There are five national parks in Utah. Visiting all five has been something I’ve wanted to check off for a couple of years now. Having visited three (Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef) a few years ago made the other two (Bryce and Zion) seem all the more out of reach, but this summer, thanks to Mom’s planning and vision, we were able to strike out west once more and knock out the final two.
As we were coming from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon heading north into Utah, the first on our list was Zion National Park. Not having done much research in advance, I wasn’t quite prepared for the breathtaking landscape Zion would hold for us.
One of the older parks, Zion was given national park status by president Taft in 1919. It’s most well known for the 15 mile Zion Canyon through which the North Fork Virgin River runs. It’s unique in that its geography allows for a variety of life zones of plant life and animals. These were to be a prominent feature of our visit.
Zion today is also known for how busy it is. Granted we were there in early summer, therefore early tourist season, but the number of people was a bit overwhelming, even though I had heard plenty about the masses beforehand. The park runs mainly on a shuttle system to transport visitors throughout the park simply because it would be impossible to provide parking for the many vehicles that visit each day.
Our route had us enter the East Entrance, meaning we would drive through the park along the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway before coming to Springdale, just outside the main gate. The drive was incredible as we descended into the canyon with rising rock all around and sparse vegetation. The road was a series of winding turns, each revealing yet another jaw-dropping vantage point. I’m glad we entered the park from this direction as it oriented us to what we were eventually to see; one of the most stunning landscapes I’ve ever witnessed.
We only had one full day in the park, and we made the most of it. Hopping on the earliest Springdale transport, we were off into the park right away (early as it was, there was still a line for the shuttle) as the sun was just beginning to light the valley. Our first stop was the Emerald Pools, a series of three pools all fed by the same source as it makes its way down into the valley.
At the first pool, we witnessed the most dramatic of the falls, and in the morning light, the water shimmered like diamonds jumping off the cliff face. To think there was such water here in the desert was surprising, but it turned out water was to be a feature throughout our entire visit to the park.
We then climbed to the other two pools higher in elevation. It was not terribly strenuous, but it was enough to get out legs warmed up and our hearts pumping a bit. Finally, at the top, we were rewarded with a beautiful pool of water, the source of the lower waterfall. We rested for a short while and then made our way back down.
Our next stop was the lodge situated in the middle of the park, with a tremendous green underneath the towering branches of mighty cottonwood trees, for a late-morning snack. We then headed for the terminus of the very efficient shuttle route to the Temple of Sinawava, a one-mile hike along the Virgin River which leads to the trailhead for The Narrows.
The most striking thing about this hike was, once again, the presence of water and its impact. It was not at all like we were in a desert, but rather some lush valley where trees grew thick, plants and flowers found purchase in rock walls, and all around was vibrant life. It was astounding to see the river flowing strongly and just as amusing to watch children play in the current along the way (even though I was grumpy about them messing up my shots of the river.)
As we began to head back to the entrance of the park, we made sure to stop off for a remarkable view of The Great White Throne and then a short hike up a steep trail to witness the Weeping Rock; again water traveling through the rock from high above and out through the more porous sandstone below.
This had made for a pretty full day, and it was all the more wonderful and memorable to have spent it with my mom as it was her 75th birthday and Zion was a place she had always wanted to see. We made our way back to the hotel in the late afternoon to rest when my brother came up with the idea that launched the next phase of our adventure for that day – we were to hike The Narrows.