I consider myself to be fairly well versed in the English language. My high school graduation present was an unabridged dictionary and, despite multiple moves in the intervening years, it’s so cherished it’s never seen the inside of a box. I was in Latin club. I am fascinated by etymology. According to one of those expert quizzes you find on Facebook, my vocabulary is in the top 0.01% of English speakers and I know so many words I can even make up my own. Essentially, I am the modern day (and female) version of Shakespeare. Everyone knows that if a quiz you find on Facebook says it’s true, well then, it is unquestionably accurate and who are we to doubt the veracity of such a proclamation?
With that in mind, I state the following:
I have no idea how to describe Zion National Park. Or Bryce Canyon. Or Escalante. Or Capitol Reef or Goblin or anything in Utah Canyon Country. Period.
But I’ll try. More accurately, I’ll tell you what we did and then show you lots of pictures, because I’d have to make up an entirely new language to encapsulate what that area of the country is like.
We got a glimpse of Zion’s glory when we entered Springdale, the town at the base of the park. Even the view from the gas station was photo-worthy. When we stopped at the local market to pick up provisions for dinner I remarked to the cashier that it must be incredible to live there. “Eh, you get used to it,” he said.
“Huh?” I sputtered. That was blasphemy! The young man was obviously suffering from an extreme case of jadedness, an impression that increased when we got into the actual park. Entering Zion was like driving into an artist’s rendering. The intensity was nearly overwhelming. The colors were HDR vivid, the contrast of red mountains against an unbelievable blue sky breathtakingly crisp and bright.
Although we visited in March there was a long line of cars to enter the park. The campgrounds were full before noon and finding a parking space by the visitor center was, shall we say, challenging. Earlier I had said to Jim that it wouldn’t be busy because it was off-season... With more than eight million visitors a year I have a feeling that there is no off-season and Zion National Park is never not busy.
The park is so popular that there’s only one scenic drive, and if you want to do any hiking beyond what’s available from the road, which is to say most of the park, you have to take a shuttle. Since we were planning on visiting Bryce Canyon we needed to take SR-9 through Zion and only had time to stop for one of those trails.
But, oh, what a trail it was.
After exiting a mile-long tunnel through Mount Carmel we got lucky when a pickup truck backed out of the parking lot. If we’d been thirty seconds later we would have missed it, and would have missed Overlook Trail. A mile round-trip, a sign greets hikers with a picture of a goat and the following warning:
“This rocky, uneven trail is not for anyone fearful of heights, although most dropoffs are fenced.”
Most dropoffs are fenced. That meant some weren’t.
I was already a little trepidatious. We hadn’t done a lot of hiking in the past three weeks and, as I’ve mentioned a few times, I come from the land of flat horizons and no elevation. We were about a mile high; could I make it? I wasn’t worried about Jim. He’s from Montana, and although he hasn’t lived there in decades he’s still got some of the mountain man in him.
If I had to stop and take a breath, fine, but I had to - had to - make it to the top of that trail. One of the things I said when we were planning this trip was that I was not going to miss a view because of my physical fitness, or lack thereof.
I made it! I didn’t even have to stop to slow my heart rate or take a drink of water, even though the trail started by climbing hand-over-hand up switchbacks that ascended a third of the elevation almost immediately. Descending hikers told us the first part was the worst section and it would even out from there. It did, and we followed the path as it ducked under a rocky cutout in the sandstone, and hugged the side of the mountain on a trail less than a foot wide, and gingerly stepped on sloped rock until we reached the overlook and then - that’s when I lost my breath.
A thousand feet above the canyon floor we looked at the intersection of Zion and Pine Canyons in absolute, sheer awe. Below we saw the winding road we’d driven ever higher until finally emerging from that tunnel. Chipmunks scampered about. Families and couples and friends explored and took photo after photo.
I was invigorated. I felt like I could have hiked for days. We turned around and began our descent, and I said to Jim, “Look at me! I’m a goat!”
There’s a reason this was a big deal. A few years before Jim had proposed while we were on a camping trip in the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois. We had recently discovered our shared love of the outdoors and wanted to explore as many trails as possible. Except I couldn’t. We came to one that started off with an uphill climb and I could not physically do it. I was embarrassed and ashamed and angry, and I vowed that it would not happen again. So in Zion, when I was able to scramble up and down a “moderate” trail a mile above sea level, I was proud, and I was happy, and I was grateful that I didn’t keep Jim from experiencing one of the most beautiful sites we’ve ever seen.
We wanted to stay in Zion with its brilliant colors and crimped, crinkled mountains. We had to leave too soon, much too soon. But Utah had much more to show us, more than we ever could have imagined.
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