Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Paradise in Zion

Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return,
and come with singing unto Zion;
and everlasting joy shall be upon their head:
they shall obtain gladness and joy;
and sorrow and mourning shall flee away.

--Isaiah 51:11

 Buzz dropped us off at the gates of Zion National Park, leaving the ostentatious city of Las Vegas behind. We were ready to head out into the wilderness. We inquired at the gate about fees and decided that it would be best to enter the park the next morning after spending a night in Springdale.

Paul, who runs the information booth near the gates to the park, greeted us cheerfully and answered any other questions that we had. He was sitting outdoors on a stool, which looked like it would get uncomfortable after awhile. Yet, he didn't appear to be bothered by it in the least bit. He has been helping tourists for years from this stool, and you can tell that he's not tired of it. Of course he's in the midst of a natural paradise, yet you could tell that most of all he loved to meet people and to help them. He's a very happy man, because he knows what's important.

Paul recommended a few motels for us to stay in that night and introduced us to the free shuttle system and how it works. Once the next bus arrived, we took it back to Springdale and stopped first at Pioneer Lodge. There we met Julia and Megan, two women who work at Zion in the summer and at a local ski area in the winter. They gave us a discounted rate on a room overlooking the red rocks at the edge of the park.

We left our packs behind in the room and went next door to Zion Pizza & Noodle for dinner. We got a carryout of salad and garlic bread and ate at a picnic table outside while watching the sunset.

After dinner we walked down the street to Sol Foods Market to resupply. Freebird bought me the best pocket knife there for only $1! We returned to our room to pack up all of the food. That night we soaked in the hot tub while looking up at the stars, what we could see in town anyway. For being in the middle of a tourist town, it was very peaceful.

The next day we checked out of our room and got some sandwiches for lunch. While Freebird searched for a lighter shirt to wear (it was significantly warmer here than in Washington!), I laid down in the grass and took a nap in the sunlight. Finding soft grass and sunshine felt like a luxury. It felt as if spring was arriving once again.

We took the shuttle back to the gate and crossed into the park. Seth, from the backcountry department, helped us to arrange a permit to hike through Zion Wilderness. He told us which water sources were running, which was helpful to know because most of them were dry this time of year.

Outside we filled up at the park's "spring water" station, which is actually treated water that tastes heavily of chlorine. It was disgusting, and doesn't deserve to even be called spring water! The government claims it's better for you to drink water laden with chemicals, but it's all propaganda. Nothing compares to drinking pure spring water, and anyone who knows this will attest to that.

We hopped on the other free shuttle that runs through Zion National Park and rode it to the trail that leads to Lower Emerald Pools. There we would begin our trek. We would visit a few of the tourist attractions along the way, dealing with the mobs, until we could hike in the backcountry.

Virgin River, which flows through Zion Canyon.

 On the way to Emerald Pools, we spotted an unmarked spring flowing along the path. We dumped out that chlorinated crap and filled up our bottles with the healthier water. On the long-distance trails it's common for thru-hikers to drink straight from a spring without filtering. But here at Zion, many of the tourists would never do this. They've been told by the government and the media what to believe. A fearful man stopped dead in his tracks and yelled at me, "Don't drink that water!" He sounded as if he were going to knock the bottle right out of my hand! "It has bacteria!" He meant well, and it was kind of him to be concerned about our safety. I do admire that he stopped to check on us. Despite his attempt to help, we drank this better-tasting water anyway. There was never a problem with it.

 The waterfall at the Lower Emerald Pool was running low for this time of the year. We followed the Kayenta Trail away from the crowds and wandered up the Virgin River. Very few tourists were traversing this ridge, probably because it involves a bit more hiking than they want to do.

Once through the Kayenta Trail, we merged onto West Rim Trail and followed it up to Angel's Landing. We were among crowds of tourists again as this is another main attraction in the park. But with it being so late in the day, most of them were passing us as they came back down. We aimed to get here later to watch the sunset when it was more quiet. Scrambling over a narrow, steep ledge with drops on both sides, while trying to make room for the hoards to pass by, didn't appeal to us.

A set of switchbacks known as "Walter's Wiggles" led us to the top, to the beginning of the trail to Angel's Landing. A raven greeted us there. Another concerned tourist checked on us. He was scared for us, setting out so late for Angel's Landing. Hiking back in the dark was just inconceivable to him. It's understandable that he could be so afraid because there had already been a few deaths at that location this year. But we were used to heights by now, and we assured him that we had headlamps if necessary.

A look ahead at what's to come!

Looking back at what we've already completed.

We reached Angel's Landing and reveled in the spectacular views all about us...

This man found the best spot for watching the sunset! He ended up staying longer than us. The three of us were the only ones left on Angel's Landing. While the shuttles below were rushing tourists back to the gate of the park, we sat atop the cliff in solitude and peaceful quiet, truly being in paradise.

