By Joan Larsen
The summer of 2016 . . . and a day to remember forever. Monsoon rains with high winds from Arizona had travelled northward, flooding all in that direction. Waterfalls never seen before poured from the Grand Canyon’s rim, turning the Colorado River at its base a muddy red. Seasoned rafters on the river had never before seen its like.
The storms blew northward, slamming into Utah’s red rock cliffs of Zion with such force that mammoth rocks that had remained in place for hundreds of years separated from their walls, bouncing downward and smashing onto the eastern highway into the national park.
The photo tells its own story. We were there to see its aftermath.
Driving in – just a few hours’ drive from the airport in Las Vegas the day following the rockfall – we saw the sun out, the world washed fresh. “Just for us”, we thought. As you come from the west, the town of Springdale, Utah – with its beautiful motels and restaurants – is where you will park your car and stay. And it is from Springdale that the most well-thought-out shuttle service into the park originates – stopping at a series of heart-stopping destinations within the park that are irresistible to jump off-and-on at.
My suggestion for Zion in summer is to jump on that 6:30 AM constantly running shuttle into the park and get your hiking started while you still have the beauty of the trails almost to yourself. Short and sweet, the Weeping Rock hike packs a lot of beauty into a short walk in early morning. Breathtaking.
But it had been a few years since we had returned to our favorite trail of all National Parks – Angels Landing. Could we do it now that we were not the “spring chickens” we once were?? We told ourselves we could turn around and head down if the physical challenges – real challenges as we ascended the heights — became too much. We stopped to rest – well, a bit more often than we had ever done before – snapping a few photos then to give you our new angles and new perspective of the climb.
After the hike along the river, there was what we laughingly called “a gradual rise”. The views were gorgeous! But then above us was Walter’s Wiggles, a series of 21 steep switchbacks, that –well – we found were still doable when taken at a slower pace this year.
At the top of the Wiggles, a choice must be made. For many, one look at what lies ahead and they realize their limits, heading down. That last half mile upward involves travel along a steep, narrow ridge with support chains anchored along the route. The chains looked shiny new and set to last . . . but to reach Angels Landing at 5790 feet took sheer guts this time. We could die doing this. Others had.
Angels Landing is one of the most famous trails in the world and deserves its place with the best. That last half mile – you know, the part with the chains – we will be forever happy to say we have done once again. But now – a bit older and not as nimble – I think we will be content to live on its memories forever after!!!
Lounging at our Springdale, Utah motel, surrounded by gorgeous scenery, seemed deserved that afternoon and evening. But, once again, we got an early start in the morning to try out a trek through Zion’s premier canyon — considered to be one of the most touted and breathtaking adventures in America. Zion Narrows is not to be missed. The park ranger suits you up with boots and helps with appropriate waterproof attire – and then you are off.
Hanging gardens burst from dramatically colored perpendicular walls. Trickling water threads its way through moss covered boulders. This is the most narrow section of Zion Canyon, and every turn and the beauty of what lies ahead in the sensuous rock walls and waterfalls makes you gasp. This time you are wading in water instead of climbing. Just know that the underwater rocks can be a bit slippery. The Zion Narrows truly deserves its reputation as one of the top hikes in the entire U.S. Park system. Do go, remembering going only a short distance will bring lasting memories. But where else do you hike entirely in water for the whole trail???
The parks of Utah provided the “escape” we needed this summer. . and, in other years, spring and fall we have found to be ideal seasons as well with the changing color and cooler temperatures appealing. As for Zion National Park, we long ago discovered that going one time was not enough. We also found that we are still not too old for great adventures . . . and new discoveries.
Yes, we do believe that the best is yet to come.
Writer Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth. But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again. She has done research in these lands of ice, and considers Antarctica to be her “other home.”