Yesterday, 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)
As 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.
This 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.
After 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.