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Zion National Park camping
Utah
September 14-20, 2017
by Chuck Parsons
  GPS Map 

When Karen and I first sat down together way back in mid-January for the initial planning stages of this Zion National Park car-camping trip, among the many details we discussed was setting a limit on the number of participants for this trip. After throwing around some numbers, we both settled on 20 as a good manageable number.

On our September, 2014, Zion car-camping trip we sent out the trip announcement a full year in advance of the trip, since we were reserving a group campsite at Zion and that is done a year in advance, or at least it should be if you want to secure your desired site before someone else grabs it ahead of you. During that entire year prior to the trip we only managed to scrape together a total of 18 people who wanted to go to Zion.

Now flash forward three years later to Zion, September, 2017. When Webmaster Ted Tenny initially posted the trip announcement in February, only seven months from the trip this time, our limit of 20 was quickly exceeded in just a matter of hours. So 18 people after a full year in 2014, and now over 20 people in just a few hours in 2017.

What the heck is going on here anyway? Where are all of these people suddenly coming from? Karen and I were both scratching our heads for a while over this one. It took a while, but this is what we came up with:

For one thing, total membership in the Arizona Trailblazers more than doubled between 2014 and 2017. Doubled in just three short years. How, you may ask? One factor is the amazing amount of internet traffic that our website, superbly managed by long-time and unpaid Webmaster, Ted Tenny, generates. The vast majority of our new hikers first become aware of the Arizona Trailblazers Hiking Club through the club’s website. Ted has done a terrific, and unfortunately often overlooked, job of running this website for over 15 years now, going all the way back to the last year or two of our predecessor, The Motorola Hiking Club. He is constantly fine-tuning and upgrading the website to meet the latest protocols and standards.

meal
Famished Trailblazers stop for a late lunch at the Cameron Trading Post. [photos by Wayne]
meal
rock
Defying gravity. [photo by Joe]
The other major factor at play here is the public relations expertise of Jim Buyens. During that same three-year period Jim must have handed out over 500 or more of our green, soft plastic promotional key chains in the shape of the state of Arizona, to any prospective hikers he came across along the way. People he met on the trail or off the trail, people he ran into at gas stations and grocery stores, those serving us our meals on post-hike dinner stops (Jim often left key chains next to his dinner plate, alongside his tip), or probably even at his 50th anniversary high school reunion a couple of years ago. Of course, along with the key chain, the recipient would also get a short and inspiring spiel from Jim, promoting the great benefits of the Arizona Trailblazers Hiking Club. Many thanks to both Ted and Jim for helping to grow this hiking club into the robust and thriving organization that it is today

So we suddenly have 20 people signed up for Zion 2017, actually closer to 25 with a waiting list. One person would cancel, and I would add two more. Two people would cancel, and I would add four more. I always justified adding additional people, knowing from past history and experience that, on average, about 20% of the people who sign up for these car-camping trips will eventually cancel, especially as we get closer to the date of the trip. However, breaking with tradition, that did not happen on this trip. And as you’ve probably guessed by now, I also have a very difficult time saying NO, especially when it comes to turning away people who have never experienced the magic of Zion National Park before. In my book that would be a travesty.

lake
The shimmering waters of majestic Lake Powell. [photo by Dave]
cliffs
The imposing Vermilion Cliffs are visible for many miles. [photo by Chuck]
dwelling
Buildings and rock formations around Cliff Dwellers, west of Marble Canyon. [photo by Joe]
clouds
A major thunderstorm north of Highway 89. [photo by Carl]
water
Rainwater is rapidly sheeting across the large rock formations. [photo by Carl]
fall
This small waterfall is pouring right across the highway. [photo by Dave]

So it would seem that just as much as I’m a confirmed foster failure with dogs (I fostered three rescue dogs during the past six years and wound up adopting all three of them in short order), I’m also a sort of car-camp organizer failure since I can’t seem to keep to our set numbers of participants. Before I knew it, 20 campers ballooned to 25, 25 increased to 30, and then 30 jumped to 35. Good Grief! But, wait! Five of those people are staying in a rental house near Zion. Do they even count since they’re not camping with us? Well, actually, of course they do.

camp
Blue skies over Watchman Campground. [photo by John]
motorcycle
Meet Stella, Karen’s 2016 Harley Davidson Heritage Classic. [photo by Dave]
Hmmm—looks to me like Stella just drove off the Harley-Davidson showroom floor.

Much too often in life, as we hurry to our destination, we become so fixated on reaching the end point that we often overlook the finer points along the way. And so it is on this trip, especially for those of us who have driven Highway 89 to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon or to southern Utah so many times over the years.

As we drive across the Colorado River on the Navajo Bridge at Marble Canyon and begin skirting along the edge of the colorful Vermilion Cliffs, rising majestically above the highway on the southern face of the vast Paria Plateau, we become engaged in conversation or listening to the radio and almost turn a blind eye to spectacular scenery that would qualify as a National Park in many parts of the country.

Personally, I can never bring myself to pass by these monumental cliffs, soaring over 2,000 feet into the blue Arizona sky, without stopping to take at least one or two pictures along the way. The Vermilion Cliffs are the predominant landscape feature for nearly 40 miles between Lee’s Ferry and Jacob Lake. In geological terms these towering 2,000 to 3,000-foot cliffs represent the southern and eastern escarpment of the vast Paria Plateau, which spills across the border into southern Utah.

These two formations, in turn, are part of the immense sequence of five sedimentary rock layers known as the Grand Staircase, sprawling across two western states from the bottom of the Grand Canyon all the way north to Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. The Vermilion Cliffs (meaning reddish in Spanish) are comprised of seven distinct geologic layers, from Navajo sandstone to Kaibab limestone, the result of ancient inland seas depositing massive loads of sediment on seven separate occasions over eons and eons of time.

Major John Wesley Powell named these magnificent cliffs, in addition to Echo Cliffs, Glen Canyon, Marble Canyon, and many other geographic features along the Colorado River, during his epic journey through the Grand Canyon in 1869, the first navigation of the wild and fearsome Colorado River through the full length of the Grand Canyon. If you care to read one of the greatest adventure stories of all time, written in hard-earned blood, sweat, and tears, check out Exploration of the Colorado River of the West and Its Tributaries by Major Powell.

glow
By late afternoon, The Watchman begins to glow in the rays of the fading sun. [photo by Carl]
fire
The nightly campfire, an Arizona Trailblazers tradition for over 20 years. [photo by John]
match
Why waste a perfectly good match to light a cigar when there’s a burning board handy? [photo by John]
hikers
The morning ritual—walking to the park shuttle for the day’s activities. [photo by Dave]
lines
Another morning ritual—standing in a long line to board the park shuttle. [photo by Yanis]
shuttle
Standing in lines to board the park shuttle. [photo by Carl]

The number of Zion visitors seems to have increased dramatically between 2014 and 2017. Even though it’s nearly two weeks past Labor Day, the traditional last day of summer vacation for many people, you would never know it from the large crowds we’re facing on this trip.

