Friday, December 23, 2016

Zion National Park, UT

Whoa! So I realized I've had this post sitting in my drafts file and haven't yet published it. Better late than never. Enjoy! This is a segment from a past trip I made out to explore Utah's five stunning national parks.

Last but not least on this grand, Utah adventure is Zion National Park. It's Utah's biggest, most-visited and oldest national park...and it's definently a winner. It's called the "heavenly city," and at a whopping 229 square miles, you can't stand in one part of this park and not awe at its triumph. Unfortunately I didn't get to spend anywhere close to enough time here than deserved, mostly because of the crowds. In 2015 alone, Zion drew some 3.6 million visitors or some 9,863 people per day. That was my single biggest complaint about Zion, it was way too crowded for my liking. But this didn't stop me from exploring. Next time I return to Utah, I'll go during the way off-season to Zion to avoid the hordes of selfie-sticks and strollers.

Zion is crazy-beautiful. It's a massive set of canyons filled with waterfalls, rivers, thriving forests and vegetation and other surprises. Many upon many viewpoints and look outs, you just stare between the canyon's towering, copper walls and ask yourself, "Is this real?" I drove in through the east entrance to the park, coming from Bryce Canyon earlier in the week. You cross the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway which weaves through the national park, straddling along side some of the tall walls as you descended downward to the park's headquarters. I hopped on the free shuttle (yeah public transport, thanks for providing that!) and headed to the trailhead for Emerald Pools Trails. The hike doesn't take too long as you climb higher into Heaps Canyon. The terrain becomes denser with thick vegetation and gorgeous trees, not to mention  jaw-dropping views. Oh those views, so, so, so epic. I spent about 90 minutes exploring the Lower, Middle and Upper Emerald Pools. It's definently a surprise when you reach the top Upper Emerald Pool, quietly placed in the shadows of skyscraper-high cliffs above it. It's tranquility will definently move you. I headed back down the trail towards the Lower Emerald Pool, where the trail takes you behind a few waterfalls pouring out from the Middle Emerald Pool above. Super cool.

I had hoped to hike up Angel's Landing next but signs and alerts throughout the park noted it was closed. Bummer, sad face. The plus side of that however, is that it allowed me to divert more time to a particular hike I had been looking forward to accomplishing this entire trip; The Narrows. The Narrows at Zion is one of those hikes that are just legendary. The type of hike you tell stories about to all of your family, friends and future kiddos. You hike in-and-out, wading through the Virgin River that carves through the narrowest part of the canyon. According to the National Park Service, walls on either side of the gorge you pass through reach up to a thousand feet tall. You've got two options for tackling The Narrows, going from the bottom-up and vice-versa. The later requires a permit to do so. I started at the base of the Temple of Sinawava area and hiked a few hours upstream. It's an incredible hike- just so, so, unique and fun. Your'e crossing parts of the river by hopping across rocks or wading in the water up to your knees or even waist at times. Being October, the water was moving at a moderate to slightly-quick pace in places and the temperature was freezing. Totally worth it! I went up probably a little over three miles into The Narrows (making it a six-mile return trip) before the sun started setting. It was like you're in some dream. Every bend you peak around is just this massive display of impressive rock. You can see where and how the Virgin River changes depths and speed, eroding away the canyon's sky-high walls. It's like an on-going art museum. The colors and shapes of the canyon walls are constantly changing. If you're going to hike The Narrows bring three things: a walking stick or hiking pole (trust me you will need this), a down jacket or warm layers if you're hiking in the fall (once that warm sun goes down and you're still in the river up to your waist you're at risk for hypothermia, yes, even in the desert) and solid hiking boots. Even waterproof boots will get soaked through. Oh and bring your camera, you're going to want to snap a million photos. DO THIS HIKE!

Thanks for a fun day Zion, I'll be back again soon.