Photo Friday

18 06 2010

Zion Canyon, from the Middle Emerald Pools Trail.  Stunned me then, stuns me now.

Happy Friday!

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.


Daydreaming About Zion

3 03 2010


One of our readers let us know that she’s planning a trip to Zion National Park in May.  Since Zion is one of my top three favorite National Parks, I thought now would be a good time to give some pointers…

Zion Trip Tips: Part One

Zion National Park, just north of Springdale, Utah, is captivating.  Perhaps it’s the lush greenery set against a backdrop of russet, pink and white cliffs.  Perhaps it’s the Virgin River that winds its way through the base of the canyon.  Perhaps it’s Weeping Rock, or the Emerald Pools, or the Court of the Patriarchs, or the Narrows.  Perhaps it’s Springdale itself, or the Mt. Carmel tunnel, or the wildlife, or the rangers, or…

There’s a lot to love about Zion.  Here are a few recommendations about enjoying your time in the park itself.

Utilize Zion’s shuttle service.  Actually, you don’t have much choice, since personal autos aren’t allowed into the park unless you’re staying at the lodge.  The shuttle runs frequently, quietly, and efficiently, and the shuttle drivers are like tour guides.  So sit back and enjoy your trip to the trailhead of your choice.

Hike Angel’s Landing.  I don’t care how afraid of heights you are, or how nervous you are about an intense climb.  Just do it.  Start early in the morning, when the trail will be quiet.  Pack a lunch to eat atop the peak and enjoy the spectacular views.  When you reach the final ascent, keep your eyes peeled for peregrine falcons which nest up there.  Do this early in your trip — it will inspire you for the days ahead.

Avoid Emerald Pools in the middle of the day when it will be crowded.

The Narrows

Check out the Narrows.  The Narrows, for those just joining us, is a hike that takes place in the Virgin River, at a spot in the canyon where the walls are incredibly narrow.  You can hike it from the bottom up (at the end of Riverside Walk at the Temple of Sinawava trailhead), exploring until you decide to turn around, or you can hike from the top down with a permit.  May is supposed to be one of the best times of the year to take this in-the-river hike, but you always have to check with the rangers regarding the likelihood of flash flooding.  Long term Narrows hiking (and top down) require some research and special gear can be rented from nearby outfitters, but a couple of hours of exploring from the bottom up only requires fortitude and hiking poles.

Find some ranger-led programs.  Zion rangers, like rangers in any of the parks, are helpful, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic.

Any questions?

Next time: what to do in Springdale and farther afield…

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

Hike to an Oasis: Zion National Park

12 10 2009

by joanarc4

by joanarc4

Zion National Park, in Utah, is one of my favorite places in the world.  There are reasons for this: it’s got a landscape of heart-stopping beauty, is an oasis in the middle of arid country, has a rich history (ask me about the man-made tunnel sometime), and is spectacularly well-managed and maintained.  It’s also a very easy park to visit, whether you’re solo or traveling with company.   The trails are well-marked and detailed descriptions are available in the Zion newspaper or from the helpful rangers.  The little town of Springdale, at the base of the canyon, has shops, restaurants, bars, hotels, and safe private campgrounds, and provides a free shuttle that runs up the main street and right into the park.  The park itself does not allow private automobiles to drive up into the canyon, but rather runs a squeaky clean and frequent shuttle that stops at all the main trailheads.

All of these factors mean that visiting Zion can be very relaxing (you don’t have to worry about traffic, like at Yellowstone, and parking, and finding your way), and it’s also a great place to travel solo.  There will be other solos, and the shuttle, trailheads, lodge, and museum (and Springdale) provide many opportunities to interact with other travelers.

However, it’s not just these very practical reasons that make Zion so amazing.  There’s a certain extra something about the park and the area that gets the blood pumping and…just sort of wakes you up.

One hike at Zion that’s a great starter hike for a solo hiker is the Emerald Pools Trail.  It’s populated (sometimes too populated, see below), it’s accessible, and it’s not a huge commitment.  Hiking the entire loop and the branch to the Upper pool is approximately 3 miles round trip, a 2-or-so hour hike.  Most of it is easy to moderate, with the exception of the moderately strenuous Upper pools branch.  So grab your gear and your camera, have breakfast (or lunch) at the Zion Lodge, and go for it.