The most noticeable difference is at the Visitor Center Shuttle Stop. In 2014 we never had large numbers of people at any of the shuttle stops, even the always-popular Visitor Center stop. Even though we meet and prepare to depart from the campground no later than 8:00 AM each morning, by the time we reach the Visitor Center, a hundred or more people are already ahead of us and we’re forced to wait for a second or even a third shuttle to board all of us.

hikers
We meet up with the rest of our group who are renting a house outside the park. [photo by Carl]
hikers
Trailblazers gather at the Emerald Pools Trailhead. [photo by Carl]
bridge
Crossing the footbridge over the Virgin River.
[photo by Dave]
National Parks and National Monuments across the country are strapped financially because of massive congressional budget cutbacks year after year after year, and are forced to delay badly needed projects or critical maintenance for months or even years at a time.

A good example of this is the ancient water delivery system in Grand Canyon National Park that pipes drinking water from Roaring Springs, deep within the canyon, all the way up to all of the lodges and facilities on both rims. This entire network of broken down water pumps and a patchwork of old corroded water pipes that continues to break down year after year, occasionally completely shutting down water delivery to both rims, should have been totally replaced many years ago.

But due to critical lack of funding, park maintenance personnel have been forced to resort to simple patch and mend techniques to keep things running as best they can. Total deferred maintenance backlog now stands at a staggering $12 billion, yes billion, an all-time record level for the National Park Service, while at the same time total visitor attendance is also running at all-time record levels. Sadly, this issue has now become a political football, as some argue for privatization of large swaths of acreage within our National Parks and Monuments as a way of reducing this backlog to a more reasonable level. Apparently National Parks and National Monuments are no longer held quite as sacred as they once were in this country. Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir, our nation’s two greatest champions of America’s National Parks and Monuments, must both be spinning in their graves about now.

group
Arizona Trailblazers gather on the bridge for our first group picture. [photo by Dave]
Emerald
Lin and Rudy hit the trail running. [photo by Carl]
canyon
View of the Virgin River and Zion Canyon from the trail. [photo by Chuck]

Friday morning, September 15, dawns bright and clear at Watchman Campground, with a perfect hint of fall in the air at a crisp 58 degrees, as we fix breakfasts and make preparations for the day. Our goal will be to meet up no later than 8:00 AM at Site C028, at the north end of Loop C, and then hoof it from there to the Zion Canyon Visitor Center parking lot, about ten minutes away on foot. There we’ll meet with Cyd, Mimi, Eileen, Monika M., and Nancy, who are all staying at a rental house in the nearby town of La Verkin, located about 25 minutes west of Zion. From the parking lot we all walk to the Visitor Center Shuttle Stop, where we’re greeted with a long serpentine line of 100 or more people, all waiting to board the park shuttle buses.

hikers
Cyd, Jim, Eileen, and Monika pause for a break on the Emerald Pools Trail. [photo by Mohammed]
Walking to the Visitor Center and riding the park shuttle to various trailheads will be our daily routine for the remainder of this trip. The Zion Canyon shuttle system was started in 2000 to ease major traffic congestion along Zion Canyon Road between Canyon Junction and the Temple of Sinawava at the far north end of the road. During busy summer seasons prior to 2000, several thousand vehicles clogged this short stretch of road almost daily, competing for about 250 parking spaces. Today, it’s hard to imagine what that frustration must have been like for pre-2000 visitors to Zion National Park. The Zion Canyon shuttles run throughout the day, and we never have to wait more than 5-8 minutes for the next one to come along at any of the numerous stops along the road. A much better alternative to sitting in long lines of snarled traffic to go anywhere in the park. Not to mention the air pollution and the frayed nerves involved.

Today we’re taking the shuttle to the Zion Lodge. The Emerald Pools Trail begins just across the road from the lodge. We’re hiking the 3-mile round trip trail to Upper Emerald Pool, where we’ll take a long rest and lunch break before heading back down the trail to pick up the shuttle once again to the Weeping Rock area up the road. There we’ll reconvene at the Hidden Canyon Trailhead, before starting out on the Hidden Canyon Trail. This will be a more aggressive 3-mile round trip hike, with nearly 1,000 feet of elevation gain over wide expanses of slickrock and sheer drop-offs along the way, with chain assists similar to Angels Landing. This hike is not recommended for anyone with a fear of heights.

water
Perfect backlighting highlights this water mist cascading off the cliffs above. [photo by Carl]
pool
A perfect reflecting pool highlights this beautiful shot taken at Middle Emerald Pool. [photo by John]
pool
How long ago did this mammoth chunk of rock fall to the ground? Was anyone around to hear it or see it fall? [photo by Carl]
After taking a well-deserved rest and snack break at Upper Emerald Pools, some people decide to head back to the trailhead the same way we came, while most of the group decides to continue hiking on the Kayenta Trail to the Grotto area, a half-mile up the road from Zion Lodge. This section of the Kayenta Trail offers many spectacular views of the Virgin River, as it threads its way along the bottom of Zion Canyon. These are some of the best views in Zion, combining both river and canyon, that we will experience on this trip. At the Grotto, we cross a second footbridge over the Virgin River and take the easy and level half-mile gravel path down to Zion Lodge, where we all gather for a relaxing lunch break on the café patio.

