I am excited! This is my very first visit to Zion National Park in southern Utah. Taking the shuttle bus into Zion Canyon, the only option from mid March to late November, we’ll get off at the Grotto picnic area. From there we cross the bridge over the Virgin River and begin the hike to Angel’s Landing. One of the most famous hikes in the national park system and one of the very best short hikes in all North America, how can we not give it a go? This is the most popular hike in Zion, but many people turn back before going half way. You know me. Lung issues make elevation gains a real struggle plus I’m afraid of heights–remind me again why I’m visiting canyons? Well, why not!
I already know I cannot walk the last half mile to the top of Angel’s Landing since it requires pulling yourself along chains, using both hands for safety, then walking on a rock trail, sometimes only 3-feet wide, with 1,000 foot drops on each side. Totally not an option for me! My challenge is to make it up 1,080 feet to Scout Outlook. However, Plan B is going as far as I can without being scared to death by narrow trails along cliff edges. Always good to have a Plan B. So let’s get going. It is 7am, temperature in the mid 50’s, and the sun is beginning to hit the mountain tops. A beautiful morning to challenge that fear of heights!
The trail starts heading up right away. Then again, when you begin every hike in the bottom of the canyon, there is only one way to go–UP. This entire trail is paved until it becomes natural rock. It is so pleasant to walk along the river, listening to the babbling water with birds in the trees. That’s the beauty of getting out early.
The mountain to our left is Cathedral Mountain. What a beautiful display of the Jurassic Navajo sandstone, light colored at top but darker lower down. The sandstone sits atop the Kayenta Formation, the slope at the base of the valley floor, made up of both siltstone and sandstone. Since siltstone is weaker than sandstone, the lower parts of the mountains erode over time and destabilize the rock above. Eventually gravity takes over and sections of rock weaken, break off, and tumble down. Small rock falls are not unusual in Zion, but the good news is no one has ever been killed by rock falls in Zion.
Right along the trail is this beautiful Pale Evening Primrose (Oenothera pallida). Being so early in the growing season the flowers are blooming close to the ground rather than on three foot stems common in summer. The flower is about three inches across, and as it matures it will become pinkish. Such an unexpected beauty.
As we round a corner we get a gorgeous view of Angel’s Landing to the left. Cable Mountain is on the right and the small formation in the middle, lit across its top by the sun, is The Organ. Of course small is relative. See the shuttle bus right center?
Off to our right is this cairn. Usually used as a trail marker, it sure isn’t necessary on this trial. Then again I know plenty of people who simply enjoy piling rocks on top of each other more as works of art. I like this one. See that last small stone balanced on top? Great.
Further along the trail is another view of Cathedral Mountain. Such interesting formations at the very top.
Such fascinating sandstone structures.
I have never seen this flower in my northern home, but in the desert they are plentiful. Snowball Sand Verbena (Abronia fragrans). We are lucky to be out so early in the morning since these flowers open in the evening and close in the morning. Yes, they are relatives to our garden variety Four O’Clocks which have that same habit of enjoying soft light.
As we head uphill a bit further, we have a wonderful view of The Great White Throne, often seen as a symbol of Zion National Park. It sits 2,350 feet above the canyon floor.
Wow, we are right next to the Cathedral Mountain which means we will begin the steep part of the lower trail.
We are coming up on Walter’s Wiggles, as series of 21 short switchbacks that take you up just over 800 feet. As we approach the Wiggles, you can see people at the bottom left and stone walls that form the edges of the switchbacks up to the right corner. Can you see people and stone walls in the red circles?
The Wiggles were named after Walter Ruesch, the first superintendent for Zion. He planned then constructed the switchbacks in 1926 with no engineering knowledge or training. It was the construction crew that named the switchbacks after Walter Ruesch and the name stuck.
The climb is getting steep now. The shuttle bus is looking very small from here.
It is just amazing to see so many plants growing out of vertical rock. This is Mat Rock Spirea (Petrophytum caespitosum). It does not flower until about July, so the tufts we see are last year’s blooms waiting to drop and be replaced by the small white flowers blooming along bottle brush-like spikes.
Getting higher and I’m still strong, although walking more against the rock wall than not. See the beginning of the Wiggles to the bottom left? We’re good!
Whoa! The trail looks like it dives off the edge, oh wait, it makes a very sharp left. I’m still OK. Will hug the tree if necessary, but we are doing it!
Oh, look at this flower, never seen north of this area of Utah. Mojave Popcorn Flowers (Cryptantha confertiflora) are common from the Mojave Desert in southeastern California to northern Arizona and south Utah at elevations from 4,000-8,000 feet.
Wow–I’ve been huffing and puffing and resting to breath, but what a view! Looking south along the eastern canyon mountains, we’ve gotten pretty high. Red Arch Mountain is right in front of us then Mountain of the Sun, the Twin Brothers, and lastly, The East Temple. The shuttle bus looks so tiny from here you can barely make it out.
We are really high and on the last switchback. I’m just going to cling to the wall and turn the last corner! Meet you up ahead.
Phew. I know I was “wall slime” on these last two switchbacks, but the trail got narrow! It was less scary to forge ahead and not look down or take another picture–I made it!
The bridge over the shallow ravine to walk the trail in Refrigerator Canyon. It got its name due to the cool breezes that flows through this area.
Surprising to find these lovely small flowers blooming here. Of course this area does get a bit of sun, but their extra long stems makes it look like they are reaching for sunlight. These are Blue Dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum) and they grow from underground corms, similar to bulbs. Why such a name? Well “dicks” did not carry the same meaning in the past as it does now. It is likely a nickname based on the scientific name the same way the name “Dick” has been commonly used to refer to detectives or someone named Richard.
Well let’s continue into the canyon. It is very cool in here, but due to the shade and time of day rather than wind. There is no breeze in the canyon now.
There are so many alcoves and features in the rock wall on our right. This looks like a small cave.
On the ravine side we see the top of the cliff and trees reaching to the sky. I really think Zion is the ultimate rock garden!
Well, my knees are about done with climbing. We are almost 3/4 of the way through the canyon, but there are ups and downs ahead then a set of switchbacks to reach Scout Outlook. Considering we have to walk all the way down the 1,000 feet we just walked up, I better save my knees by going no further. I’ll wait for you here if you want to continue. It sure is beautiful in the canyon and so many birds are singing. OK, we’ll both go back, but let’s just sit and enjoy the canyon a few minutes more.
We are back to the Wiggles and this is the top of the steepest and narrowest of the switchbacks. I’ll be walking slow and being wall slime, so . . .
. . . I’ll hug the wall and meet you at the next switchback.
OK, tight turn, I’ll just slither along the wall.
Now we are getting lower and the switchbacks are a bit less steep. The real problem with coming down is you have to look down. Well, my fear of heights did not beat me this time!
A Richardson’s Geranium (Geranium richardsonii) growing beautifully on the hillsides.
Here we are back at the bridge over the Virgin River. The sun is higher now three hours later. It was so pleasant walking in the cool of the morning. This is such a beautiful view of Angel’s Landing. So why is it called Angel’s Landing? In 1916 a group of people were walking through the canyon and commented that only an angel could land on top of it. Ten years later the trail to the top was completed. Personally, I’ll let the angels have that last bit of trail to the tippy top.
I didn’t hike quite as far as planned, but did walk a bit over two miles and 1,000 feet UP! I know you are proud of me–I’m so proud of myself it is nauseating, but hey, what a challenge and a super success for this wimpy hiker!
Until next time . . . push the envelope a bit on your own adventure.