Hiking in Zion: Part 1

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It was cold and windy when we entered Zion National Park via the East entrance from Kanab, Utah. I got carded using my National Park Senior Pass by the young ranger at the entrance kiosk, and as we proceeded through we were struck by the sheer grandeur of the magnificent Checkerboard Mesa. There was a recent dusting of snow on top and we rubber-necked all the way down the Mount Zion Carmel Highway to our desired camping spot in the “South” campground (which is really north of the only other campground in Zion canyon, the “Watchman”). Never having visited Zion before, we were quite lucky to snag a beautiful spot near the Pa’rus bike trail with a vista of the marvelous Watchman tower just across the Virgin River.

Once set up, we wandered the ½ mile to the visitor’s center that was closed by now, but we scoped out the Watchman campground and learned it has hookups and was seriously RV up-scale from the funky tent & small camper environment in the South campground. We’re pleased, and if one were to be staying for a spell, I suppose staying in the Watchman would be nice if you don’t mind big RV’s. Especially with generators with the hookups.

The next morning, we scouted out the Zion Human History Museum, a short walk from our camper, and saw the well-produced 20-minute film on the Park. We then continued up the Pa’rus trail to the “Canyon Junction” shuttle stop. From this junction, the eastern fork heads up the Carmel Hwy to the tunnel and points east, while the northern fork continues up the canyon on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Familiar with our surroundings, we headed back for lunch and an afternoon bike ride up the Scenic route.

The ride was mostly flat and narrow. We wore our bright orange florescent hunting vests so drivers could see us. The ranger warned us that most drivers are looking at scenery and not at cyclists, but we were undaunted and found we were no different from motorists: the scenery was breathtaking! This is, by far, the most memorable bike ride I’ve ever been on, and that’s saying something.

Mind you that, in 3 days, all auto traffic up the canyon will stop, replaced by the shuttles. I spoke with a ranger about creating a cycle trail from the Junction (where the Pa’rus ends) to the final stop, Riverside Walk, which leads to “The Narrows.” He didn’t think it would be value added since the shuttles carry bikes as well as passengers. One additional note: when riding on a bicycle, shuttles are not permitted to pass. Cyclists must dismount before the shuttle will proceed. They cycle through every 6 minutes or so, so that might get annoying, but since the shuttles weren’t running, all we had to worry about were the few cars who were out in the intermittent light rain. We completed the easy ride to the final “stop” and walked the paved & easy 1.5 mile River Walk trail eventually leading to the “Narrows.” We turned back when the trail morphed into a streambed, and decided it was time to head home.

Late afternoon was a beautiful time for walking, and our bubble was burst when, returning to our bikes, we discovered Sooney’s IronHorse had a flat. Doubly irritating was our pump didn’t have the correct valve for her unique inner tube. Triply irritating was the rain that had begun falling with an attitude. No problem, however. Some kind Albertans in a big pickup carried Sooney and her bike down to the Canyon Junction shuttle stop, arriving just moments after the drenched Nick. What a guy.

With all that behind us, we feasted gloriously and awakened to a frosty, sunny morning. The nearest trailhead is the “Watchman” trail heading east from the visitor’s center. After 1.5 miles we were atop an easily summited butte that provided us wonderful panoramas of distant scenic canyon to the north and the local town of Springdale just outside the park entrance. It’s there we discovered the Zion Canyon Coffee Company where, for the price of a couple delicious beverages, we Internetted well into the afternoon.

While biking up the Scenic Canyon Hwy, future hikes were planned. A couple miles up the canyon is the Zion Lodge and the trailhead to the Emerald Pools. Farther north is the short Weeping Rock trailhead, where, for an additional 550 calories, one can extend the hike to the Hidden Canyon or, for a full day’s outing, Observation Point. That’s our destination for tomorrow as the weather appears to be clearing.

This is such a beautiful place. Our next visit will be in April-May (Cinco Golf Tournament be damned). There’s so much beauty in Utah that traveling the distance to get to Zion makes complete sense to see all that Utah as to offer, preferably with traveling companions. Any takers?

Read more about our adventure at “Hiking in Zion: Part 2

Photos from this leg of our trip may be viewed at Zion National Park