After lunch most of us take the park shuttle to Weeping Rock, while several others decide to head back to the campground. There we’ll hike the Echo Canyon Trail for a half-mile or so to its junction with the Hidden Canyon Trail and then take that to its termination point in Hidden Canyon. On our 2014 trip only part of the group was able to hike Hidden Canyon, while the rest of us were doing the Narrows. Then, due to scheduling and time constraints, the rest of us never got a chance to see Hidden Canyon. And it almost didn’t make the schedule on this trip until Eileen reminded me to work it in somehow, which I was finally able to manage. Although Hidden Canyon is a beautiful hike, it turns out to be a little more than some of us expected. There are large expanses of smooth sandstone slickrock, covered with a light dusting of fine sand, which makes for uncertain footing in a number of places. The steepest sections have stepping stones or steps actually carved into the rock, which makes it a bit easier to navigate, and the sections with steep drop-offs have heavy chains securely anchored into the rock for extra safety.

walls
Soaring canyon walls form the backdrop for Upper Emerald Pools. [photo by Carl]
walls
These canyon walls form a perfect amphitheater. [photo by Dave]
walls
Close-up of upper canyon walls, showing the sharp edges and details in the sandstone. [photo by Chuck]
hikers
Trailblazers reconvene for a rest break at the Upper Pools. [photo by John]
hikers
Nicole, Alex, Ann, and Nancy pose in front of the reflecting pool.. [photo by Wayne]
hikers
Jay, Megan, and Barry get ready to take five.
[photo by John]
Jim
Jim casts a long shadow in front of
the reflecting pool. [photo by Dave]
Alex
Alex and Ann pause for a quick picture.
[photo by Carl]
Yanis
Yanis and Eileen pose in front of the reflecting pool.
[photo by Carl]

After successfully traversing through most of the slickrock areas and sections of trail with steep drop-offs, the trail eventually narrows down and becomes mostly a pathway through deep, soft sand between high canyon walls. But there are at least four places where the trail terminates at large boulders, 6-8 feet in diameter, that block further passage. Each of these must be somehow navigated to reach the next section. Some have large logs in place to help us get over or back down on the other side, while others require what can best be described as creative maneuvering to get up, over, and around the boulders.

This reminds me, only too painfully, of Fish Creek Canyon in the Superstitions, where I first blew out my right knee nearly ten years ago while maneuvering up, over, or around boulders as large as school buses. Another beautiful hike, but a very challenging one that requires some major boulder scrambling and lots of patience. The Hidden Canyon Trail eventually ends at Hidden Arch, where we take numerous photo ops with different people under the arch, before heading back to the trailhead.

view
The views from the Kayenta Trail just keep getting better. [photo by Chuck]
view
Another spectacular view from the Kayenta Trail. [photo by Dave]
river
The Virgin River flows lazily along the
bottom of Zion Canyon. [photo by Chuck]
river
The river is still muddy from earlier heavy rains in the canyon and up-river. [photo by Dave]

For the sake of the vast majority of this group who were not on our September, 2014, Zion car-camping trip, as well as those of you who have never experienced a river at flash-flood stage before, I would like to share what we experienced with the flooding Virgin River on the 2014 trip. There are some valuable and potentially life-saving lessons here. It had rained heavily at Zion and the campground for two consecutive nights on this trip, as well as rain during the early morning and late afternoon hours on two days. On top of that, we had no idea how much rain was falling miles upstream from us. After most campers had turned in for the night, four of us stayed up for a while longer, although it was far too wet for a campfire. In the quiet of the night it soon became apparent that what we had earlier thought was wind blowing through the overhead tree canopy was, in fact, the sounds of the Virgin River, flowing fast and flowing hard. We were unable to hear the river running at all earlier, since it’s about a quarter mile from our group campsite. But now it was obvious there must be a lot more water flowing down the river.

Being the curious and inquisitive Trailblazers that we were, we decided to make our way down to the river and see for ourselves. Equipped with headlamps and flashlights, as well as a little too much bravado, the four of us carefully made our way in the dark down to the edge of the river and were both shocked and amazed by what we saw. What was more of a lazy and peaceful stream mere inches deep in most places just hours earlier, had been dramatically transformed into a raging, angry torrent of churning and boiling chocolate-brown water, probably 6-8 feet deep in the middle by now. The river looked angry and sounded even angrier, with the eerie wailing of an unleashed monster. We watched, spellbound, as all sorts of debris like large tree branches, tree stumps, and even entire tree trunks up to 15 feet long and a foot in diameter raced by in the swift-moving current that we estimated to be flowing at least 20 MPH, if not faster.

If any of us had accidentally fallen into the river at that point, we would have been instantly swept away and likely not lived to tell about it. Another very real danger we didn’t think about at the time was the fast moving current possibly undercutting the seemingly solid ground that we were standing on. Had it been sufficiently undercut, the small sandy beach we were standing on could have easily collapsed under our weight and thrown all of us into the maelstrom, where we would have been instantly swept to our deaths. No human or animal is strong enough to swim and survive in fast-moving flash flood waters carrying lots of debris like this river. Incredibly, as we watched, the river actually appeared to be rising a little as it inched ever closer to where we were standing near its edge. To reach the river’s edge, we had crossed a dry channel about six feet wide that had earlier seen flowing water since the sand was still wet and hard-packed.

No sooner did we notice this slight rise in the river’s level, when Karen (one of the Foolish Four, along with me) suddenly screamed out a warning to the rest of us that water was surging back down the dry channel that we had crossed just several minutes before, and it was moving fast! An increase in the river’s volume, likely due to all the heavy rainfall for many miles upstream, was causing the flow to increase and the river to rise in a matter of seconds. We all ran as fast as we could to get back across the dry channel before our escape route was completely cut off. What was dry ground just minutes earlier became another raging torrent within seconds, and we barely made it back across. Where we were standing by river’s edge seconds earlier was now covered in over a foot of fast-moving, swirling muddy water, as the previously dry channel and the river were fast merging into one. Even one foot of that water could have swept us all away.

flood
This is a rare view of the Virgin River at flash flood stage on September 10, 2014. [photo by Chuck]
flood
Two days and nights of heavy monsoon rains swelled the river’s flow to 4,800 CFS. [photo by Chuck]

Lesson Learned: Never underestimate the power and the danger of a river at flash flood stage. No matter how safe you think you are while in the vicinity of a flash-flooding river, think twice before going anywhere near such dangerous waters. Things can change in an instant, something the four of us will be forever painfully aware of. The water level can rise and the flow can increase dramatically in just minutes because of unseen rainfall many miles upstream. Or the river can suddenly shift course and send flood waters surging across a previously dry area like we experienced. The safest view point is from a sturdy and secure bridge, which is exactly what several of us did the next morning to capture some amazing images of the raging Virgin River.

The next day Zion was on virtual lock-down for much of the day. A large rockslide on Highway 9 coming into Zion through the East Entrance had shut down the road for hours. Shuttle service was suspended indefinitely, and almost all trailheads were closed due to the imminent danger of flash flooding throughout Zion Canyon. The Virgin River was running at near-record levels due to all the rain upstream. Later in the afternoon we learned that the river crested at 4,800 CFS (Cubic Feet/Second), the third highest flow ever recorded from summer rains in the 100 year history of Zion National Park. The all-time record flow for the Virgin River is 9,100 CFS. I can’t even imagine what that must have looked like, especially in the Narrows where the water level in the narrowest sections like Wall Street very likely rose to depths approaching 25 feet or more. Since water can’t compress, it can only rise straight up in a narrow canyon.