The Emerald Pools Trail has three sections: Lower, Middle, and Upper.  The Lower and Middle section start from the same place, at the Zion Lodge, and meet up at the Lower Emerald Pools, while the Upper section branches off for a one-way short but steep climb to an upper pool.  The trail is so named for the algae in the pools that, particularly when the sunlight is just right, give the pools their emerald brilliance.

The Lower trail is an low-intensity trail that meanders along the Virgin River and then one of the tributaries, protected by the shade of the lush Zion greenery.  After just over half a mile, you’ll reach the Lower pool.  In the spring, waterfalls from the Middle pools up above cascade into the Lower pool, but even in the drier months this section is quite beautiful.

by joanarc4

by joanarc4

The Middle trail climbs at the start from the trailhead at Zion Lodge and then levels out, and while not difficult, the hike offers incredible views of the canyon as the path winds along the side of the canyon wall parallel to the Lower trail below. After about a mile, you’ll reach the middle pools, which cascade into the Lower pool.  Between the middle and lower pools is a series of switchbacks that take you between the falls — and the pools, so that the Middle and Lower trails can be done as a loop.

by joanarc4

by joanarc4

The Upper trail branches off from the Middle pools and heads up a steep, rugged path to the Upper pool.  Many people choose to forgo this section because it is strenuous, but it’s worth the effort.  There will be scrambling (particularly if you’re short like me) over dusty boulders, but after just a quarter mile (and another couple hundred feet of elevation gain), you’ll reach an oasis set in the side of the canyon.  The sheer canyon walls stretch straight up over the pool, and in this spot, it’s easy to forget that you’re still, in fact, perched on the side of a canyon.

by joanarc4

by joanarc4

Make no mistake: this is a popular trail.  Its location, just across from the Zion Lodge, makes it an easy hike for people to find.  It’s also somewhat iconic, a classic Zion hike, and people (I was one) are anxious to see what the fuss is about.

I have hiked this trail twice, once on a Thursday in mid-September and the second time on a Saturday morning in August.  The first time, I encountered others on the Middle and Upper trails, and the Lower was more crowded, but I did have moments to myself.  The second time, it was a bit like hiking in a shopping mall — I had to pay more attention to not stepping on the heels of the people in front of me than I did to the scenery, which isn’t ideal.  Even the Upper trail was crowded the second time, making finding a spot to sit and eat lunch difficult.

The lesson I learned: the Emerald Pools is a great hike for a solo hiker if you go mid-week while school is in session (I don’t hate kids…I actually like them; but in droves when their parents aren’t teaching them proper trail etiquette it can be a bit much).  There will still be other people, which is what you want as a solo hike when you’re just getting into it, but you’ll also be able to find yourself alone every now and then.

Second lesson: Hike the Middle trail, and not the Lower.  The Lower trail is an easy, paved, low-intensity stroll, and this route is therefore popular with families and those with less mobility.  Many people will stroll the Lower trail and reach the first pool, take photos, and troop back, making this section of the trail the most dense, particularly during the summer.

Because many people start on the Lower and return on the Lower, and others start on the Lower, climb to the Middle pools and then return on the Middle, I prefer to do the reverse — going against the flow of traffic, it allows, even when the trail is crowded below, for some quiet time on the Middle trail.

by joanarc4

by joanarc4

Pause for Station Identification (and sanity)

9 10 2009

It has been a long week.  It’s not over yet.  Since I’ve been working at full speed around the clock for the past few days, today’s real post is going to have to wait until later today or tonight.

Since I feel really bad about that, here’s a moment of zen for you.  Gaze on the photograph. 

by joanarc4

by joanarc4

Imagine yourself stepping into the photograph.  Can you feel the summer heat?  Smell the pungent greenery?  Feel serene.  Feel calm.  Take a deep breath.

Now go about your day.  Remember, it’s a long weekend.  And I’ll be back later on to talk more about exactly what is going on in that photo and why you should go there.