Rocky Zion High & Environs
Apr 15, 2009
David Rich 1000 Words
R O C K Y Z I O N H I G H & E N V I R O N S
In the middle of hiking an easy loop in Zion an April blizzard hit me in the face, rendering the plethora of buttes treacherous footing and my ears frost-bitten by bitty hail. To escape I jetted down to the adjacent deserts of Nevada and Utah to warm up and reconnoiter, promptly attracted to the Valley of Fire. This is a great name for an unknown Nevada State Park, a creative brochure describing it in words that for me made it a don’t miss destination: fiery red cliffs.
Upon entry to the Valley of Fire one of the great secrets of the human race was promptly revealed: we suffer mass color blindness. There are actually no really red rocks on the entire planet. Every single red-rock extravaganza is actually orange, such as around Sedona or outside Denver, Ayers Rock (Uluru for purists) in Oz or Kastellerizon Island in Greece, analogous to the hair color of some folks from Ireland. Still, the Valley of Fire contained the most colorful sandstone on the planet, second only (perhaps) to Petra in central Jordan.
Envision pastel layers of eggplant, blueberries, sulfur, egg-whites and ubiquitous orangey red, which composes Valley of Fire State Park Nevada, a miniscule few miles from the north shore of Lake Meade, seldom visited except by those living in where what-happens- stays-there, or in neighboring Overton, a strung-out village ten miles long.
Though Lake Meade is in the middle of a multi-year drought, waterline down a hundred feet (30 meters), the Lake remains a shimmering oasis in the midst of a vast desert.
At Echo cove men were fishing, bikinied babes sunbathing and catfish crowding the surface for handouts that would infuriate any conservative politician.
After a few lazy days on the Lake and tramping the vivid Valley of Fire the upper level storm system blew itself out and I headed back to the heights of Zion.
Zion is for everyone, whether couch potato or beserko hiker but inside the main park they all ride together on a shuttle system that replaced private vehicle access in 2000. Fortunately buses dawdle by every few minutes, reducing carbon emissions by 12 tons a day, whisking hikers to fabulous vistas and views that will equally stun the average couch potato, unrestricted to a finite TV screen.
Truly dedicated slugs, and many with wee children, settle for the 90 minute shuttle loop, gazing out the windows at sights too angled to comprehend, 14 roundtrip miles (23 kilometers). Many are tempted by Wizard of Oz imagery to hike the less than three hours Emerald Pools loop, the Parks’ most popular hike, obviously named by another color-blind human being. Though the hike is relatively easy and pleasant the pools are seldom to never emerald or any identifiable shade of green, instead retaining the color of the stony soil below, which is to say boring brown; again the wizard is revealed as a fraud.
But other easy hikes produce the fabled goods, such as Weeping Rock, a short paved hike that delights children of all ages with its permanently dripping façade of immense spongy limestone, covered with ferns and flowers and likely doable by most any slug potato or wee child. For the exceptional who cannot face the entire kilometer (half mile) loop to Weeping Rock there’s the 100 meter (yard) path to the viewpoint opposite the Court of the Patriarchs, an elevation gain of 40 feet (11 meters). The few religiously disinclined should beware; most every spectacular butte in Zion is named after a religious event, concept or figure, for these people perhaps conjuring the Wizard of Oz.
My favorite medium hike in places may seem vertical, up to Angel’s Landing; switchbacks called Walter’s Wiggles scale a sheer butte and continue through refrigerator canyon where the sun seldom shines to Scout lookout; there the real hike begins up chains along a narrow ridge with 1500 foot (450 meter) drops on either side.
The payoff is sheer fun and dramatic photos that make Angel’s Landing the most popular hike in the park, which perhaps means the average Zion hiker may watch less television that the average American.
Another excellent hike continues past the Weeping Rock trail to Hidden Valley, the reward a narrow canyon that after the two mile-long maintained trail ends continues for miles up rock-falls and dry waterfalls of medium-climbing difficulty. The reward is an utter escape from the crowds, at least half Europeans, that clog Zion from April to October, a solitude of beauty surrounded by vertiginous spires of multicolored stone.
Zion’s water hikes, such as the spectacular near-slot canyon narrows up the Virgin River are too cold and fast moving before summer, similar to the Subway, generally considered Zion’s most spectacular hike up the left fork of North Creek. I left these two hikes for warmer water time, heading instead for the BLM’s massive Red Cliffs Recreation area just north of St. George, which is as some may guess, crammed with orange cliffs.
When you go to Zion & environs: Don’t miss Nevada’s idylls of Lake Meade and the excellent Valley of the Fire State Park, admission a bargain at $6 a car. Camping on Lake Meade and in Zion is half price for those folks age 62 and up with a Golden Age Access or Interagency Senior passes, which are the world’s best bargain at $10 for life. An annual vehicle/family pass for all US national parks costs $80. Camping at Zion’s Watchman (reservations only) with electric is $9 for seniors, $18 for younger folk; at South campground (first come first served) it’s $8 and $16 with no hook-ups. Reserve up to six months ahead for Watchman at www.recreation.gov or call 877-444-6777. Accommodation at Zion Lodge can be reserved at www.zionlodge.com. Hotels and such are also available in Springdale, Rockville, Mt. Carmel Junction, Kanab, St. George and Cedar City. Generally see www.nps.gov/zion.