As a footnote to put things in prospective, one cubic foot of water contains 7.5 gallons. So 4,800 CFS equates to 36,000 gallons of water flowing past a given point every single second. That, in turn, equates to an astonishing 2,160,000 gallons of water flowing by the same point every minute. Any way you look at it, that’s a lot of water coming down the river.

sign
There’s no mistaking what this sign says.
[photo by John]
steps
Well yes it’s primitive, but it is a stairway after all.
[photo by Dave]
Mimi
Mimi carefully makes her way along the chain. [photo by Lin]
trail
It helps to be part mountain goat along this stretch of trail. [photo by Dave]
trail
Whatever you do, people, don’t look down! [photo by Dave]
hikers
Oops—Basma is about to run out of chain.
[photo by John]
Chuck
Meanwhile, Chuck has already run out of trail.
[photo by John]
John
John is about to go down the infamous log slide.
[photo by John]
Megan
Megan is next. You can do it, Megan!
[photo by John]
top
Chuck, please tell me we’re not hiking all the way up there. [photo by John]
arch
Hidden Canyon Arch—end of the line. [photo by Lin]
hikers
Good Grief! Where did all these people come from? [photo by Dave] Front: Wayne, Alex, Ann. Back: Dave, Eileen, Yanis, Lin, Monika.
arcj
Chuck, Basma, and John doing their best to support the arch.
It was still standing when we left, so I guess we did OK. [photo by Dave]

After everyone eventually returns to the campground to clean up and relax for a while after a long day of hiking, thoughts began to center around making preparations for the Great Friday Night Potluck Extravaganza, always one of the highlights of our car-camping trips. We usually have a huge selection of entrees, side dishes, and desserts for these potluck dinners, typically enough food for 50-100 people, and this trip is certainly no exception. We should invite the entire campground to join us for tonight’s festivities. But there’s not enough room, so nix that idea.

beer
Chuck and Rudy hoist a cold post-hike brewski. [photo by Sue]
K.G.
Meanwhile, K.G. seems to be doing the same.
[photo by Sue]
Joe Sue
Joe and Sue are thinking about tonight’s potluck.
[photo by Nicole]
John
Grill Master John attends to his grilling duties. [photo by Wayne]
potluck
Grab a fork and a plate, and let the feasting begin! [photo by Wayne]

For everyone’s dining pleasure this evening, we have an eclectic menu of BBQ meatballs, BBQ beef, grilled beef loin, grilled pork tenderloin, Rudy’s rock ‘n rollin rattlesnake stew, tortilla rollups, an exotic Middle-Eastern dish, fried chicken, baked chicken, 5-alarm chili, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, fried veggies, mixed vegetable fried rice, spaghetti salad, pasta salad, four-bean salad, regular greens salad, chips and dips, marinated mushrooms and olives, a host of desserts ranging from cakes, pies, and cookies to heaping plates of fresh fruits, and finally water, iced tea, beer, wine, and pecan pie Piehole whiskey to wash it all down. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m bursting at the seams already without taking a single bite.

campfire
This is what camping is all about, Arizona Trailblazers style.
Great food, terrific camaraderie, and lots of laughs among good friends. [photo by Wayne]
butte
The sun sets on another beautiful day in Zion National Park. [photo by Dave]

For the Observation Point hike on Saturday morning, the most physically challenging hike on this trip, we’re splitting up into two separate groups. The first group, led by me, will be doing the conventional hike from the Weeping Rock area, where we started from just yesterday for the Hidden Canyon hike. Only this time when we reach the first trail junction, we hang a left for the Observation Point Trail, instead of a right as we did for the Hidden Canyon Trail. This will be the more demanding 8-mile round trip hike, with 2,150 feet of elevation gain to the point. This is another hike not recommended for anyone with a fear of heights (seems to be a number of those hikes in Zion).

canyon
Early morning light casts long shadows deep into Zion Canyon. [photo by Dave]
hikers
Trailblazers take a well-deserved break on the Observation Point Trail. [photo by Yanis]
switchbacks
You gotta be kidding me! Did we actually hike up that insane looking trail below? [photo by Carl]

The second group, led by Cyd, will be going in from the East Mesa Trailhead on the east side of Zion. Although Cyd’s group will wind up at the same Observation Point as my group, her hike is a bit more gentle and forgiving, with only about 800 feet of elevation gain. But, as she later determines, the distance is still about the same at 8 miles round trip.

bighorn
Bighorn sheep spotted near the East Mesa Trailhead. [photo by John]
bighorn
This large ram is certainly at the top of his game. [photo by Nicole]
hikers
Cyd’s group of hikers coming from the East Mesa Trailhead. [photo by Carl]

Since we’re starting out on the same Echo Canyon Trail, we start climbing right out of the starting gate just as we did yesterday. But where the Hidden Canyon Trail levels off from time to time, before finally reaching its termination point at the arch, the Observation Point Trail keeps on climbing without mercy through seemingly endless switchbacks up the eastern walls of Zion Canyon and never looks back. Although, out of necessity to catch our breaths, as well as stopping for many stunning photo ops along the way, we do look back from time to time to take in the breathtaking scenery, as Zion Canyon and the Virgin River come into better and better view before we eventually round a few more long switchbacks and lose sight of both the canyon and river altogether.

trail
Trailblazers enter the strange realm of Echo Canyon.
[photo by Dave]
trail
The sculpturing powers of wind and water
are on full display here. [photo by Wayne]
water
You would have to be pretty desperate
to drink this water. [photo by Wayne]
canyon
The breathtaking colors and forms of Echo Canyon.
[photo by Wayne]
hikers
Mohammed, Alex, Ann, and Wayne in Echo Canyon. [photo by Yanis]

Although we may curse these switchbacks from time to time, we should really be thankful for them instead. Before these switchbacks were put in place way back in 1922, this hike was a grueling and back-breaking 18 miles round trip instead of 8 miles round trip today. If that was still the case, we would be doing a different hike today.

canyon
More spectacular scenery from Echo Canyon. [photo by Dave]
canyon
Parting view of Echo Canyon. [photo by Wayne]

Once past the Hidden Canyon Junction and still climbing relentlessly, we eventually enter into the mysterious, enchanting, and almost surreal world of Echo Canyon, a large side canyon about a thousand feet above the Zion Canyon floor. By now we’re almost half-way through the climbing to Observation Point, and that’s certainly good news.

sign
The fascinating story of Cable Mountain.
[photo by Carl]
couple
Megan and Jay pose for a selfie.
[photo by Jay]

We suddenly find ourselves in a cooler and shadier environment surrounded by soaring canyon walls, strangely carved rock formations, trees growing in impossible places, and deep pools of water. We peer carefully into several deep, dark, and foreboding narrow slot canyons feeding into Echo and possibly other canyons. If someone were to accidentally fall into one of these narrow gashes in the earth, only a few feet wide in places, they would likely stay there for eternity since it may take several minutes to hit bottom. From Mother Nature’s bizarre and breathtaking handiwork on prominent display here, there’s absolutely no question in our minds about the powerful and frightening forces that carved out this canyon and other slot canyons throughout the west over eons of time.