For the majority of the way back to West Rim Trail, we never required headlamps. The stars provided enough light as we scrambled over the rocks. Not long after we returned to the trail, we found a place in some sand nearby to set up camp. For the first time in weeks, the air was warm and still. The calm weather made it possible to "cowboy camp" on an exposed ridge. As we looked up at the stars, we smiled that we weren't caught in the mess of rain and snow that had been bombarding Washington ever since we left.

The next morning we awoke to 360' views of painted cliffs and another day of sunshine.

Looking back at Angel's Landing.

We continued on West Rim Trail into the backcountry of Zion. We would be leaving the tourists behind for a few days and seeing a part of the park which Seth of the backcountry office claimed to be his favorite. Over the course of the next few days, we would see why...

Not only did we witness vibrant colors in the rock, but also in the changing foliage. We had caught up to fall once again!

On the West Rim Trail we saw various plants from other places that we've journeyed. Of course there were the expected desert plants that we saw in Moab, but I didn't expect to see the Ponderosa pine again. Smelling the sweet scent of vanilla pouring forth from its bark, I was reminded of all those days on the PCT which already felt like 20 years ago...

It was difficult to find West Rim Spring at first, located near a trail junction. A couple observed us as we filled up our bottles straight from the source (no filtering necessary!). They had lugged ridiculous amounts of water along with them and refused to trust this or any of the springs on the trail.

Looking back at part of the trail we hiked that day, as seen from West Rim Spring.

At West Rim Spring, the trail splits in two. We opted to take the one that branched to the right. Soon we were led to a lush forest whose floors are covered in ferns.... an oasis in the middle of the desert.

I never expected to see these hills and forests in Zion. I'm amazed at the diversity of this place...

Potato Hollow.

We met a runner named Nathan from Boulder, Colorado, whom we talked with while overlooking Wildcat Canyon. He had raced past us a few hours earlier. He was on Angel's Landing that morning, ran all the way to Lava Point, and was now on a return trip. He was in no hurry to leave our conversation, though the sun would be setting in a couple of hours and he carried no headlamp. We had to be the ones to remind him to go!

We turned onto Wildcat Canyon Trail, filled up at another spring, and then walked through sunset.

Looking south at Wildcat Canyon.
After the light faded, we found a campsite along the trail. The next morning we checked out one of the routes that groups often take to the Subway, deciding whether or not we wanted to go. We heard that some climbing would be involved, but we didn't know whether or not we needed equipment.

Of course our inquiry was settled immediately. A group passed us, carrying some climbing gear with them. They would be repelling down some walls to get to the Subway. Now knowing that we needed gear and experience for this, we changed our minds. We decided to explore some other areas of the park and eventually get to the Subway by a different route.

A small, wind-swept tree on top of a mountain.

Virga, rain that evaporates before hitting the ground, in the west.

As we looked at this incredible view to the west, we knew that soon an astounding sunset would occur. We set up camp nearby and then returned to watch the show...

The next morning we awoke to behold golden mountains all around us...

Filtering water from a stream.

Getting our shirts wet for "air conditioning."
A bit of trail magic we found, though we didn't keep it because it was too heavy.

As we journeyed along that day, this butterfly guided us. It would circle about us and play with us for a bit, and then fly ahead and lead the way. This went on for a couple of hours. Certainly this butterfly was an angel looking out for us.

A pool! We swam the rest of the afternoon until the sun was behind the ridge.

We arrived at the route to the Subway! Freebird and I hiked together part of the way, but after a few minutes I turned around and returned to the packs we had left behind to set up camp. I was feeling so tired from scrambling over the rocks all day and didn't want and to be hopping across the stream several times to get to the Subway. Freebird went ahead while I relaxed and got dinner ready.

As I began to prepare dinner, I watched another beautiful sunset. Freebird made it all the way to the Subway and returned once it was dark. He told me of how incredible it was, and I was happy that he got the chance to experience it. He was the one who had heard of the Subway, and he had been talking about it the last few days. I felt no desire to go there and was content with walking out early the next morning. We would be returning to Springdale to get another motel room, to be closer to other areas of the park that we still wanted to visit.

So in the morning, as planned, we started to hike out. But Freebird was hesitating. He kept checking with me to make sure that leaving for town was what I really wanted to do. Yes, it really was so. But after continuous questions I realized that he wanted to see the Subway again! So we turned around... and I reluctantly went along. I didn't want to do any more scrambling or hopping across streams. There were several crossings where my legs were too short to make it alone. Freebird helped me across each time. 

Eventually I surrendered to the beautiful experience and enjoyed the journey. The Subway and the entire route there turned out to be something that I'll always treasure...

On the way we met a Korean film crew, who were using a drone to capture dramatic angles of Zion with their camera. They would use the video in a documentary for a popular education channel in South Korea.

Dedicated to Michele.

"The Wave"

Arriving at the Subway...

A photographer who's hiked sections of the PCT.

Freebird waded through the frigid waters to see Keyhole Falls. I decided to go for it too!

Keyhole Falls.

We watched a group of climbers repel into the canyon, via the route we would've taken, had we the experience and equipment!

