Pt. 1 - Zippin' into Zion
"It's a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realize what's changed is you." - F. Scott Fitzgerald
Sitting down and looking back at the week, I still can't imagine what a whirlwind of a week I just went through.
There's no way that I could even begin to describe how incredibly magical Zion was. It's been on my bucket list for a long time and one of the major goals that I had this year was trying to go to at least one National Park. Now, I'm happy to say that I've crossed two off my list (Zion & Grand Canyon) and will be well on my way to checking off another two when I venture to Grand Teton and Yellowstone in June! Whew! What an incredible year this will be!
We started this grand adventure by flying into Vegas and getting out as soon as possible into the tiniest Toyota Yaris of all time. I would like to state, for the record, that 3 large packs and 2 backpacks fit into the car -- much to the dismay of the rental car lady who distinctly stressed that we needed a much larger, much more expensive rental. This car was seriously laughable in it's smallness, but that little tiger drove through 3 states, a million miles, through mountains, desert, and Vegas. Good job, Toyota.
I had a relative plan going into Zion - Angel's Landing & the Narrows. I went 1 for 2 on this adventure as the Narrows never got low enough (slow enough?) for us to get in. Bucket list item still remains. I probably also can't count Angel's Landing either, but we'll get to that later.
Left Austin at 6:10a.
Arrive 7:10a Las Vegas. Eat breakfast. Eat all the things. Seriously, PublicUs, we came back to you on the return. You were amazing.
We arrived into Zion late into the afternoon and rolled up in the Watchman Campground. Some relative lack of planning on my part left us lucky enough to snag a last-minute cancellation into the RV side of Watchman, but we didn't have reservations for the second two nights.
Watchman is an amazing campground. I didn't know then how spoiled I would be, but the facilities were clean and the views were amazing! We were surrounded on all sides by high red rock plateaus and white fuzz from the trees was blowing around in the wind. From the tent, it looked like it was snowing.
The weather couldn't have been more picturesque, either. Whatever weather reports I had been looking at leading up to the trip were dead wrong and the weather changed pretty much every day. The highs ranged into the 90s down in the low 40s at night. The perfect temperature to sleep! I had just ordered a new sleeping bag from Marmot and for the first few nights, I was gloriously too warm! Seriously, one of the best purchases I've made in a long time!
Fresh out of the car after a 2+ hour road trip from Vegas, we quickly set up camp and got to hiking! I wasn't sure how long we had until the sun went down and we had meals to cook, so we hit the short Watchman trail. It felt so good to shake my legs out and play on the trails. Surprisingly, we saw several other trail runners out exploring. Felt right at home!
I don't think that there is a bad view of Zion. Every time you turned a corner, there was another level of a view that just got BETTER! Getting to the top of Watchman was about 4.5 miles and we were ready for dinner!
This was my first experience bringing along any kind of backpacking meals, but these were delicious! Props to the inventors of rehydrated foodstuffs! Seriously, I could probably eat these on most days.
I also taught Paul how to play Gin Rummy in Zion (this may have been a mistake). So evenings were spent drinking local beer and playing cards. Great success.
'Sleeping in' is really not a thing when you're camping. Going to bed when it's too dark to see the cards anymore means that you're up when the sun is up.
6:30a in Zion meant breakfast oatmeal! Thank you little Coleman stove for your help in making coffee and oatmeal a daily reality. It was just cool enough in the mornings that the coffee felt amazing underneath my fleece. But the cooler weather in the morning also afforded us a chance to get out on the hikes before the temperature got out of control.
Day 2 was Observation Point, arguably one of my favorite hikes on this entire trip. There's a lot of talk about Angel's Landing in Zion, but I would contend that Observation has the real views. It was about 8.5 miles round trip on the day to the top and back, and it took every bit of 4.5 hours to hike up (even if we were taking tons of pictures).
