Zion National Park–Heaven on Earth?
“Hot sand on toes, cold sand in sleeping bags. I’ve come to know that memories were the best things you ever had.” -Ben Howard
After dropping our dog off in Arizona to be kindly taken care of by her grandparents for the next two months, we headed off on a long meandering path to Burning Man! The first stop was Horseshoe Bend, a crazy geological formation near the eastern end of the Grand Canyon. It’s only a mile off the lonely highway but it’s still surprising to see so many tourists and hear so many foreign languages being spoken in this crazy desolate area. The short walk down to the overlooks is totally worth it if you don’t mind your stomach turning a bit! No guard rails here, as in most of the canyon. With more than a 1000 foot straight drop off in most places, I wouldn’t recommend cliff jumping either.
After seeing the bend we crossed Lake Mead into Utah. Since it was Friday and we hadn’t made a reservation, we were assuming Zion National Park would be full and we’d just find a campsite outside the park. But, lo and behold, luck was on our side and we pulled up to the gate just in time to nab the last campsite in the park, over at Watchman Campground.
After setting up our tent next to some way-too-tame deer and a little fawn, we hiked the Watchman Trail, along the Virgin River and up a small bluff. I remember tubing in this river when I was a young girl. Warped memories from when I was really small plus the western drought in recent years made it seem significantly less “rapid” than I remembered, haAfter a good night’s sleep, we set off the next morning on the trail to Angel’s Landing, one of the most popular and strenuous hikes in the park. We were repeatedly warned of the difficulty-steep grades and sheer dropoffs and do not attempt if you’re not a confident hiker! Call us crazy, but as relatively-well-seasoned hikers, we didn’t think much of it. Granted, the trail was a lot of steep switchbacks, really tough on the thighs! The trail was really wide though so the “sheer dropoff” wasn’t quite as dangerous as they made it sound. Or so we thought! It wasn’t until we got ourselves almost 2000 feet up to the last section of trail that we got our rude awakening. I’m not sure “trail” is even the right term for the last climb up Angel’s Landing! It’s literally a skinny outcropping of slanted rock layers, with a chain bolted along the side for you to desperately cling to, while you place your feet into crazy contorted positions, precisely one after another, trying to ignore the sheer drop to your right! Ahh! Oh, and there’s only “one lane” for all hikers, so sometimes you’re practically climbing over the top of people or bear hugging them so they can pass or you can pass them. They needed some traffic control up there!
The thing is, I am not really scared of heights that much. Strap me into a harness on a belay system and I’ll hang out off the top of that precipice all day. But when I know that it’s only my own strength keeping me from falling to my death, that’s when I freak out. I know I can do it, but I’d wayyyyy rather have a lifeline. Anyway, we’d come so far, so we kept going to the top, stopping to snap a few pics, all the while our hearts still beating and palms sweating at the thought of having to go back down the same way. Luckily, we kept our cool and no one went hurtling. After finishing the sketchy section, we practically ran down the rest of the trail, and finished the whole round trip in 1/2 the time the rangers tell you it takes. Ha, at least we’ve still got that on them!