It was quite a show, but we were wet and shivering! We had to find some sunlight to dry ourselves! So we left the Subway and began our journey back to the parking lot. Thank God we had this beautiful outdoor experience all day, rather than sit in a motel room in Springdale!

We found a cozy, sandy beach and laid out in the sun. This was the first patch of sun since leaving the Subway. Several other hikers who plunged in the stream had the same idea and took a break to warm up nearby us. Once we were dry enough, it was time to move on.

Upon leaving Zion Wilderness, we came to a fork in the path. The only sign there were these 2 arrows! Now that's helpful! We just chose a direction and made it back to the parking lot.

We arrived at the road and began to hitch. Soon a man named Bill stopped for us. He was a bit frazzled about trying to get back to his wife before sunset, and yet he went out of his way to take us to Springdale. Bill and his wife run a nonprofit to help troubled youth and give them hope, preventing suicides. Here's some views from his car as we drove into Springdale...

Bill dropped us off at the edge of town and sped away to return to his wife. We walked into town, heading for Pioneer Lodge. Something told me that we wouldn't be staying there though. Sure enough, there were no rooms available. But we got to say hello to Julia and Megan once again, and it was worth it to visit. We crossed the street to check the rates at Zion Park Motel.

This motel, run by a friendly local family for over 40 years, was more affordable than Pioneer Lodge. Alma, the owner of the motel, has worked here since the motel first opened its doors. Kris, the receptionist and daughter-in-law of Alma, checked us into a room.

The parking spot closest to the office is reserved for none other than Alma. A few years ago, there was actually a man named Alma who parked here as a joke. He then politely moved his car elsewhere.

In the morning we watched the sunrise from Zion Park Motel's pool, then went for a stroll around town....

During our explorations we found a couple of stores that operate on a trust system! They allow tourists to pick out whatever they would like, even when they're not open, trusting that they'll pay them. I've heard stories of a society that operated like this in the past, from my parents' and grandparents' stories, but I never hear of such a business these days. How refreshing to hear!

After eating lunch in town, we grabbed some snacks to go. We left our bags in our room and rode the free shuttle through the park. We had a few more stops we wanted to visit before leaving Zion.

Court of the Patriarchs - Abraham Peak, Isaac Peak, and Jacob Peak.

Looking up at Angel's Landing.

We hopped back on the bus and took it to the Temple of Sinawava stop. From here we meandered up Virgin River via the Riverside Walk. At the end of this paved trail we would begin to hike through another treasure of Zion - the Narrows.

Hikers returning from an exploration of the Narrows...

We picked out some hiking sticks that were propped against a wall....

...and we're off!

A few feet later, we took a snack break!

We split off into a narrow side canyon...

It was chilly farther up-canyon! I turned around and walked back to the trail head.

The return trip was much quicker. I returned the walking stick to its place on the wall and sat on a bench for a few minutes, waiting on Freebird. He had waded up-river to a waterfall and then turned around. Once we met up again we ventured back down Riverside Walk and caught one of the last shuttles to the park's entrance.

In the morning we did some research on the guest computer in Zion Park Motel's lobby, coming up with ideas of where to go next and printing maps. Alma noticed that I was feeling cold and pulled a blanket out of their closet for me. All these small acts of kindness continue to show me just how loving everyone really is...

We boarded the shuttle in Springdale and took it back to the park's entrance. Paul was there again, sitting on his stool and talking to all of the tourists. He appeared just as happy as we had seen him when we first arrived. He recognized our faces and was thrilled to see us again! Freebird told Paul that he is one of the happiest people that he's ever seen, and that we know it's not because of the natural beauty all around him (as he told us last time). It's because he loves people. Paul grinned and began to share stories of people that he's met from all around the world.

As Paul had welcomed us from the start, he was the one to see us off. We walked through the gates one last time and boarded the Zion shuttle on the other side. Just as Paul loves to do, we had the opportunity to help a newcomer to the park and advise to some places to visit.

Just as the shuttle was veering off of the main road to delve further into the park, we got off. We needed to take Highway 9 to proceed eastward. This scenic highway of switchbacks and tunnels would lead us on to our next adventures.

Along came a ride who offered for us to sit with an unobstructed, 180' view in the back of their pickup truck. I couldn't imagine a better way to finish a splendid week at Zion National Park!

Our ride could only take us as far as the East Rim trail. It was getting late in the day, so rather than try to await another ride to take us to Kanab, we chose to spend one more night in the park. At the East Rim trail head we met two men who were also staying in that area for one night. We thought to ourselves that perhaps they would be our ride out the next day.

The following morning, sure enough, we saw those two men in the parking lot again. They shared with us some stories of living in Alaska and their current travels around the Southwest. They highly recommended Kodachrome State Park, which we then considered a possibility along our return trip to Moab. Then, without us asking, they offered us a ride to the junction of Highway 9 and U.S. Highway 89. We climbed into their truck and we were off, leaving behind one of southern Utah's gems that is Zion National Park.

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