One thing that is interesting about Zion is the amount of paved trails on the switchbacks throughout the park. Obviously, this is put into place by the large amount of foot traffic that the park sees yearly, but it does take away a bit of the rustic feeling of a true hike. (I say this now, before I had seen the trails in the Grand Canyon..)
But the Observation Point hike does have some of the most diverse terrain of any of the hikes that we went on. At one point, you're on switchbacks. Then you creep through some slot canyon and pop out next to some eerie cool pools. Take a few more steps and you're back to red rock and trees everywhere. It's really just an incredibly magical adventure!
Not to mention, you're rewarded with one of the best views of the park when you get to the top. It's stunning. You can look forever in all directions, completely unobstructed. Coupled with the fact that the hike was one of the longest in the park, not that many people were at the top! Hooray! Perfect lunch spot. Perfect time to whip out the pre-made tacos.
Not gonna lie, we probably looked like true Texans (says the non-Texan) opening up our CRABB (Chicken, Rice, Avocado, Black Bean!) tacos up at the top, but they came in handy in moments like this. And, even better, we had to show the Austin TSA that a whole suitcase full of frozen tacos was not, in fact, a bomb. Win, win.
We headed back down from Observation Point and veered into the much shorter, but equally beautiful, Weeping Rock Trail. About a .5 mile up from the start of the OP trail, was a paved path leading back to a small cove. Cool water was dripping down from the foliage and the rock wall. It was so nice to sit for a few minutes and soak in the cool air after being fully exposed in the sun at the top of the Point.
It's amazing how quickly day goes by when you're having fun, but it was soon time for more meals, more cards, and more beer!
I got extra lucky (seriously, this doesn't happen often!) because I was able to snag ANOTHER last-minute Watchman cancellation in the walk-up tent area, so we packed up the tent into car, parked at the Visitor Center, and went to wait for the shuttle.
My attempt at scoring a Narrows permit was thwarted. Snow melt made the Narrows impassable on the one shot that we had signed up for, so it was a quick switch to take the bus to Angel's Landing.
Angel's Landing is the park's 'premier' hike, whatever that means. Let's be honest - the whole park is great. Did I say that already? But Angel's Landing was aptly named because it's so high and isolated that 'only Angels could land on it.' I like it. Let's go.
So here's the thing. I have a healthy fear of heights, but all things considered, I told myself that I would not be a complete and utter wienie and if I had to butt-scoot all the way to the damn top of this thing, I was going to do it.
Here's another thing. That all goes out the window when there's a cliff to your left and a bunch of people desperately clinging and slipping on chains in front of you. I will proudly stand here and say that I sat my happy ass at the bottom of the chains and let Paul go up. I figured not falling off the mountain was a solid reason for sitting down and refusing to go any further.
Considering that only 6 people have fallen off since 2004, I figure my odds of not dying that day were pretty good, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. I did, after all, score 3 VERY difficult-to-come-by spots in Watchman and I felt like my luck was pretty much extended.
However, the views were absolutely amazing from the top. And the bottom.
The river valley at the bottom of Angel's Landing was incredible. The water was freezing (did I say I wanted to trek the Narrows in THAT??!), but after another long and hot hike in the sun, it felt amazing to soak my feet in the water. Not to mention, the view UP from the ground of Angel's Landing is pretty neat, too. Have I mentioned I loved playing in Zion yet?
We capped off the day with a short trip to the Lower Emerald Pools before heading back to set up camp again for the night.
So here's where my story of Zion ends. There was, in the original itinerary, a plan to stay a fourth day (Angel's Landing would have taken the last slot), but with no Narrows in sight and no campground reserved, we were left scratching our heads with what to do on the final day.
In NO way am I suggesting that we had "seen it all" at Zion, but without a solid plan, no backpacking packs or permits, we decided it was time to pull an audible and shift gears.
Completely off the map, but long on my bucket list, we decided to pack up camp in the morning and head to Sedona! Check back soon as I chronicle the second part of our adventure!
Until next time,