We take our time through this area, admiring the spectacular scenery and taking lots of pictures to capture the magic of this place.

After roughly 1.5 miles of almost continuous climbing, nearly a mile of it through Echo Canyon, we reach a second trail junction. Continuing straight ahead puts us on the East Rim Trail, one of the longest trails in Zion, but we make a left turn and continue on our quest for Observation Point. And it’s not too long before we encounter yet another series of steep switchbacks, these somewhat tighter and shorter than the last series.

trio
Barry, Jay, and Megan take in the view. [photo by Barry]
hikers
Lin and Carl enjoy lunch on the point. [photo by Dave]
canyon
Alex, Chuck, Karen, Kari, Lisa, and Yanis on the point. [photo by Dave]
soar
Lin and Rudy are soaring to points unknown. [photo by Dave]

But remember, we must be thankful for these switchbacks. Nice switchbacks! Otherwise—18 long and grueling miles of hiking. No, not that! At this point, I’m the last hiker in our group, as I continue huffing and puffing my way up through switchback after switchback. Where the heck are all the rest of the hikers in my group? Who lit a fire under them anyway?

I inquire of other hikers coming back down the trail about how much longer it will take to reach Observation Point. I do this several times along the way, roughly every 20 minutes, and each time I get the exact same response. “About another 30 minutes or so. You’re getting close.”

What? How can that be? The first guy I asked told me the exact same thing over an hour ago. What the heck? Don’t these people have any concept of time or distance? Or could it be that I’m just slower than molasses in January? Hopefully not, or I’ll never reach the top of this mountain. Nuts!

Another totally misleading fable I keep getting from other hikers is that I’ve just gone through the last switchback. Two more switchbacks later and I’m told the same fib once again. “One last switchback to go and the trail really starts to level off. You’re getting close.” Baloney! Who are they trying to kid?

A couple more switchbacks later and another half-mile or so of trail and, by golly, the trail does finally seem to be leveling off after all. Hallelujah! I think I might survive after all. I soon come to a spur trail for Observation Point and shortly afterward receive a radio transmission from someone in my group, asking where the heck I am.

They were afraid I had perhaps fallen off a cliff or been eaten by a mountain lion by now. They have all been to the point for half an hour or more, have already eaten lunch and taken long siestas. I ask them to please wait for me. Amazingly enough, I get to Observation Point about the same time as Cyd’s group of hikers. How about that for luck?

Wayne
Whatever you do, Wayne, don’t take one step back!
[photo by Barry]
Eileen
Eileen takes a more conservative approach.
[photo by Dave]
Basma
Basma goes one step further by sitting down.
[photo by Dave]
Cyd
Cyd has her trusty staff with her.
[photo by Dave]
boots
... while Lin takes the more relaxed approach.
[photo by Lin]
view
One last parting view from Observation Point.
[photo by Dave]

I find Trailblazers and other hikers scattered all over the large rocky outcropping that serves as Observation Point. Some are gathered close to the edge for the best possible views, while others are clustered among the trees seeking a little shade. At 6,508 feet, this is probably the single most iconic view in all of Zion National Park. It’s a long, tough slough getting up here, but I think most people would agree that it’s well worth all the work and effort. This is the genuine million dollar view in Zion, a truly breathtaking 270-degree panoramic view that takes in both the East Rim and West Rim of Zion Canyon, Angels Landing, Cable Mountain, Cathedral Mountain, Castle Dome, Great White Throne, and even the Three Patriarchs and the Watchman at the far south end of the canyon. We also get a bird’s eye view of Zion Canyon Road and the Virgin River, as they cut a long, serpentine passageway along the floor of Zion Canyon.

group
24 smiling Arizona Trailblazers on Observation Point (we all know the hard part is over now).
[photo by Wayne]
Front Row:  Barry, Eileen, Mohammed, Carl, Basma, Wayne, Rudy
Mid Row: Chuck, Lisa, Mimi, Lin, Gary, Karen, Monika
Back Row: Jay, Megan, Alex, Ann, Yanis, Jim, Joe, Kari, Nicole, Dave
view
Looking south, straight down Zion Canyon, this is the iconic image of Zion National Park. [Wayne]
hikers
Chuck and Gary take a break in Echo Canyon. [photo by Mimi]
Yanis
Yanis has found the perfect resting place in Echo Canyon. [photo by Mimi]

As hard as it is to leave such a beautiful place behind, we reluctantly have to do just that, as we break up once again for separate hikes back to the Weeping Rock Trailhead and the East Mesa Trailhead.

Watchman
The setting sun creates a magical moment for the Watchman. photo by Carl]
sunset
The sun sets on another beautiful day in Zion National Park. [photo by Dave]

Zion 2017 Profiles by Carl:
Lin
Lin
Basma
Basma
Monika
Monika
Lin
Lin
Joe
Joe
Jim
Jim
Karen
Karen
Kari
Kari
John
John
Gary
Gary
Nicole
Nicole
Lisa
Lisa
Rudy
Rudy
Chuck
Chuck
hikers
Joe, K.G., Barry

Trying to accurately describe hiking the Zion Narrows to someone who has never seen the Narrows before is just about as futile as trying to describe the Grand Canyon to someone who has never seen the Grand Canyon before or, worse yet, to someone who has never seen a canyon period or knows what a canyon actually is. In both cases, words and pictures alone cannot really do justice to such beautiful and spectacular places.

To fully appreciate such natural wonders we have to get out of our easy chairs and perhaps even out of our personal comfort zones and make the effort to go see these places personally with our own two eyes if physically possible. To experience them as fully as possible with all of our senses.

As the great naturalist John Muir was fond of saying, you have to get out in the forest to fully appreciate the trees: “Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” Or Karen’s favorite John Muir quote: “The mountains are calling and I must go.” Today, the Zion Narrows are calling and we must go.

