Prior to arriving in the States, we had spent a little bit of time ‘scoping’ out a rough route of all the places we wanted to visit and sights that we had wanted to see. We had tried to keep our plans as loose as possible so as to give us a fair bit of flexibility when we travelled. Its just as well we did as our plans kept changing. Every time we pitched up somewhere new and we got talking to the locals or people who were visiting the area, we always found out about other great things to see and do which we hadn’t thought of.
Whilst camping by Lake Mono, we had met a couple of nice guys, Trevor and Norm – who were in the area to hunt (with rifles) for grouse and also to do a spot of fishing. Both worked as salesmen for separate ‘turf laying’ companies. They laughed as they told us that the companies they worked for were fierce competitors and that their bosses didn’t know that they had been good friends with each other for well over ten years and would spend a few days every now and then camping out.
We had mentioned that we were heading towards Las Vegas and then on to Monument Valley in Utah and both Norm and Terry had suggested that we take a slight detour to Zion Valley in Utah as it has some fantastic hikes through breath taking scenery! This sounded good to us, so we decided to go!
Zion National Park is about 3 hours (160 miles) North East of Las Vegas and its an easy drive up the I-15 and soon we were on our way. Before we reached Zion, we stopped off at St George to pick up some food / drink and also to fill up the car with fuel so that we had a full tank before entering the park (we’re paranoid about running out of fuel on some dark, lonely mountain road with no-one about and no phone signal!). St George is a gorgeous little town, lots of nice shops and its nestled in amongst a number of spectacular rock formations so no matter which way you look, the scenery is fantastic. As we exited Walmart with a trolley full of food and booze, we doubted if you could find another Walmart carpark with better views! Clearly very different from the view of the 1960’s high rise flats that we ‘enjoy’ from our local Morrisons in Glasgow!
The place to stay when visiting Zion is ‘Springdale’ as it’s a couple of minutes away from the park entrance and has a raft of boutique shops, lots of yummy eateries and a range of hotels / motels. As it’s just before the park, the town also has a spectacular backdrop of mighty rock formations. Unfortunately, we had left our motel booking a bit late and we couldn’t find anything for the Friday and Saturday night which was available, decent and within budget. We did however find a place for the Saturday night which looked nice but was a bit more than what we would normally pay so we decided to book this on the ba
sis that we spent the Friday night 20 miles South at Hurricane in a very cheap and cheerful motel.
We arrived at the park entrance at lunchtime and duly paid our $25 park entrance fee (it is valid for 7 days entry) and headed towards the parking lot at the visitor entrance, wondering whether or not we would be able to get a space. Luckily we found one pretty quickly and soon we were wandering around the visitor centre.
Nephi Johnson was the first European-American settler in the canyon (1858) and he remarked, “A man can worship God among these great cathedrals as well as in any man-made church – this is Zion.” The area however only got National Park status in 1919 and was formally renamed Zion National Park which was what the Mormons had called it.
There’s over 20 different walks / hikes that you can do at Zion and they range in difficulty from easy to very strenuous….and not for the faint hearted or those afraid of heights. Fortunately, for most of the the year, there is a free shuttle service which leaves the visitor centre every 10 mins and takes you into the main park stopping every now and then at specific places. This is great as you can jump on the shuttle, then jump off, do a bit of sightseeing / walking and then jump back on and go to the next place and do some more.
Before the shuttle buses were introduced, you could drive into the park in your own car and stop wherever you liked. This apparently caused traffic mayhem as over 5000 cars / RV’s were entering the park on peak days and so, to ease congestion and to make things a lot safer, they decided to introduce the shuttle buses. The buses run every 10 mins from early morning to late evening so offer real flexibility to tourists.
On our first day in the park, we decided to take the shuttle bus the full way into the park to get a good overview of the park and to hear the commentary on the bus which told us the history and background to the park. Arriving at the last stop – The Temple of Sinawava we decided to get off and have a wander around before heading back to a couple of trails that we wanted to do that afternoon (Riverside Walk / Zion Narrows / Weeping Rock).
