Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Zion Canyon from Observation Point

Observation Point in Zion National Park is an absolute gem. Although there are more popular hikes in the park, such as Angels Landing, two park rangers told us that this hike was their favorite. Simply put, the trail starts off with grand views, and only gets better the higher you climb.

I highly recommend starting as early in the morning as possible in order to take advantage of the shade from the towering cliffs for a large portion of your climb.

The hike begins from the Weeping Rock Trailhead, and immediately begins climbing a series of long switchbacks up Cable Mountain. Much of this trail was blasted out of the canyon walls in the 1920s. As the trail climbs higher you’ll have stunning views of Angels Landing, The Organ, and Big Bend in the Virgin River:

At roughly 1.5 miles the trail leaves the cliff side and enters into the incredibly beautiful Echo Canyon. For the next half-mile you’ll have a nice break from the relentless climbing.

In some ways Echo Canyon was even more impressive than the views from Observation Point. This narrow canyon, sitting roughly 1100 feet above the trailhead, would make a wonderful destination by itself. The trail follows along a shelf above the canyon floor, with an extremely narrow slot canyon sitting just below it.

To get an idea of the immensity of this canyon, see if you can spot my wife at the very bottom of this photo:

Looking over the side of the trail I spotted this interesting looking hole, roughly 200 feet below:

Once out of the canyon the trail begins to climb again, and will gain roughly 900 feet over the next mile. Roughly 60% of this hike has some exposure that leads to long drop-offs. However, most of the trail is at least 4-5 feet in width, with some places narrowing down to maybe three. Obviously if you have a fear of heights you’re going to feel very uncomfortable on this trail. For the most part I was able to do my normal pace, and didn’t feel any intimidation. There was one section, about a tenth-of-a-mile long near the final push to the rim that did make me a little nervous. This section of the hike stands-out prominently from Observation Point. In the photo below you can see a “Z” etched into the side of the white cliff face. This is another part of the path that has been blasted out of the rock:

Other than this one short section, if you’re used to hiking in the mountains, you likely won’t have any other problems with vertigo-inducing drop-offs.

Beyond the “Z” the trail levels out for the most part, and begins to hug the forested cliffside over the course of the last mile to Observation Point.

From Observation Point you’ll have one of the great iconic images of Zion National Park. The views are just awesome. From this vantage point Angels Landing, The Organ and Big Bend will be the most prominent landmarks almost directly below you. On the west side of the canyon you’ll see Cathedral Mountain and the Three Patriarchs. On the left is the East Rim, Cable Mountain and the Great White Throne. Running down the middle of the valley is the Virgin River as it flows towards Springdale and beyond.

Afterwards we drove into Springdale and had a great burger and an oven fired pizza from the Flying Monkey.

Trail: Observation Point
Roundtrip Distance: 8.0 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 2150 feet
Max Elevation: 6507 Feet

Hiking Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks covers 56 hikes in the two parks, as well as the surrounding areas, such as Cedar Breaks National Monument.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Emerald Pools

The hike to the Emerald Pools is another Zion classic. As a result of the excellent shuttle system, this area of the park offers several loop and one-way hiking options.

Our (mostly) one-way hike was a collection of short trails that began from the Lower Emerald Pool Trailhead across from the Zion Lodge. After visiting the lower pools we ventured up to the Upper Emerald Pool, and then proceeded down the Kayenta Trail to The Grotto area, the next stop along the shuttle system.

The hike to Lower Emerald Pool is very easy. I don’t know if it’s technically considered a box canyon, but the trail leads into a canyon that’s surrounded by three walls.

Much of the paved trail is shaded by boxelder and cottonwood trees. Along the way we heard quite a bit of “chirping” coming from the trees, and at nearly the same time, came across a small frog hopping across the path. Shortly afterwards we came to a trailside exhibit that explained that canyon tree frogs are very common in this area, and like to make a lot of noise.

Emerald Pools is essentially an oasis in the middle of the desert. Year-round seeps and springs fed pools and waterfalls that flow down the canyon walls. The two waterfalls at Lower Emerald Pool drop roughly 100 feet. Although the flow was quite sparse during our visit, water thunders over the alcove during rainstorms and the spring snow-melt.

The trail up to the Upper Emerald Pool is fairly steep and rugged, and ends at a small oasis at the base of a sheer cliff wall. Although the oasis was a nice place for a picnic, I wasn’t terribly impressed, and didn’t really think it was worth the effort to get there.

Once we returned back down to the Middle Pool area we took the Kayenta Trail to The Grotto. Although the park paper states that this trail has long drop-offs, at no point did I feel any intimidation. The trail walks past towering canyon walls, and provides great views of the Virgin River as it meanders through Zion Canyon. We also saw several lizards along this section of the hike.

