Hiking Zion: The Thrill of a Lifetime

IMG_0587Yesterday, my son Jack and I finally made it to Zion National Park, a hiking dream of mine for many years. I have the honor of being the keynote speaker for the Annual Southern Utah Federal Law Symposium being held in St. George, Utah. It was a wonderful opportunity to hike the Zion, though today proved a bit more exciting than expected. (There are a few iPhone pictures from yesterday)

IMG_0585As some of you know, I am an avid hiker. Indeed it is my only real pastime and I particularly like our national parks. Zion has been one of my longest standing desires for hikes and when the invitation to speak came through, I was eager to combine the trip with a couple days of hiking.

Jack and I reached the park later than expected after getting lost in Southern Utah. However, when we found the park, we were in total awe. Even though we had been planning the hikes for weeks, nothing prepares you for the sheer beauty of this place. We hiked the “emerald pond trails” before heading further into the park for the difficult Angel’s Landing hike. We took the shuttle to the site. Half way along the trail however we got sidetracked watching the mule deer and following them to a river. We sat by the river in this cathedral-like valley for a long period surrounded by mule deer. With the sun going down (and owls hooting in the background), we worked our way back up the trail only to watch the last shuttle leave the pickup point. Behind us were three mountain climbers from Spain with ropes and climbing gear. They spoke a little English and we waited together hoping for one last bus. It was soon pitch black and we had no choice but to hike down toward a lodge. Fortunately one of our Spanish friends from the Basque country had a headlamp. We walked through the mountain the dark until we found the lodge and we were able to call a ranger.

IMG_0578This is the second time in two weeks that the United States Park Service saved my bacon. A ranger came for us but could only take two (Jack rode in the “cage” for prisoners in the back which he loved!). I was then able to retrieve our rental jeep and drive back to pick up our Spanish friends. It was beautiful with a thousand stars and giant moon in the sky. Jack and I then went down into the town and ate at the “Bit and Spur” bar and played pool where we showed as much skill as we did timeliness on the hike. In the end we made three great friends and a really really nice ranger. I have to say that my experience with Park rangers has left me with a deep appreciation for these men and women. They are unfailingly helpful and remarkably non-judgmental when you do such moronic things like miss the last shuttle in the middle of a remote national park. They are also incredibly knowledgable about every aspect of their work.

IMG_0597After my speech on Friday, we will return for another hike and then on Saturday we plan to tackle the “Narrows” where you hike in water that can reach your chest in a 16 mile narrow canyon. If you have not planned a trip to Southern Utah, you really need to do so. It is an experience that truly cleanses even the most over-worked or tortured soul. Beauty is found in tiny desert flowers and extends to the soaring cliffs of painted sandstone. Just make sure you make the last shuttle out.

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35 thoughts on “Hiking Zion: The Thrill of a Lifetime

  1. As a Utah native, I’m glad you enjoyed Zion. It is a fabulous place to visit. And I’m glad you had the benefit of the rangers’ hospitality. Take care while hiking the Narrows. Relatives of mine once got caught there in a thunderstorm, when the forecast said there was a 15% chance of rain. They survived, but they had a close call — the water rose up to their shoulders at a point when they could not go any higher in the canyon.

    If you have not experienced other parts of southern Utah, I suggest the following for your next trip to Utah: 1) Capitol Reef, 2) Lake Powell by houseboat, if the lake is not too low, and 3) Bryce Canyon.

    Driving the I-70 over the San Rafael Swell will be the most beautiful drive you will experience on an Interstate highway. Also make sure that you drive Highway 24 (exiting from I-70) to Highway 12 and then on to Panguitch. Then complete your journey by driving north on Highway 89. Take you time, make lots of stops so you can hike. Take lots of pictures. Spending time in this area will calm the most troubled soul.

  2. Zion is my favorite NP. It is as close to heaven as I’ll probably get. Truly awe- inspiring. Can’t wait to get back.

  3. Cedar Breaks National Monument with a fresh dusting of snow on a full moon! An exceptional viewing opportunity.

  4. Jonathan – I have done the ‘water’ hike and you will love it. Your body not so much. :) Try to see Bryce which is practically next door, southern Utah speaking. And as nsf says Cedar Breaks is great regardless of the time of day, but check the weather, it can get cold up there.

  5. Tia true, this true. And you can thank TR for the antiquities act for preservation of national treasures. Enough said, today TR would be too liberal for you.

  6. TR was too liberal for me then.

    the protection of objects of historic and scientific interest

    not national treasures, per se.

    That is a quote from the Antiquities Act of 1906.

  7. Always have some measure of kit on you. Day-hike or not, things happen. A small, albeit legit, med kit is a must. And headlamps or lights of some sort, with a second set of batteries. Plus more water than you need. (Nothing a regular backpack couldn’t hold.)

    Treat a day-hike as if you planned to spend the night.

  8. I’ve said here several times I consider southern Utah the most uniquely beautiful area in the US. The first time anyone sees it there is the “My God,” response. Zion is the most majestic. Bryce the most photogenic, and Arches the most mellow. When I travel I get to hike all different terrain, there is none more interesting around every bend than the one you took w/ your son, yesterday.

