When I get a chance to hike in Zion National Park I go almost giddy! I had that opportunity again on Saturday after our quarterly board meeting of the Zion Natural History Association, when three of us decided to make a quick jaunt up the Virgin River into the Zion Narrows.
Our intrepid hiking trio consisted of: Jock Whitworth, Superintendent of Zion National Park; Dave Clove, Chairman of the Zion National Park Foundation; and me, famous outdoor enthusiast and sometimes artist.
The day was overcast and slightly threatening, but cool and wonderful as we stepped off the paved river trail and joined a caravan of other hikers ready to slosh their way up-river into the world-famous Zion Narrows.
Hundreds of eager explorers of every age, nationality and physical ability can be seen as the walk begins, donning every type of clothing or non-clothing imaginable. Some are decked in special water boots with wick-dry clothing and UV hats, while others wear just tennis shoes, shorts, and a ball-cap. But this is one hike where everyone gets wet, and hikers need to plan accordingly.
The water this time of year is mild, but chest-deep in many places, which brings a short gasp the first time hikers drop in. Sometimes the water is quite swift as well which makes negotiating the slippery rocks and boulders a real challenge.
For many, a hiking stick provides a "third leg" offering more stability. But regardless, a fall or two is always part of the adventure and scratched knees are a common site.
A short way into the river, hikers encounter the "Golden Wall" where water continually seeps from the sandstone into the canyon. A sparkling waterfall (Mystery Falls) flows down from Mystery Canyon in the center making a perfect Kodak photo spot. Brilliant green ferns and water plants grow in abundance in the lushest areas along the river.
It is hard to imagine the huge amounts of rock and sand moved daily by this river which seems so mild and pleasant as we enjoy its coolness. But as all Zion hikers know, flash floods come frequently and without notice, carving the canyon walls and leaving boulders of massive size in their wake. The evidence is ever-present along the river.
Fewer hikers are seen the further up-river we get, but here we encounter the more adventurous souls who left early that morning rapelling through Imlay Canyon, or hiking from Chamberlain Ranch to complete the 14-hour one-day trip through the entire narrows. Some spend the night in the canyon halfway making the trip more fun and manageable, but others dislike carrying the gear -- sleeping bags etc. with the mandate of "packing it in and packing it out" that comes with obtaining a permit for that journey. But most people can get the "Zion Narrows Experience" and have tons of fun without the necessity of a back-country trail permit just be doing as we are, walking up-river from the bottom.
As the afternoon winds down we decide to make a short side-trip up narrow Orderville Canyon. Some hikers and canyoneers enter the narrows by rapelling into this canyon which is a nice shorter trip. Of course special canyoneering gear and skills are necessary for that.
On this day Orderville Canyon seems slightly gray. Evidence of the many recent lightning fires can be seen on the sand and walls as ashes and soot are washed downriver.
After a short exploration we turn around and reluctantly begin the trek back down the river. The river is the same, but the views change, along with the light, creating a different look and new vistas as we weave through the canyon walls.
Back at the trailhead we say goodbye to the river and share experiences with satisfied fellow hikers who we've come to know along the trail.
This family from San Diego comes to Zion every year and photographs their growing children at the same place each trip to record their growth. When the children are bigger and more physically able they plan to do the "Angels Landing Trail" a very dangerous and physically demanding hike, definitely not for kids and those afraid of heights.
But the Virgin River Walk and trail into the Narrows at this time of year is well-suited to most ages and abilities. Remember though, nature is beautiful and inviting but can be cruel for the unprepared and those who do not respect it. Take plenty of water, dress right, and use common sense.
Now we head down the trail to the Temple of Sinawava shuttle bus stop, and a nice ride back to the cars. Another unbelievable day in Zion National Park--aaaaaah, life is good.
For a great description of this and other Zion hikes with fantastic photographs see Joe's Guide to Zion National Park