The next park we went to was the notably and nobly-named Zion National Park. You know, the hill in Jerusalem on which the City of David was built from the Old Testament of the Bible. Zion and many of its landmarks were named by the Mormon people. I found the names of things such as “Angel’s Landing” and “The Patriarchs” quite apt as this park is stunning. We were amazed by the haystack-shaped mountains, the greenery, the streams and rivers and the deer wandering about casually, as if they lived in Eden. This park was totally packed, however. The uncommonly warm start to autumn allowed for an extended “Indian summer” and therefore the crowds hung on. We thought we would be avoiding large groups of people by travelling in September—the month of school’s return, and therefore for many parents, a return to normal life. Not so our luck. It is such a shame that everyone else also loves mountains, greenery, streams and rivers and wants to see it all too. We were perhaps forgetting all the European travelers and retired ones too when thinking about this trip. Despite the crowds, Zion is another favourite of mine. Our campsite was the prettiest one we’ve stayed at, the amenities were great, and the scenery very garden-of-eden-like.
Callum did more physical exploring of the park than I did, and on our first full day there, he did the “Angel’s Landing” hike which is listed as “strenuous on a well maintained trail”. Callum said it was only a “5 out of 10” for difficulty for him, though. He says he could have gotten to the top faster, but people are slow on the 21 switchbacks and then on the anchored support chains that you have to use to climb up. Yeah, that’s why I didn’t go. The hike information says people with a fear of heights shouldn’t do it. Callum agrees that I probably wouldn’t have liked it that much. However, he loved it and his photographs from the top indeed look like the promised land or something else equally as important, biblically speaking.
Another day we took the shuttle and hopped off at certain points to enjoy the view and do mini walks around. Between early spring and late fall there is a free shuttle which you have to use, as cars aren’t allowed on certain roads. The park tries to eliminate parking problems as well as how many cars and RV’s are driving around. We thought it was great because it’s more environmental, the shuttle was free, and it takes away the stress of figuring out where to go and park. Once the busy season is over cars are once again allowed as there are not as many visitors. There is also a shuttle that goes into the town of Springdale which stops at all the major tourist shops and hotels and campgrounds. This is another example of how well set-up the park is.
One negative is that there are no showers at the campground (we stayed at the Watchman) and so we had to walk (or drive) into Springdale to find some showers ($5 for 8 minutes). It was alright, though. Another downside to our time was the meat-eating bees. Yes. Meat-eating black and white devils with stingers buzzing around incessantly, attacking us whilst trying to cook on our camp stove. They didn’t just go for the meat, they seemed very interested in iceberg lettuce, bread, cheese, granola bars, cutting boards, knives, plates, sieves, pots of boiling water, piping not frying pans, plastic bags, etc. It made food-preparation and consumption most difficult and unpleasant. We looked around the campsite at other people and wondered if they were having the same problem. Apparently not. The bees only liked us. We overheard the camp hosts talking about how “D 25” was the worst for bees, because there used to be a hive there or something. Used to be. Yeah, right. And wasn’t it our luck, we were staying in D 25. Overall, though, we really liked our campsite.
One of my favourite activities on the whole USA trip was the hike we did in “the Narrows” of the Virgin River. This is a very popular and legendary thing to do in the park. So, you basically take the shuttle to the “Temple of Sinawava” and walk down the paved path which twists around and up and down through a lovely forest closely grown to the rock of the mountains. The river snakes along beside the path and then suddenly there is a wide opening. A small set of steps leads to the dry rocky bottom of the riverbed where hundreds of people are preparing to walk forward into the water. Some of them have rented special waterproof socks and shoes. Some of them wear their own (like us). Some have huge backpacks filled with enough provisions for a day and a night, others take nothing but a camera. Some have walking sticks (we did) and others wish they had.
The hike itself is basically just walking up the river, the water alternating between only ankle deep to thigh or waist deep. The bottom is made up of bowling-ball size rocks which you must maneuver around or over the best you can without falling. The current is not that strong but swift enough to make you dizzy when you stare down all the time trying not to fall. The hiking poles were necessary and I made good use of them. The point is to go as far as you like. Hence, the walk can be as easy or as difficult as you make it. We hiked about 2 hours in so that our walk would be four hours total. We were trying to get away from people, as always, and so with every bend in the river, we were hoping to see fewer neon jackets and pants, but it seemed the people merely multiplied every time we turned a corner. The river itself gets narrower and narrower the further you walk, and at some points the mountains on either side form a slot canyon of smooth stone which looks beautiful. We eventually came to a fork in the river where most people seemed to go the more traveled left hand route. We took the opportunity to go down the narrower path to the right and found ourselves alone for an entire five minutes! Lots of brave photographers were setting up their fancy tripods and trying to get that iconic canyon shot with blurred river water below shiny rock surfaces. We stopped in a spot where I didn’t want to go further—to do so, I’d have to go more than waist deep in water to climb up and over a small waterfall. We had a picnic lunch, then separated so Callum could continue adventuring whilst I made my way back to locate a sunny spot to warm myself. We reconnected nearly an hour later and forged our way towards the start. We were fairly exhausted after walking in water for four hours, but I felt exhilarated as well. I wished I had bought the sticker from the visitor’s centre that said “I hiked the Narrows!”
My advice about Zion: be patient, there’s a lot of people. It’s worth it though! Also, avoid D 25 if you’re staying at the Watchman.