Trail: Lower and Upper Emerald Pool Trails / Kayenta Trail
Total Distance: 2.6 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 270 feet
Max Elevation: 4800 Feet

Hiking Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks covers 56 hikes in the two parks, as well as the surrounding areas, such as Cedar Breaks National Monument.


Monday, October 29, 2012

Riverside Walk to The Narrows

The Riverside Walk at the far end of Zion Canyon is an extremely popular hike. The trail follows the North Fork of the Virgin River into The Narrows.

Most of Zion Canyon is very broad, but the upper reaches of the canyon narrow to only 20 or 30 feet in some places. This section of Zion Canyon, known as The Narrows, is 16 miles long, and has vertical walls that soar up to 2000 feet above the river. Within this deep gorge intrepid hikers will experience sandstone grottos, natural springs and hanging gardens.

The Riverside Walk takes visitors/hikers/adventurers to the edge of this spectacular gorge. If you’re considering proceeding further into the canyon you should note that at least 60% of your hike above the Riverside Walk will be spent wading, walking, and sometimes swimming in the frigid Virgin River. The park recommends wearing sturdy water shoes, neoprene socks, and using trekking poles. Also, be sure to check weather and flash flood conditions before venturing any significant distance into the canyon.

Unless you’re on that very first shuttle in the morning, don’t expect a wilderness experience on the Riverside Walk. Although a very nice hike, you'll have lots of companions - as in a couple hundred - literally.

The high canyon walls offer lots of shade, and provide a nice respite from the hot desert sun.

Along the paved path are several trailside exhibits. One of the unexpected features of this hike is that you’ll pass through a desert swamp, a result of the presence of the river, spring run-off and occasional cloudbursts.

As a side note, the trail was listed on the National Register of historic places in 1987.

Trail: Riverside Walk
Roundtrip Distance: 2.0 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 40 feet
Max Elevation: 4500 Feet

Hiking Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks covers 56 hikes in the two parks, as well as the surrounding areas, such as Cedar Breaks National Monument.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Zion Canyon Overlook

The third stop on our southwest odyssey took us to Zion National Park, by far the most impressive of the seven national parks and monuments we visited during our trip to Utah and Arizona.

The first hike during our two-day visit took us to the Zion Canyon Overlook on the southeast side of the park. I don’t know this for certain, but it seems like this hike isn’t quite as popular as most of the other trails in the main portion of the park. My guess is that many people skip this trail because it’s outside of the canyon. However, it really shouldn’t be overlooked. The views are absolutely stunning.

The trail begins near the east entrance to the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel. This high desert trail crosses slickrock slabs while passing through stands of pinyon pine, juniper, prickly pear and yucca. Along the way you’ll have a birds-eye view of the Pine Creek Narrows, a slot canyon that’s popular with canyoneers.

The trail does pass a few long drop-offs, but the most dangerous sections have fencing along the edges. One interesting spot along the way is the bridge you have to cross. It hugs a cliff face, below an overhang, before leading into a fairly large alcove.

This short hike ends with a magnificent view of Pine Creek Canyon and lower Zion Canyon. From this vantage point, more than a thousand feet above the Zion Canyon Floor, you’ll have commanding views of Bridge Mountain, The West Temple, Alter of Sacrifice, The Streaked Wall and The Sentinel. Many of the most iconic photos of the park come from this overlook. Unfortunately mine won’t be counted among those!

If you look closely at the wall on your left while standing at the overlook, you may notice a window in the rock. This was built as part of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel, which extends roughly 1.1 miles through the wall and provides motorists with access to the lower canyon. You may recall that a 1964 Cobra sports car, valued at $800,000, was completely consumed by a fire in the tunnel earlier this summer.

We stayed at the overlook for almost 45 minutes and saw only six other people. I was really surprised, given this was a Saturday morning and the weather was absolutely beautiful. Moreover, the morning hours provide for some of the best photo opportunities.

Trail: Canyon Overlook Trail
Roundtrip Distance: 1.0 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 163 feet
Max Elevation: 5300 Feet

Hiking Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks covers 56 hikes in the two parks, as well as the surrounding areas, such as Cedar Breaks National Monument.


Saturday, October 27, 2012

No can opener? No problem!

Have you ever arrived at your campsite only to realize that you forgot your can opener! Well, no problem! This short video offers a technique that could come in handy some day:


Friday, October 26, 2012

Occupy Wall Street

Back in September we decided it was time to join the movement! Kathy and I heeded the call from the 99% and decided it was time to Occupy Wall Street. When we reached the trailhead at Sunset Point, however, we soon discovered that we were actually among the 1%. There were only two other people ahead of us who had ventured down the Navajo Loop Trail and into the Wall Street Canyon at this point.

