointments, the main canyon was still a treat to see and explore.Although we prefer the solitude and quiet of wild places, it has been fun encountering other people on the hiking trails. Despite the current political climate and negative tone on the news, virtually everyone we met on the trails was considerate and polite. Smiles and greetings were genuine and warm, people who patiently stood off to the side to let others pass were rewarded with lots of thank you’s. It made us feel good about our fellow humans – I wish more of the news stories would focus on the many things that are positive.