A week in Zion National Park and Colorado Monument, page 2

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

Monday, October 27

We wanted a good hike today, so we rode the shuttle bus to the trailhead of Angel's Landing, one of Zion's most popular strenuous hikes. The trail is only 2.5 miles long, but the visitor's guide warns, "Long drop-offs and narrow trail. Not for anyone fearful of heights." When I told another couple at the trailhead that we were climbing Angel's Landing, they asked, "All the way to the top?" Apparently many people never climb the last half-mile because the trail is steep and exposed to cliffs on either side.

I don't usually have any trouble hiking beside cliffs, but a hike that is easy when I'm alone is much trickier when I'm carrying a heavy, wiggling, excitable 3-year-old in my backpack. I repeatedly asked Daniel please, please do not wiggle or swing your shoulders back and forth or "push off" from rock walls when they come within your reach. Any of those things could make Daddy lose his balance and fall off an extremely high cliff. Daniel never understood the risk, but he generally cooperated.

At the top of a long set of switchbacks, Kathy pointed in front of her and asked, "Is that the end?" thinking that we were almost done. When I pointed upward and said, "No, that's where we need to go," all she could do was gasp, "No!" in disbelief. The last stretch of trail climbs a narrow fin of sandstone, and from where we stood that fin looked like a stone knife blade sticking up from the canyon floor, with people scrambling up the knife's sharp edge. Again, we would normally have no trouble climbing that, but we were both carrying wiggly children. We continued upward, and during one particularly difficult maneuver Daniel suddenly exclaimed, "Tickle, tickle, tickle!" and began tickling my shoulders. I was too focused to be ticklish, but Daniel's timing was still funny. At last we reached the top, 1488 feet above the canyon floor, with steep cliffs on 3 sides of us. We sat down for lunch, enjoying the cool breeze and dizzying views, and eventually made our way back down the trail, arriving at camp at dinnertime.

Daniel loves to play with the gravel at our campsite while Kathy cooks dinner. Ever since he heard the "David and Goliath" story in Sunday school, Daniel has been pretending to knock down giants with stones from his imaginary sling. I've answered lots of giant trivia (What do giants eat? Can giants touch the sky? What do they do?) and sometimes I get to be Goliath. At least he's never bored around camp - either he plays in the gravel or I take him to the river to play in the sand.

We learned from our campground host that the smoky haze in the park is coming from more than just campfires. The Park Service has been igniting "prescribed burns" in parts of Zion to control weeds and reduce the risk of a major fire. The smoke is thick in the canyon in the mornings, but seems to dissipate by afternoon.

Crossing the river at the beginning of our hike. We used our trailer for a portion of the hike, before the trail became too steep.

Kathy hikes towards Angel's Landing.

Parts of the trail were carved into the sides of cliffs.

Looking down at part of a long set of switchbacks called Walter's Wiggles.

Swirling patterns on the sandstone rock.

A smoky haze covered the canyon in the morning, but it dissipated in the afternoon.

The final stretch of the Angel's Landing trail. Most hikers that we saw on the trail never finished this stretch.

Kathy begins hiking the final stretch.

Resting in a secure spot on the somewhat scary trail.

The top of Angel's Landing.

Looking upstream in Zion Canyon.

Looking downstream towards our campground.

This cliff, across the river from Angel's Landing, is called the Great White Throne.

During lunch I made Daniel sit between the roots of this ponderosa pine so that he wouldn't tumble off a cliff.

Resting on our way back down the trail.

Tuesday, October 28

Distance: 26.7 miles
Riding time: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Average speed: 10.7 mph
Maximum speed: 33.4 mph

We explored a new part of the park today by bicycling up from the canyon and out through the park's east entrance. The road to the east entrance rises from under 4000 feet to over 6000 feet, first climbing a long set of switchbacks, then passing through a mountain in a mile-long tunnel, then climbing through a colorful sandstone landscape into forest and ranchland. I thought the trickiest part of the ride would be getting through the tunnel, because biking through the tunnel is prohibited. The only way to get through the tunnel is to hitch a ride in a truck, but that turned out to be surprisingly easy. On both our way up and way down, we found a truck to help us in less than one minute. Loading and unloading our bike and trailer took a while, but getting through the tunnel was less hassle than I expected.

Beyond the tunnel, the sandstone hills were engraved with pretty multicolored swirling patterns, which must be related to their origins in ancient sand dunes. We hiked up one short trail for lunch, but otherwise just biked. Daniel and Maggie took long naps in their trailer, and Kathy and I gave our backs a rest by biking rather than hiking.

When we arrived back at camp, Daniel and I made sand castles down by the river. I let him use a disposable cup to scoop river water out onto the dry sand, telling him to be careful as he reached down from the riverbank, but eventually he slipped off the bank and splashed down into the water, soaking everything but his head. He cried as we walked back to camp for dry clothes, but only because the river had swept away his cup.

Maggie gets up for breakfast.

Entrance of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel.

On the east side of the park a trail leads up to this overlook of Zion Canyon. The roadway switchbacks leading up to the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel are in the shadows on the left.

We ate lunch in a sandy alcove along our trail.

Looking out from our lunch spot.

Looking back at our lunch spot - the dark alcove on the left.

Most of the rock surfaces in east Zion were covered with swirling patterns like these.

Checkerboard Mesa has a rare pattern of crosshatched grooves.

A windmill spins on a large ranch east of the park.

Rock formations along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway.


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