Finally arriving in the pretty town of Springdale, which forms the southern entrance of Zion National Park, we found our way to the Zion Canyon Brew Pub, perfectly located right by the park entrance under towering red peaks, to plan the following days hiking trip over a couple of their tasty American red ales. One thing to note about Utah, if you’re heading to the USA for the craft beer, perhaps Utah is not the state for you. The laws require all beers to be 4% (or less!!) and you’re not able to drink in a bar/restaurant unless you also order food (it even says so on the menu…the pretzel bites with beer cheese sauce are the cheapest option, but they’re also awesome).
When darkness set in we headed back into town looking for a place to park up for the night. Spotting another RV pulled into a dirt car park which looked dark and quiet, we joined them, awaking to find another couple of vans had joined us throughout the night. Safety in numbers!
Zions canyons were formed over thousands of years by the course of the Virgin River, and typically the canyon floor is peaceful and beautiful. When autumn arrives the yellow leaves set against the red rock and the blue/green river curving through it is a spectacular sight. But there’s also a violent side to this tranquility, and when flash floods hit the area (which they did not even two months later, delaying the Red Bull Rampage mountain bike event and claiming one hikers life) it can be extremely dangerous. In 1995 a huge landslide trapped 450 people at the Zion Lodge for over 24 hours. Virgin River don’t care. It’s so bad ass it just picks up trees and boulders and smashes the road to pieces.
Having learnt our lesson about hiking late in the day in Yosemite, we were up before sunrise to catch the first bus of the morning (7am) to Grotto Picnic Area which is the trail head for hiking to Angels Landing. One of the parks most famous hikes, this isn’t one for those scared of heights. What starts as a cruisey, gently sloping hike soon turns into 21 tight switchbacks, so starting early means you get to slog it out while still in the shade. Once at the top, the hike changes, and we encountered several groups who were leaving a member behind as they couldn’t face the final stage. Posts and metal chains lead your eye down and across an extremely narrow ridge, before climbing up and over to the final summit.
Whilst not technical, this hike is pretty extreme, and its best to keep your eye on where your feet are going so you’re not tempted to look left or right to the 1,400ft plummeting cliffs. Needless to say it’s a pretty big sense of achievement when you finally make it to the summit to take in the insane views of the canyon floor spreading out below you. Another good reason to start this hike early is that it gets busier as the day goes on, and the narrow ridge is not an easy place to pass people, especially when they’re scared shitless.
Making it safely back down, we were on a bit of a high so decided we’d hit up the Emerald Pools hike, as you can easily detour from the beginning of the Angels Landing trail head. More dark green than emerald, we were only slightly impressed, so didn’t linger too long before we headed back to the shuttle bound for The Narrows. With canyon walls towering 1,000ft above you, it is possible to hike the first few miles without a permit. But be prepared to get wet! You’ll spend most of the time hiking through the river, popping up onto the banks every now and again, before again plunging in and wading up the river. This a really unique hike and a great way to cool off to finish the day.
Back on the shuttle we passed some kids on the river bank taunting a huge tarantula, and worked out we’d managed to cover over 10km that day on three totally different hikes. The driver spent the trip pointing out numerous rock climbers visible along the canyon walls, before dropping us off a short walk from Zion Brew Pub, where we celebrated our achievements with a quick pint.
The Zion – Mt Carmel highway at the parks east entrance has to be seen to be believed. The road rises 600ft from the canyon floor in a series of tight switchbacks before passing through a long, steep, narrow tunnel which oversized vehicles and RV’s need to be escorted through, stopping traffic at either end. The drive is amazing and if you can, opt to be a passenger, the driver won’t get many chances to glance out the window whilst navigating the steep hairpin bends, especially if they’re also watching the temperature gauge as keenly as Sarah was.
We spent the night in Kanab, parked just outside of town on a back road near a power substation. The loud humming resonating from here all night probably should have told us it wasn’t the healthiest place to park, however the peace, quiet and total darkness meant we spent an amazing couple of hours wrapped in blankets, drinking a few beers and smoking a joint whilst leaning on the spare tyre and staring up at the heavens. The milky way was the most spectacular we’d seen on the trip so far and it was one of those moments you realise how amazing this universe actually is. Our wonderful peaceful nights sleep was only disturbed by some joyriders tearing past at 3am, with music blaring and screaming ‘WOO HOO!’ out the window as they passed us…twice.