ZION! A place so immaculate that it makes me scream out its name. ZIIIIOOOON! Now that I got that out of my system I can move on. Zion National Park in southwestern Utah undeniably deserves the name bestowed upon it. Meaning “the Holy Sanctuary” in Arabic and the Hebrew word for “Jerusalem”, Zion National Park is Nature’s promised land. It is home to three ecosystems with over 900 species of plant life and the homeland and spiritual destination for 8,000 years of people. If Eden did exist, then I would put a hardy wager down that it was located somewhere within Zion’s sandstone canyons. I feel devout just thinking about the scarlet canyon walls, the buttery yellow cottonwood trees, and the imposing rock towers and mesas that unyieldingly extend to the sky in a manner that does not ask for your respect, it demands it. ZION! Okay, that was last one.
Zion was an absolute privilege to be able to visit. For four days we lived and breathed all things Zion. We were conflicted between hurrying from one attraction to the next to try to see it all or slowing down to take the time to reflect at each location and let the pulse of Zion flow through us. We compromised by doing a little of each. Inside Zion’s 146,598 acres of faultlessness are some of the country’s most scenic views, most memorable hikes and most tranquil night skies. There really is something for everyone to enjoy here. If you visit Zion and don’t get a bellyful of blissful butterflies fluttering about then you may want to visit a doctor for something is genuinely wrong with you.
If you can’t tell, Zion left quite the impression on us. Let me explain why. The first walk we did through the park was along the Pa’rus trail. An easy paved path that follows the Virgin River for 3.5 miles, it was the perfect introduction to the park. When walking this trail, the first thing to take notice of is the Virgin River with its current of pure water. Although beautiful, it’s just a little guy compared to some of America’s more notorious rivers. Don’t let its size fool you though, for this river is to thank for the landscape before you. Over the course of time, the Virgin River ceaselessly carved its way through the sandstone slowly crafting its masterpiece – Zion Canyon. And it’s still at work which is surreal to think about. After the Pa’rus Trail we visited Weeping Rock. A super short trail to a canyon wall that drips water from the cliff face in a fashion that makes it look as if it is weeping. I heard a few visitors say Weeping Rock looks sad. I couldn’t disagree with them more. I’m convinced it’s tears of joy that stream from Weeping Rock. A rock ecstatic with its place in the world and not afraid to show it. Hanging gardens perched above feed from the springs that flow from the wall. A sight that may just make you weep.
Exploration of Zion is made easy by a free shuttle bus that runs along the six-mile Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. To eliminate congestion and park pollution, taking the shuttle is the only option to see the canyon road that is ranked amongst the top drives in the entire national park system. There are seven stops on the shuttle’s route and we recommend getting off at each one of them. Each stop delivers you to a different mystical piece of the park. One of our favorite drop off points was the Emerald Pools which is accessible via the Keyanta Trail. There are three separate pools to visit – the lower, middle and upper. For a truly magical experience we suggest the lower and upper pools. They look as if they are right out of a painting. A reflective pool of the most mesmerizing water rests in peaceful calmness enclosed within the steep red canyon walls. All of the canyon’s remarkable features reflect perfectly in the still water which leaves the impression of an inverted dimension that you’re staring into. It is difficult to determine where one world ends and the other begins. A place that just doesn’t seem possible to exist in a desert.
Angels Landing was the grand finale for us in Zion. A true sphincter puckering experience. That’s a horribly gross description but it’s the most honest way I can think of to describe this hike. Twenty-one switchbacks, known as Walter’s Wiggles in honor of the first park superintendent who designed the trail, lead very vertically up to Angels Landing. Angels Landing is one of the many impressive rock formations that reside within Zion Canyon. A rock formation so towering that it was believed unreachable and that only an angel would ever be able to graze its top. Marianna and I may be short a set of wings and halos but we somehow managed to reach its summit. An accomplishment we are proud to boast of. Not for the faint of heart or the vertigo impaired, this is one hike that can send chilling rushes of fear through the body. The last half mile of the hike requires the assistance of dangling chains that are secured to the rock by bolts. At one point a narrow land bridge must be traversed that has a thousand foot drop to its left and the same to its right. A sphincter puckering experience. All fear subsides the second the top is reached.
While we were balanced on the top of Angels Landing reflecting on life, we witnessed a mournful yet beautiful sight. A brother and sister had climbed to the summit with the ashes of their father. It was always their father’s dream to visit Zion but sadly he was not able to before passing. His children decided to make the visit for him and spread his ashes from the highest peak. Watching his ashes briefly swirl in the wind before being carried away was a poignant moment. A reminder that life is fleeting and to do the things that matter most to you while you still can. Angels Landing – what a suitable site for a soul to be set free.
For anyone that has visited Zion before you would be asking how the heck we skipped The Narrows. The Narrows is probably the most iconic feature of the park and consists of a 9.4-16 mile hike through a narrow passage in a slot canyon (trudging through water for the entire journey). Well let me start with saying that we would have loved to have done this hike. Two factors contributed to us having to skip it. For one, we travel with a furry companion and due to the length of the hike he would have had to been boarded for the day. Second, this time of year is cold in Utah. Eight hours wading through ice water just wasn’t our top priority. No questions asked, we will be back to do The Narrows as soon as possible. To compensate for missing out on The Narrows we did a similar but less grand slot canyon hike. A short drive outside of Zion National Park is the town of Kanarraville, UT. A once hidden trail known only to the townspeople is now a very popular hike on the travelers’ circuit. Kanarra Creek Trail or Kanarraville Falls is its name and it is awesome. It’s a dog friendly, 4.8-mile hike straight into a slot canyon walking through a lovely stream that ends in a waterfall. A nice substitute for The Narrows to hold us over until we get back to Zion.
Not enough good can be said about Zion but that will have to do for now. Seventy miles down the road from Zion is its cousin, Bryce Canyon National Park, and it is calling our name. If Bryce Canyon has a fraction of the appeal of Zion then I know that we’re in for a treat. So we’re off to cruise the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway and navigate its famous 1.1 mile tunnel carved through the Zion Canyon wall. Completed in 1930 it is a stunning feat of engineering ingenuity and significantly shortens the journey from Zion to Bryce. To Bryce Canyon we go!