August 8-11 — the second leg of our three-NP honeymoon trip was spent in Zion NP, another fabulous national park in Utah. [Trivia for Mom: There are five NPs in Utah.]
When you visit Zion NP, you spend a lot of time looking up, for you are at the bottom of a cottonwood tree-lined canyon that was carved out by the Virgin River over a million years ago. This is such a pretty national park! The nickname “the land of rainbow canyons” refers to the iron oxide and other minerals in the sandstone that leave a wash of red, pink, purple, yellow and orange, which are remarkable to see at varying times of the day.
There are a couple of entrances to Zion, each with its own Visitor Center. The main one is the east entrance, and this is where we entered after traveling across beautiful Highway 9 in southwest Utah.** Just inside the park we were greeted by a majestic criss-crossed rock structure that resembles a giant checkerboard. This is Checkerboard Mesa, resplendent with vertical fissures due to freeze/thaw and horizontal lines due to wind direction. “Welcome to Zion NP” it seemed to announce, “this is a very unique and lovely place and you’re going to enjoy your time here!”
And indeed we did! Once again, Fred arranged fabulous lodging for us, and we enjoyed three nights in The Cabins at Zion Lodge. The food at The Lodge was adequate, so we ate a couple of meals in the nearby town of Springdale, which is a great little town just outside the southern park entrance. Inside the park, the shuttle bus service between the Visitor Center, Zion Lodge, campgrounds, etc. is outstanding! Not surprising, this shuttle system was created in 2000 in response to traffic problems and crowding in the park, specifically up the canyon road. All of this tourist traffic threatened the peace and quiet that is the draw to come to a place like this in the first place! So now, with private cars banned during the high season, visiting in Zion and using the shuttle service is convenient and fun.
It is apparent that Zion was settled by early God-fearing pioneers, for they gave the magnificent monoliths and high cliffs Biblical names such as Altar of Sacrifice, The West Temple and The Great White Throne.
Hover your pointer over the photo, below, then click on the arrows to scroll through our photos from Zion.
As Zion is known for its spectacular hiking, we did lots of it. We found ourselves drawn to the more challenging trails, including the famed Angels Landing. This bad boy is a 5-mile/5-hour climb, tagged on trail maps with words like “strenuous” and “steep” and “cliff-side” – not for the faint of heart! We climbed 1,520′ up steep switchbacks, through the coolness of Refrigerator Canyon, and up Walter’s Wiggles to the ridge line where the trail narrows and goes up steeply to a few false summits, then finally ends at an incredible rocky bald perch with 360° views of Zion Canyon. Chains assist the climb on in the steepest parts, those marked “very long drop-offs”- again, not for the novice hiker.
Another notable hike was our 8+ mile “wet” hike up the Virgin River into the Zion Narrows. While cardiovascularly easy, this one required careful attention to footing, as the river had a pretty strong current, and one slight mis-step on the submerged rocks meant you were down and fully wet. We waded up to an area called Wall Street where the canyon walls squeezed down to just 22′ wide. We had our cameras and picnic lunch food packed in dry bags in our backpacks in the event we stumbled and got completely immersed, but fortunately we were able, with the aid of a big wooden hiking pole, to stay upright as we walked up the river about four miles, and then came back down. Surprisingly, going down river was a lot harder than going up. With the river current coming at us from behind, the water pushed each step, and the rocks in the water weren’t too stable. We made it, though, and all in all, this was one unforgettable hike, as our photos confirm.
If you are new to visiting national parks, we’ll predict that Zion is surely to become a favorite. Once you’ve visited here, you’ll want to come back again and again and again – like we do!
** About a week after we left Zion and visited the Grand Canyon, we drove back up through southern Utah on our way back to the Salt Lake City airport. On August 16, 2012, we visited the Kolob Canyons entrance & Visitor Center which is the smaller, much less visited part of Zion NP in the northwest corner of the park. From here we saw many more spectacular rock formations, and of course, I got another stamp in my book!