The Riverside Walk is a nice easy walk to begin with as its the gateway to the Zion Narrows. The path was fairly wide and smooth and even accessible to wheelchair users! As we walked along the path, the views were stunning, lots of high rock formations and the place was bathed in shade as the sun couldn’t reach down into the canyon floor where the path followed the curves and bends of a small river which was running low as there hadn’t been any rain for months.
It was great to see the rock formations closing in on us as we neared the Zion Narrows. They say that this walk is great just after a heavy rainfall as the river is alive as it powers down over rocks and boulders, and numerous waterfalls cascade down the cliffs! At the end of the Riverside Walk, you reach the start of the Zion Narrows which are the canyons which have steep and narrow slots carved into them following millions of years of rivers and streams flowing through them. When the river is fairly dry, its possible to start this walk and to see some of the narrows. However, in order to experience them properly, you need to get into the river and to walk up stream where you will be able to walk between cliff walls 800 meters high which are 7 meters apart! We had heard that in certain parts of the river, you are waist deep in water and as such, you need to be fairly prepared for this walk. So dressed as we were, we spent 10 minutes resting at the entrance to the Narrows and just watched those who had done the walk, wander passed us in their soaking wet shoes / clothes! We heard that there is a company in Springdale that hires out waders and proper boots to do the walk up stream.
After the Riverside Walk, we headed to Weeping Rock which was a great little walk – half a mile up a slight incline to an overhanging blind arch which has water raining down over it. It was nice standing under the overhang, get a little bit wet and just watching the water drip down from above and to look out over the valley with the sun in our faces.
The following Day, we hiked to the Emerald pools which is probably the most hiked trail in Zion. It’s fairly easy, and takes about 2 hours in total. Wandering through canyons, taking in brilliant views, we headed towards the Emerald Pools (of which there are 2 – a lower pool and an upper pool). The pools are green in colour due in the main to the algae that lives in them. As we were visiting at the end of the Summer and it hadn’t been raining for months, the pools were a little smaller than normal and there were no spectacular waterfalls filling them up as the tour books stated! Apparently, when it rains, the upper pool is filled from water which cascades 300 meters down from Heaps Canyon. Anyhow, they were pretty and it was a very nice walk around the canyon – must have been as we took loads of photos! At one point, we rounded a corner and got a stunning view of the canyon floor below, which was surrounded by high cliffs / mountains on both sides….it was amazing, somewhat prehistoric and you could just imagine a herd of large brontosaurus’s roaming around millions of years ago….yup, really special!
At the end of our Emerald Pools walk, the path split and we had the option to head to Angels Landing, which is not for those who are afraid of heights or dying! It’s a strenuous walk and the climb culminates at Scouts Lookout where you have a 1500 ft drop either side of you as you cling to a metal chain for dear life as you make your way along a narrow ridge! We had heard that this trail whilst difficult was made dangerous by some people not being overly patient and taking risks. As Angels Landing was another 4 hour round trip hike, its a hike best started in the morning rather than at lunch time so we decided to leave it for another time and to do the shorter Grotto Walk and then head to the Zion Lodge for a late lunch.
When we arrived at Zion Lodge, it was nice to see a small wedding taking place. Chairs had been set up in the shade of a large tree and the bride and groom had got married in front of 30 family / friends. it was a lovely setting with high cliffs and lots of greenery about…the wedding photo’s will be great.
After lunch, we headed to the Zion History Museam which sits at the base of ‘The West Temple’ and ‘Altar of Sacrifice’ – two 7500 ft+ rock formations. The views were once again jaw dropping!
We had spent two days at Zion and had seen a little bit of it. Zion is such a fabulous place!! You could spend a week here and not see it all or do all of the trails. We’re happy with what we had seen and decided that it was time to move on. Sure, we’ve not done everything, but we always like to leave a ‘little in the tank’ so that we can come back some other time and still see something new.