Lesson learned: when visiting Bryce Canyon National Park it’s far better to begin your hikes as early in the morning as possible in order to beat the crowds. If you wait until later in the morning people will begin filing in by the busloads - literally. Moreover, the changing light of early morning (or late afternoon) provides some of the best opportunities for photographing the hoodoos and canyon walls.

Our destination for the day was the Queen’s Garden Loop, which includes parts of the Navajo Loop Trail and Wall Street, while taking hikers through a beautiful maze of colorful hoodoos along the spectacular canyon floor.

Although the park recommends hiking this extremely popular loop in clockwise fashion, we did the opposite. Based on a tip we received the day before, we began our hike from Sunset Point which allowed us to explore Wall Street virtually on our own, and to ascend the more gentle grades of the Queen’s Garden Trail when climbing back to the top of the rim at Sunrise Point.

Our hike began with a rapid descent down Wall Street, probably the highlight of the hike, at least for me. The trail drops 400 feet in less than a half-mile before passing through the narrow canyon walls that provide its namesake. The park warns that more rocks fall on this trail than any other trail in the park. A major rockslide occurred here in 2006, and subsequent slides shut this section of trail down in 2010 and 2011.

At the far end of the narrow canyon there are a couple of Douglas fir trees that are estimated to be between 500 and 700 years old.

After exiting Wall Street the trail begins passing through a maze of colorful hoodoos. There were so many interesting rock formations that I found myself constantly doing 360s in order to take in all the sites. I was also quite amazed to see so many trees growing within the canyon, including pinyon pine, juniper and ponderosa pine.

Soon the Navajo Loop Trail intersects with the Queen’s Connecting Trail. Although we were more than 600 feet below the rim, and more than three-quarters of a mile away, we could still smell bacon wafting through the air from campers at the Sunset Campground.

After traveling about a mile on the Queen’s Connecting Trail you’ll reach a short side trail that leads to the Queen Victoria rock formation. I’ll let you be the judge as to whether the hoodoo resembles the famous statue in London:

After viewing the “Queen” the loop continues, and soon reaches the Queen’s Garden Trail junction. From here hikers will begin climbing back up to the top of the rim. Along the way you’ll pass through a couple man-made rock arches.

This is a classic hike, and one that should be taken even if you only have a few hours to spend in the park. The trail is well groomed but I would recommend taking a map as some of the side trails and signage can be a little confusing.

Trail: Queen’s Garden Loop
Roundtrip Distance: 3.1 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 617 feet
Max Elevation: 8017 Feet

Hiking Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks covers 56 hikes in the two parks, as well as the surrounding areas, such as Cedar Breaks National Monument.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Taking in Bryce Canyon from the Rim Trail

Over the last week or so I’ve posted a couple of blogs about our visit to Arches National Park. After spending one day at the park Kathy and I moved on to our next stop at Bryce Canyon National Park where we were able to spend two days of hiking.

Our first hike was a relatively short one, but a classic. It traversed the rim of Bryce Canyon from Sunrise Point to Inspiration Point. The entire Rim Trail extends from Fairyland Point to Bryce Point, and offers hikers the opportunity to see Bryce Canyon from "on top" along a one-way route that extends for 5.5 miles. Since the trail more or less parallels the main road through the park, hikers have the option of taking the shuttle to various points along the trail and hiking as much of it as they want. The most popular section runs between Sunrise Point and Sunset Point. We extended that section to include Upper Inspiration Point.

The section of trail between Sunrise Point and Sunset Point is an easy, flat paved surface. However, just beyond Sunset Point the trail starts to angle upwards, with the last quarter-of-a-mile up to Upper Inspiration Point being very steep.

Bryce Canyon has been sculpted through geological forces down through the millennia, and continues to be shaped by the freezing and thawing of water. The red, orange and pink colored limestone in the canyon is the result of iron oxidation. The deeper colors of red indicate higher concentrations of iron in the rock. White colored limestone, on the other hand, represents an absence of iron.

One of the overlooks along the canyon is called Fairyland Point, a very appropriate name for this park.

Although the hike gave us a nice overview, dropping down into the canyon the next day provided a far more intimate view of the park. Tomorrow we explore the Queen’s Garden Loop.

Trail: Rim Trail from Sunrise Point to Inspiration Point (and back)
Roundtrip Distance: 3.6 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 300 feet
Max Elevation: 8316 Feet

Hiking Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks covers 56 hikes in the two parks, as well as the surrounding areas, such as Cedar Breaks National Monument.