To really experience the Grand Canyon up close and personal, you need to strap on a backpack, put boots to the ground, and actually hike one of the major corridor trails like Bright Angel or South Kaibab all the way down to the canyon floor, where the Colorado River dictates the rules, and then stay there for several days and nights if at all possible, to even begin to get the essence of the place and what it represents. For the Zion Narrows it’s a bit easier. You only need to slip on a good pair of neoprene socks and water boots and carry a good sturdy wooden pole for balance in the water and to feel around for large rocks and holes in the river bed. Then hike at least several miles into the Narrows, most of it by sloughing through the rocky bed of the Virgin River, to get at least some idea of what this place really is. Then and only then can you begin to appreciate what these natural wonders of the world truly represent in the big picture.

On Sunday morning, September 17, we catch the 8:15 AM park shuttle at the Visitor Center Shuttle Stop and take it all the way to the end of the line at the Temple of Sinawava, the last shuttle stop at the far north end of Zion Canyon Road. From there we walk the scenic one-mile Riverside Walk along the Virgin River to the mouth of the Zion Narrows. And this is where we get our first real taste of what’s in store for us today.

group
At the campground Karen discusses hiking the Narrows with the group. [photo by Dave]
group
More discussion on the finer points of hiking the Zion Narrows. [photo by John]
group
Trailblazers start to gather at the Riverside Walk Trailhead. [photo by Carl]
group
Is everyone present and accounted for? Let’s move out, Trailblazers! [photo by Dave]

Our goal for today will be to reach the Wall Street area, five miles upstream, where the canyon narrows down and the water becomes deep enough to require swimming. This will be our turnaround point. And although pictures cannot do the Narrows full justice, they will nevertheless be our primary tool to tell the story of the Zion Narrows on this Arizona Trailblazers Zion adventure trip of September, 2017.

So let’s get in this river and get wet, people!

group
24 Arizona Trailblazers are charged up and ready to tackle the Zion Narrows. [photo by Dave]
hikers
Trailblazers are bravely forging ahead in the Narrows. [photo by Wayne]
hikers
Chuck, Rudy, Dave, and Basma are plunging right in. [photo by Lin]
narrows
It’s nice to see dry land once in a while in the Narrows. [photo by Carl]
hikers
Trailblazers regroup for a while. [photo by Dave]
narrows
Although full of boulders and cobblestones, it’s still dry land. [photo by Dave]
hikers
Carl, Monika, Rudy, Chuck, and Dave. [photo by Lin]
hikers
The Fab Four: Kari, Lisa, Karen, and Monika. [photo by Lin]
hikers
We keep slowly working our way upstream.
[photo by Dave]
hikers
... and fighting the river current along the way.
[photo by Nicole]
water
One of several small waterfalls cascading
into the river. [photo by Nicole]
moss
The Narrows is a perfect environment for
mosses and ferns. [photo by Dave]
canyon
Canyon walls awash in colors with the sunlight.
[photo by Nicole]
rapids
These rapids look pretty serious.
[photo by Wayne]
hikers
Kari, Karen, and Lisa are having the time of their lives. [photo by Lin]
hikers
John, Yanis, Basma, Dave and Rudy soak up some sunshine. [photo by John]
pole
How much do you want for that hiking pole, Kari? [photo by Barry]
Nicole
That’s quite a camera outfit you have, Nicole.
[photo by Cyd]
Basma
Basma is up to her armpits in the Narrows! For a first-timer, she is totally fearless. [photo by John]
hikers
Megan and Jay are struggling against the current.
[photo by Barry]
Cyd Mimi
Cyd and Mimi pause for a candid shot.
[photo by Cyd]
walls
Canyon walls are aflame with color from
the overhead sun. [photo by Nicole]
canyon
Looking into Orderville Canyon, one of several
side canyons in the Narrows. [photo by Dave]
rocks
The Narrows are full of fascinating shapes and forms. [photo by Carl]
hikers
Kari and Mohammed pose for a quick picture. [photo by John]
niche
This large niche full of rocks and boulders is
12-14 feet above the river bed. [photo by John]
hikers
Trailblazers are heading back out of the
Zion Narrows. [photo by Wayne]
niches
Boulders up to 40 pounds or more are deposited in niches in the canyon walls. These two niches are about six feet above the river bed. [photo by John]
hikers
Trailblazers hike the Riverside Walk
back to the shuttle stop.
[photo by Carl]
dessert
Lin’s volcano dessert, a 20,000 calorie gut buster. [photo by Lin]
After arriving back at the campground, putting away our hiking gear and cleaning up a bit, we start thinking about dinner options for the evening. Seems that we’re always thinking about food on these car-camping trips, doesn’t it? Well, we are burning a lot of extra calories, after all, by tramping miles and miles of trail every day, as we explore the very best that Zion National Park has to offer. Based on Ralph’s recommendation, we decide to try Oscars in Springdale.

He and Diva were actually sitting in Oscars eating lunch when I called him on the day we all arrived at Zion. They were the first two in our group to arrive at the campground, and after setting up camp they decided to go into town for lunch.

After returning our rental gear for the Narrows at the Zion Adventure Company, 21 rapacious Arizona Trailblazers head for Oscars and the culinary delights within. Of course, since this is Sunday night, the place is packed, and we have to wait about 20 minutes to get in. But the wait is well worth it and the food is great.

dinner
Monika, Dave, Basma, and Carl enjoy dinner at Oscars in Springdale
(unfortunately we don’t have a picture of the larger group). [photo by Lin]
night
The night sky lights up the Watchman, as it stands guard over the campground.
The bright cluster in the center of the sky is the Orion Constellation. [photo by Wayne]

Monday morning at Watchman Campground, and it’s going to be another beautiful day in Zion National Park. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and the electric hand dryers in the restrooms are busily shrieking away as usual.

As far as I’m concerned, these devices are one of the worst things we humans ever invented. The decibel rating on these hand dryers must be close to that encountered when standing directly behind a Boeing 747, screaming down the runway at full throttle. Literally loud enough to burst your eardrums and drive you totally insane. Can’t some brilliant inventor come up with some sort of noise dampening muffler for these danged contraptions? If we can put a silencer on a handgun, then surely we can attach something similar to these noise makers. Personally I never use them, in fact refuse to use them, preferring instead to simply shake my hands dry in the sink or outside. OK, enough venting for now.

Today is going to be the easiest day on our schedule, as far as hiking, with lots of exploring and sightseeing in a remote and seldom-visited part of Zion National Park—the Kolob Plateau area just to the east of Kolob Canyon.

