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Zion National Park

October 3, 2010

A few hours away from Vegas, Zion National Park is generally the first stop for most people who’re doing the Grand Circle trip from the West Coast. And Zion sets the stage for what is to come. With tall canyon walls surrounding everything from all sides, the blue sky above like an attic window letting a bit of sunshine through, lighting up nature’s treasure chest, one by one. And what treasures there are! Clear flowing rivers and streams, emerald pools, underground caves, narrow ridges just 6 feet wide with sheer drop-offs on either side, if all this does not give you an adrenalin rush, the view from Angels Landing sure will!

We had a day to spend in Zion and the Angels Landing hike requires the better part of a day. So we skipped that for this trip and did a couple other classic hikes – The Emerald Pool Trail (Lower, Middle, Upper) and an easy trail to the mystic sounding “Temple of Sinawawa” where the river-hiking trail for entering the Narrows of Zion begins.

We had not heard of river-hiking until we read up on Zion and it sounds like the most fun way to hike! Imagine a river, flowing gently along, water level not higher than your knee, maybe a few inches higher in some areas, but it also gets as low as your ankles in hot summer season when the water dries up.  Imagine walking through this river, wearing sturdy, waterproof river-shoes and on both sides are the tallest canyon walls pressing down upon you, glowing with golden streaks of red in the brilliant sunlight, specks of gold reflecting off the water ahead. It is quite a sight to think of, and we can’t wait to see it for real! But that’s for next time. When we visited in May the river levels were still quite high and it would have been more of a swim and subsequent drown rather than a hike if we attempted this then.

We started off with the popular and classic Emerald Pools trail. This is a moderate hike, one walks amongst the red sandstone and amongst the sheer cliffs and at the end of the hike, comes upon an oasis of deep green pools.

You have to do a fairly steep ascent, but it’s very worth it when you get to the pools which are surrounded by canyon walls and there is a calming sense of peace and harmony all around. Make sure to pack some sandwiches and plenty of water. A picnic by the pools makes it even more fun!

One of the most memorable parts of the hike was walking behind one of the waterfalls. The cliff walls curve naturally and the path is alongside the curve hugging the canyon walls. One of the waterfalls comes from right above the path to a small pool beyond, and you can walk beneath the falls and get your face damp with fresh beads of dew. It’s very refreshing! As you walk on the trail, there are countless steps to climb, but the spectacular sights all around and as you go higher keeps the energy up. As the shadows grew longer on the canyons, we made our way back from the Emerald pools.

Another classic trail to do in Zion is the easy walk to the beginning of the Narrows of Zion. So called because of the narrow space between canyon walls as you hike in the Virgin River. River-hiking is very popular in summer and scores of people equipped with water-proof Tevas and hiking sticks make their way down the river to the narrows.

The Virgin river was in full force when we went in May, so we could only go till the beginning of the trails. Here are the starting steps of the river-hike ending in the river! By the time we got back from the second hike, it was already well past dusk and the darkening skies were a sign that our day in Zion was coming to a close.

Angels Landing is supposed to be a very exciting hike involving plenty of adrenalin-pumping hiking across narrow paths with sheer drops on either side. Definitely not for the faint-of-heart or anybody suffering from vertigo. We found this excellent guide very helpful when planning for Zion – Click here.

When I close my eyes and think of Zion, I think of mainly the towering canyon walls. The red sandstone glowing in the sunshine and the sound of the river flowing past. We definitely plan to return to spend a few days in Zion to see the Angels Landing and the caves of the canyons.

Zion is the gateway to Bryce Canyon National Park which is 3 hours drive away. We decided to drive towards Bryce the same day to get to Panguitch city which is just 30mins away from Bryce. This gave us the advantage of being able to do the sunrise at Bryce Canyon the next morning. But this also cut short our time in Zion. So another alternative is to do the 3 hour drive from Zion to Bryce in the early morning and skip the sunrise for that day.

More about the hoodoos and breathtaking sunrises and sunsets of Bryce Canyon coming up in the next post!

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