    The positive attitude always comes through. Positive people have positive experiences w/ people. Negative people, negative experiences. “Those who say they can, and those who say they can’t, are both correct.” John Wooden.

  9. Don de Drain, I’ve driven the route you described and camped in Bryce. But, like many people, my discovering the canyons was serendipitous driving west on 70. I am a history buff and have read a few books on Butch Cassidy. as you know, Robbers Roost is this area, as is Circleville, where Butch was born. You can see how lawmen chasing Butch would just say, “The hell w/ it” when they got to these canyons. Butch knew them like the back of his hands. Lake Powell is on our list.

  10. I have been an avid hiker as well, and it is adventures like yours, in my case more often than not caused by misplanning, that turn them into better days than they started out. I hiked the Grand Canyon many times, and the mountains in Southern Arizona, but would never be able to write about them as delightfully as you do. Sadly, Parkinson’s has put an end to that era for me, but it has turned me to other interests so I can’t complain.

  11. Bill H, I am sorry to hear about the end of your hiking. I often worry about the time I will always have to stop. In my defense, I had reset my watch to Vegas time upon landing but forgot that Southern Utah is just over the line for the earlier time change. As a result, what I thought was seven was actually eight.

  12. Jon,

    Why don’t you just get atomic watches? They automatically set where you’re at. Seiko has a couple of nice ones.

  13. Bill, Your positive attitude has carried you through anything life throws @ you. But, I’m sure you know that. Hiking and walking changed my life when I was in my 40’s. I’m in my 60’s now and still going pretty strong. Sometimes I fear what you’re going through, but then I just thank God for what I have and realize I’ll deal w/ stuff as it comes.

  14. I’ve hiked Bryce and Zion and stayed at the lodge at the Grand Canyon when we had 10″ of snow overnight – incomparably beautiful, but I LIVED in Sedona. No ‘drive-bys’ in Sedona. You’ve got to get out of the car and hike.

  15. Great story, and what a wonderful memory that Jack will likely recount many years from now.

    Since you are an avid hiker, sometimes in challenging terrain, it might be a good idea to carry a few essentials with you – water, headlamp, and the like – in a small day pack.

    Glad you guys didn’t have to spend the night in Zion, and that you made some new friends.

  16. Bill H – I realized my hiking days had come to an end when I took some friends from China to South Mountain Park to hike to Hidden Valley. Hike there was not bad but I forgot the last part of the hike back was almost straight uphill. Left a lung on the trail. :)

  17. feynman 5/16@1117

    I would have loved to visit Sedona 50 years ago. There is an area which should have been protected before all the development. I spent some time there in 2006. The development encroaches on its grandeur.

  18. Sedona is beautiful, but a few too many new agers. I live in uber liberal Madison, I like a break when I vacation. For years my extended family would have a reunion on Martha’s Vineyard, I got no break there!

  19. mhj

    Yes, it would have been better w/o development and the town of Sedona is t-shirt heaven and there are too many new agers. But people bring good restaurants, a med center, and some good movies. It even brings Democrats to Northern AZ.

    But those gorgeous red rocks are right where god put them, the night skies breathtaking, the trails remain beautiful and there are lots that are not overrun with people. All it takes is to leave the town behind, get out of your car and hike Broken Arrow Trail. Or if you have forgotten your hiking boots take a drive up 179 and hook a right up 89A to go up the canyon – one of the most beautiful drives in the country.

    It would be foolish to dodge Sedona because you don’t like the t-shirts.

  20. The drive up Oak Creek Canyon is great any time of the year. Sedona is loaded with great art gallaries and jewelry shops. There are also expensive trinkets for the house available. The food runs from okay to 5 star. There are hikes all over, but they all cost money now. Slide Rock is fun if you are young and the water is high enough. If you are old or the water is low, give it a miss, but there is nice state park there now. Yes, there are a couple of t-shirt shops for the low-rent tourists, but just drive by them. :)

  21. feynman 5/16@1748

    “Or if you have forgotten your hiking boots take a drive up 179 and hook a right up 89A to go up the canyon – one of the most beautiful drives in the country”
    .
    When I was in AZ I made that drive a number of times. It is certainly is one of the most beautiful drives in the country. Came close to wearing out a camera between AZ and Alberta.

  22. Professor! SO happy to hear everything worked out for you and your son. I miss the scenery in Utah. We sure don’t see that here in D.C. Plus, you now have a great story to tell. I bet you can incorporate that nicely into one of your speaking engagements.

    I lived there forever and never made it to Zion. I did get down the San Juan River on a 3-day rafting trip which is gorgeous, and I’ve hiked Arches National Park which is also stunning.

    Glad you got to get out there and see it. Where do you like to hike here in the D.C. area?

  23. Professor,
    What an amazing experience. A camelbak would be a must for a hike like that. There are some good hiking areas in Southern Illinois. Giant City State Park and Garden of the Gods!

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