No overcrowded park shuttles for us today. Instead, we’ll get back into the comfort of our own vehicles and drive back out of the park on Highway 9 and continue heading west to the town of Virgin. In Virgin we’ll pick up the Kolob Terrace Road and drive that north to the Upper Kolob Plateau where the road ends at Kolob Lake. At 8,118 feet, Kolob Lake is the highest point that we’ll encounter on this trip.

cliffs
This view reminds us of the Vermilion Cliffs of Arizona. [photo by Dave]
cliffs
The colorful high country of Upper Kolob Plateau. [photo by John]
lake
We get out to stretch our legs at Kolob Lake. [photo by Lin]
air
At 8,118 feet, the bracing morning air is a temporary relief from the warmer Zion Canyon. [photo by Carl]
lake
In a few months Kolob Lake will be covered with a thick layer of ice. [photo by Lin]

We’ll then drive the scenic circumference road around Kolob Lake and head back south to the Lava Point area and the overlook. Finally, we’ll head back down to the large switchback in Kolob Terrace Road and do some exploring on the Wildcat Canyon Trail. That should keep us busy for the day.

As usual though, things don’t always go quite according to plan. Kolob Terrace Road climbs steadily through a continuous series of curves and several switchbacks, as it alternately goes in and out of the Zion park boundary and private property. As we continue to gain in elevation, we pass through expansive meadows, pinyon-juniper forests, ponderosa pine, and finally aspen and fir as we climb higher on the plateau. Surprisingly, we encounter almost no traffic on the drive up to the lake or on the drive around the lake. After driving roughly ¾ of the way around the lake, we finally pull into a parking area large enough to accommodate all seven of our vehicles.

There, we come across a young couple just breaking camp and probably wondering who the heck all these scraggly looking characters are and figuring they’re leaving the area just in the nick of time. But we strike up a friendly conversation with them and assure them that we’re not a murderous gang of villains intent on raising hell. They seem somewhat assured, as they busily continue with their packing, but before we know it they’re gone in a flash.

loo
Waiting ... and waiting ... and waiting. [photo by Dave]

After checking out the lake and taking a few pictures, a number of people stand in line for the single restroom. A few of us men use trees that appear to be stressed for lack of moisture and again I refuse to use the attached hand dryer just on principle. Restroom duties completed, we all pile back into our vehicles and continue on our merry way around the lake.

Rudy, K.G. and I are in the lead vehicle in Rudy’s Nissan Frontier and only get about 20 feet down the road before encountering a humongous crater, large enough to swallow the Nissan, with room to spare. He tries to maneuver around it and runs into even more massive craters in the road, so he carefully throws it into reverse and slowly backs down the road to safety. Then we simply turn this caravan around and point it in the same direction that we came from earlier in the day.

After some discussion, Rudy and I conclude that the Air Force must be using parts of this road for bombing practice. Either that, or it’s a proving grounds for heavy earth-moving and excavation equipment. This section of road is definitely not intended for driving.

hikers
Now, just where is that darned overlook? [photo by Carl]
view
Sweeping view from Lava Point Overlook. [photo by Wayne]
hikers
Barry, Jay, and Megan at Lava Point Overlook. [photo by Barry]
group
20 Arizona Trailblazers pose for a group picture at Lava Point Overlook. [photo by John]
Front Row: Wayne, Sue, Basma, Diva, Megan, Rudy, K.G.
Back Row:  Chuck, Nicole, Joe, Gary, Monika, Carl, Lin, John, Carol Lin, Yanis, Barry, Jay, Dave

After finally arriving at the junction with Kolob Terrace Road again, we head back south to Lava Point and hike the short 0.3-mile spur trail out to Lava Point Overlook, which provides a spectacular overview of Zion Canyon, stretching far into the distance. We take a few pictures from here and, before leaving, gather for another group picture at the overlook.

Then we pile back into our vehicles and drive about five miles down the road to the Wildcat Canyon Trailhead to do a bit of exploratory hiking on the Wildcat Canyon Trail. Of the five known trailheads that originate from Kolob Terrace Road, this one sounds the most intriguing and worthy of hiking.

hikers
K.G., Joe, Yanis, and Rudy on the Wildcat Canyon Trail. [photo by Wayne]
overlook
Trailblazers gather at the Subway Overlook. [photo by John]
hikers
Hmm, wonder what that would be like to hike some day? [photo by Carl]
shadow
The mysterious Shadow Man of Wildcat Canyon. [photo by Carl]
shadow
Don’t look at me. The Shadow Man went thatta way. [photo by Dave]
hikers
Trailblazers transition to the Northgate Peaks Trail. [photo by John]

But after arriving at the trailhead and checking out the trailhead signs and maps and reading the trail descriptions, we decide to hike the Wildcat Canyon Trail only for the first mile or so to its junction with the Northgate Peaks Trail. Then we’ll hike the Northgate Peaks Trail, one of the newer trails in the Zion trail system, for roughly 1.5 miles out to its termination, offering a picturesque viewpoint of the Kolob Terrace area of Zion National Park. The Wildcat Canyon Trail is six miles in length and connects the trailhead with the West Rim Trail, just under Lava Point.

This is actually part of the Trans-Zion Trail system that backpackers use to hike from the Kolob section of Zion all the way down to Zion Canyon. That must be a really interesting experience.

hikers
Trailblazers explore the Northgate Peaks Viewpoint area. [photo by Carl]
hikers
Wayne, Chuck, Lin, Carl, and Yanis at the viewpoint. [photo by John]
hikers
Chuck, Basma, Megan, Jay, Wayne, and Nicole
at the viewpoint. [photo by Barry]
hikers
Diva and Lin ham it up for the camera.
[photo by Carl]
Yanis
Yanis is a bit of a ham as well.
[photo by Carl]
Wayne
Stuntman Wayne is on top of the world.
[photo by Lin]
John
John takes a break at the viewpoint. [photo by Carl]
Lin John
John studies Lin’s performance at the viewpoint.
[photo by Dave]
view
This hiker has the best seat in the house. [photo by John]
view
Sweeping view from the Northgate Peaks Viewpoint. [photo by Nicole]
view
Parting view from Northgate Peaks Viewpoint. [photo by Wayne]
hikers
Hiking back to the Wildcat Canyon Trailhead. [photo by Wayne]
red
Scarlet monkeyflower. [photo by Dave]
red
Indian paintbrush. [photo by Dave]
white
Evening primrose. [photo by John]
white
Evening primrose. [photo by Dave]
purple
Purple asters. [photo by John]
purple
Purple asters. [photo by Dave]
pink
Evening nightshade. [photo by Dave]
yellow
Sunflower. [photo by Dave]
white
? [photo by John]
white
? [photo by Dave]
bush
Sienna Bush. [photo by Carl]
tree
Life and death in the forest. [photo by Carl]

I had mentioned before about getting an early start for tomorrow’s Scout Lookout/Angels Landing hike, but realize that I still need to bring it up once again so we’re all on the same page about the starting time. So late Monday afternoon after we all return to camp from the day’s Kolob Plateau adventure, I circulate among the ten campsites, reminding everyone who plans on doing Angels Landing of the necessity for a 6:00 AM start time tomorrow, instead of our usual 8:00 am start time.

