A week in Zion National Park and Colorado Monument, 2008

Page 1: Zion Canyon
Page 2: Angel's Landing and East Zion
Page 3: Emerald Pools and Hidden Canyon
Page 4: Colorado Monument

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Summer is over in northern Colorado, and autumn has set in with chilly temperatures, strong winds and falling leaves. Kathy and I have been hoping to take one last family vacation before winter sets in, and we think we've found a good opportunity - we will spend next week biking and hiking in Zion National Park in southwest Utah. This desert park is intensely hot in the summer (100+°F,) but often has perfect weather in late October. Zion is a good park for bicycling. From April through October, the road through Zion Canyon (the park's most popular area) is accessible only by bicycle or shuttle bus. We should be able to enjoy the canyon from our tandem bicycle without fighting traffic. Our children, Daniel and Maggie, will ride behind us in our bicycle trailer. Our kids rode together in the trailer during our summer vacation earlier this year, and it worked well enough, but this week may be the last vacation that our kids share a trailer. Daniel keeps growing bigger (he's 3 years old) and he won't fit in there with Maggie much longer. I'll need to teach him how to ride a bicycle this winter.

Zion has several good trails that we will hike with Daniel in a backpack and Maggie in a front baby carrier. Again, since Daniel is growing so fast, this could be the last vacation that I hike with him on my back.

Our long drive to the park today (4 a.m. to 5 p.m.) was uneventful, but it could have become a huge headache if we had actually run out of gasoline, rather than just come extremely close to doing so. I never noticed the "No Services next 109 miles" sign on I-70 near the Utah border, and by the time I asked Kathy to check our map for the next town with a gas station, we were out in a desert wilderness with our gas tank less than 1/4 full. We will be careful not to make the same mistake on our way home. Our return trip should be easier since we plan to break it into two legs, with a day off in between to see friends in Fruita, Colorado, and to bike through Colorado National Monument.


Lunch break at a rest stop near the Utah border.


Daniel helps his dad set up the tent.


Dinnertime for Maggie.


"The Watchman" - a mountain on the east side of the valley across from our campground.

Sunday, October 26

Distance: 15.8 miles
Riding time: 1 hour, 23 minutes
Average speed: 11.4 mph
Maximum speed: 26.9 mph

Our only goal today was to bike the length of Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, a 6-mile road that follows the Virgin River. On average the road isn't steep, so this was an easy goal, and we took our time making breakfast and getting ready to go. The weather was almost perfect, being cloudless with a high temperature around 80°F. The only problem with the weather was the slight haze in the lower canyon caused by the many campfires that were burning in our campground last night. The smoke was chokingly thick last night, and we could still smell smoke through much of the canyon today. I know that many folks can't imagine camping without a campfire, but please - if you don't need to cook over fire, and the evening isn't cold, then do your lungs a favor and don't light a fire.

Zion Canyon is surrounded by some of the tallest sandstone cliffs in the world - the tallest cliff here is about 3800 feet. The sandstone strata have various shades of red, tan and gray, and the thickest stratum (from which most of the cliffs have formed) is a layer of red "Navajo Sandstone" left over from 3000-foot-tall sand dunes that covered a huge desert in this area millions of years ago. We saw rock climbers scaling a few of the cliffs. We parked our bike to walk 2 short hikes named "Court of the Patriarchs" and "Riverside Walk." To prevent erosion both trails are paved, which worked great with our bicycle trailer. We switched it into stroller mode and pushed it along, never needing to carry our children. The Riverside Walk follows the Virgin River right up to the entrance of a slot canyon, where hikers must wade through the river if they wish to continue. We turned around there today, but might hike the slot canyon later this week.

Tonight I coaxed Daniel to sleep by strolling him down a bike trail in the dark. There's a new moon tonight, so we both of us were staring upward, admiring the stars and Milky Way.


Maggie at breakfast in her snowsuit. The morning was cool until the sun finally shined into the valley.


Kathy on the Parus Trail, which connects the campgrounds to Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.


The Virgin River that carved out Zion Canyon.


Court of the Patriarchs. These mountains are named Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The park service claims that a Methodist minister named most of Zion's landmarks back in 1916, but some landmarks have distinctly Mormon names like Mount Moroni or Kolob Canyon.


Prickly pear cactus




Lunch beside the Virgin River


Hiking the Riverside Walk. The cliff to the right of Kathy and Daniel is an example of a hanging garden - plants grow on the face of the cliff because the porous sandstone provides water.


Black and white streaks on the cliffs show where temporary waterfalls form after rainstorms.


Maggie and Daniel smile and talk to other hikers on the trail.


Biking down Zion Canyon.


Playing on the riverbank in our campground before dinner.


Daniel tries one of Kathy's Halloween cookies.

NEXT

Page 1: Zion Canyon
Page 2: Angel's Landing and East Zion
Page 3: Emerald Pools and Hidden Canyon
Page 4: Colorado Monument