Zigzag to Zion

Salt Lake City
September 14 – 23, 2018

From Moab we headed to Salt Lake City. It wasn’t exactly a straight shot since our ultimate destination was Zion, but we needed to take care of some regular maintenance on the truck. Then we took our flat in Moab as a sign that we should replace our tires too. We knew they needed replaced before we headed to Alaska but with the flat we decided it was better to take care of it sooner. And after the accident we added bodywork to our list of items to take care of while we were in town. Whew that’s a lot to take care of in one week!

Heading across Highway 6 we found that we hadn’t escaped the wildfires of the summer as the sky progressively darkened.

It was pretty eerie and I could even see flames on the hillside off to our left. The next day the road was closed so I guess we lucked out.

While biding our time in Salt Lake we made a trip to Scheel’s, the giant sporting goods store we had initially found in Sioux Falls. With it’s amazing walk-thru fish tank and indoor ferris wheel it’s quite a sight. We also enjoyed dinner at Smokin Bones BBQ and amazing custard at a local family institution, Nielsen’s Frozen Custard. So yummy!

Everywhere we went in SLC we found the nicest people. The folks at the dealership and bodyshop bent over backwards to get all our tasks completed so we could make our reservation at Zion. Since we made this reservation nearly 9 months ago we didn’t want to miss out! 

Zion National Park
September 23 – October 2, 2018

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I’m not sure I knew what to expect before going to Zion, but it turned out to be a pretty awesome park.

IMG_1457We started off by getting set up in our campsite. The sites were pretty well spaced for a national park campground and it’s got to be one of the best for views! Plus you can walk a few hundred feet along the riverside path to the visitor’s center and park shuttles. Just as close, across the pedestrian bridge, is a small market, outdoor store, and a brewery.

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The main visitor’s center is a bustling place.

The first day we rode our bikes down the paved Pa’rus trail which runs about 1.5 miles north through the river valley.

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The red rock landscape surrounds you on the Pa’rus trail.

From the map it looked like we should be able to get directly to the nature center, but we ended up having to walk our bikes up a narrow, sandy spur trail and then carry them up some steep, winding steps to make it there. Thanks honey for carrying my bike! 🙂

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View behind the nature center.

Another day we rode the park shuttle (cars are not allowed into most of the valley), hopping off and on at the various stops to explore.

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The short steep hike to the viewpoint was worth the effort.

We also walked through an extremely busy Zion Lodge and then out to the Lower Emerald Pools (Upper Emerald Pools was closed). We felt like we were just following the crowd along this trail to it’s disappointing end where some water trickled over a ledge. I didn’t even keep a picture so you’ll just have to trust me that it’s not worth the 1.2 mile round trip in late summer. Our final stop this day was Big Bend where we walked down by the river a bit before catching the shuttle back.

Hiking The Narrows

The most amazing hike we did (and probably the most amazing hike of the summer) was trekking up the Virgin River to The Narrows. This is not a hike to be taken on lightly. The park brochure warns of flash floods, slippery rocks, deep water and hypothermia. But we prepared the best we could. I read about the hike in Joe’s Guide to Zion NP (citrusmilo.com) and picked a warm day with no threat of rain upstream.

After checking out the various outfitters who all charged about the same price, I decided to rent water boots and neoprene socks from the one just across the bridge because it was convenient. (Tip: You can pick up your gear the night before so you can head straight for the shuttle bus in the morning and they don’t track the stuff so if you are late getting back don’t worry.) Chuck went with his regular hiking boots and wool socks. We were both happy with our choice. While my feet didn’t stay dry or warm (the water was sloshing in and out with every step) they were never cold and Chuck reported the same. We both took our regular hiking poles although I could have gotten a wooden one with my rental. A pole is a definite must on this hike!

We thought we’d let it warm up a little so took a shuttle around 9am and rode to the end of the line. After walking a mile down the paved path we took some steps down to the river and start wading.

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This is the start of the river hiking. Not so bad. Only ankle deep water here.
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Most of the time you zigzag from one little bit of sandy shore to another.
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Then you hit a stretch like this.
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Testing the depth of the water with my pole to find the shallowest way.
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It pays to watch the folks ahead of you to ascertain the best way to go.
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And don’t forget to stop every once in a while and look up at the amazing views!

As you can see from the photos even at mid-day not much sun makes its way down to river level. While my feet were relatively comfortable, the rest of my body was cold, especially after I slipped and dunked my front side in the river. You can rent a waterproof suit, but the outfitter said it was warm enough in September that they didn’t recommend it and I didn’t see anyone wearing one. True it was 90 degrees outside, but  down in the river gorge it was much, much cooler. Even though I had on three layers, I wished I had brought another and I was jealous of those folks with their puffy jackets.

We went about 2.5 – 3 miles up the river just past where Orderville Canyon branches off and found a spot to rest a bit before heading back. Both of our knees were hurting from the ice cold water, navigating the constant uneven surface, slipping on rocks and having to fight the strong river current. It was a bit easier on the way back as you’re going downstream but still hard. The closer you get to the start the warmer it gets. In all we spent about 6 hours hiking. The big question, was it worth it? Absolutely!

My tips: Take an extra layer for warmth beyond what you think you need. Wear short shorts, or ones you can roll up. Nothing is more uncomfortable than wet fabric chafing at your thighs. Some folks opted for leggings, but I’m not sure they were any warmer. Watch the hikers ahead of you for a clue to how deep it will be and the best way to go. Use your hiking pole for balance and testing the waters. Sometimes a few feet to the left or right means the difference between thigh high and belly high. Always assume the rocks are slippery. Take high-energy, easy to eat snacks. You don’t really want to stop for long because it’s cold. A thermos of something hot would have been lovely.

Although we couldn’t top our hiking experience in The Narrows we explored a few more areas of Zion. One day we wandered in town exploring the shops and enjoying a treat at one of the restaurants. Another day we drove the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway which goes through the famous tunnel to the East Entrance. There were amazing views everywhere along this road.

We stopped at an unmarked pullout to find the “Hidden Petroglyphs” (ask a ranger or google it for an exact location). It was a short 1/4 mile walk down the hillside and back under the road to find the petroglyphs. These ancient symbols always intrigue me. Several looked like ancient backpackers.

We also hiked the Canyon Overlook trail for a different view of the canyon.

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The hike starts near the eastern end of the tunnel. 
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The trail was narrow in places with steep drop-offs. 
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Beautiful views!

We spent 10 days enjoying Zion. I’m so glad we made it for our reservation. Staying right in the park was definitely the way to go.

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Evening light on the red rocks. 

Turned out our timing was perfect. A big storm was moving in as we left.

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I loved this sign in the visitor’s center reminding us of the purpose of our national parks. We certainly enjoy visiting them. This makes number 8 this summer and 23 since the start of our adventure!

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