I had assumed even before the trip that some people would likely opt to just go later on their own or not go at all, with such an early start time. But, surprisingly, despite some initial grumbling, everyone going is on board with the earlier start time. I’m duly impressed.

On our 2014 Zion trip it was probably around 9:30 AM by the time our group of 18 hikers got to Scout Lookout. The lookout was already completely filled with people, and looking at the long line of hikers going up and down the Angels Landing Trail reminded me of the Piestewa Peak Summit Trail on a busy Saturday morning in Phoenix, with its constant stream of people going up and down the trail all day long. After looking at that line of Angels Landing hikers, all but four of our group decided to opt out, including me.

sunrise
Early morning sunrise near the Scout Lookout Trailhead. [photo by Lin]
silhouette
Rudy, Ralph, Diva, and Basma take in the morning views from Scout Lookout. [photo by Lin]

Then Lin had also informed me at some point that a couple of years earlier, when she and her daughter caught the 7:00 AM park shuttle to the trailhead, that it was still far too overcrowded and she decided not to risk it then as well.

switchbacks
Navigating the tight series of switchbacks known as Walters Wiggles. [photo by Ralph]
sign
This sign pretty much says it all.
[photo by Carl]
trail
The Angels Landing formation, up close and personal. [photo by Lin]
hikers
Trailblazers starting out vertically on the
Angels Landing Trail. [photo by Wayne]
hikers
Slowly getting closer to the top.
[photo by Wayne]
chain
Ann, Monika, Rudy, and Lin carefully navigate the chain. [photo by Wayne]
Diva
Diva leads the way along this stretch of the trail.
[photo by Ralph]
Wayne
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Super Wayne!
[photo by Wayne]

Since then, I knew that we would have to get an earlier start to avoid crowds like that. The main problem is a safety issue, with hikers going up having to share the same safety chains with other hikers coming back down. And what that amounts to is hikers reaching hand over hand, sharing the same safety chains, and the chains becoming wet with perspiration. This hike is risky enough without adding another unnecessary level of risk by being too overcrowded.

I’m surprised the Park Service doesn’t put a limit on the number of people allowed on this trail at any one time and then post someone at the foot of the trail to enforce it. But of course the answer to that is obvious. They simply can’t afford it since they’re already under-budgeted and understaffed.

Tuesday morning, September 19, comes far too early for the fifteen of us dedicated Angels Landing hikers. We roll out of our sleeping bags between 4:30 and 5:00 AM to face a pitch black campground, as we get ready, fix breakfasts, and prepare our gear for the day’s activities. While yesterday was the easiest day of the trip, both physically and mentally, today will likely be the toughest day, both physically and mentally, for most of us.

hikers
A line of hikers is moving up and down the chain on this stretch of trail. [photo by Nicole]
Lin
Lin leads the charge through this stretch
[photo by Ralph]
Basma
Basma looks back down the trail.
[photo by Ralph]
rocks
We must be getting close to the top now.
[photo by John]
John
John continues making his way up toward the landing. [photo by Megan]
rock
You definitely don’t want to lose your footing here. [photo by Megan]
Megan
Megan carefully works her way up the chain. [photo by Jay]
rocks
OMG! Did I just hike from all the way down there? [photo by Jay]

Except for those few Angels Landing veterans like Rudy, Wayne, and Ralph, the rest of us more than likely lost a little sleep during the night, agonizing over whether or not we really wanted to go through with this. Especially knowing that at least eight people have fallen to their deaths doing this hike since 2004.

But that’s also true with any number of other hiking trails in other National Parks around the country. Thousands of people hiking the major corridor trails in the Grand Canyon every year, like the Bright Angel or North and South Kaibab trails, have no idea that about twenty people die each year in the canyon. They die from a variety of causes, including heart attack, heat stroke, severe dehydration, and getting too close to the edge of the trail or any high point and falling into the canyon. And every year several people decide the Grand Canyon is the ideal place to kill themselves, typically by taking a flying leap into the abyss from the highest point they can access. In the end, each of us is ultimately responsible for our own safety and welfare, and we can blame no one but ourselves for our negligence and carelessness and not being properly informed or prepared for some of the challenges that we decide to take on in life.

Chuck
Chuck is stuck between a rock and a hard place. [photo by John]
Yanis
Don’t jump, Yanis! It isn’t worth it! [photo by John]

We gather at our usual meeting location in the campground at 6:00 AM and begin walking toward the Visitor Center shuttle stop. Not surprisingly, there are relatively few people waiting on the shuttle at this time of the morning, compared to all the other times we’ve caught the shuttle. We all board the first shuttle and take it to The Grotto, the first stop after Zion Lodge. There, we take advantage of the last restroom we’ll see today before coming back down the trail and then cross the footbridge over the Virgin River.

I ask Ralph to talk to us about his past experiences hiking Angels Landing and to share any advice and safety tips he has with the group. Ralph is a wealth of information when it comes to hiking Angels Landing and gives us lots of invaluable information and advice on the hike. Thanks Ralph! We’re all thankful that you’re part of our group today, and I, especially, can breathe a lot easier knowing that you’re with us.

trail
On the final approach to Angels Landing. [photo by Megan]
hikers
Ann, Alex, Wayne, Diva, Yanis, and Basma are among the first arrivals. [photo by Lin]
hikers
John, Chuck, Monika, and Rudy are taking a break. [photo by Megan]
Diva
Diva celebrates the occasion.
[photo by Ralph]
Lin
Someone has a birthday today? I should
have baked a cake. [photo by Wayne]
Ralph
Ralph is in his element. [photo by Diva]
Yanis
Yanis is in a pensive mood. [photo by Lin]
hikers
Ann, Lisa, and Rudy, with Monika in the background. [photo by Wayne]
group
The remarkable Trailblazers 15 who conquered Angels Landing. [photo by Wayne]
Front Row: Lin, Ann, Monika, Diva, Rudy, Ralph
Back Row: Alex, John, Megan, Basma, Jay, Lisa, Chuck, Yanis, Wayne
view
View into Zion Canyon from Angels Landing. [photo by Wayne]
girls
Lisa, Kari, Lin, and Monika on the West Rim Trail. [photo by Yanis]

We start hiking on the Kayenta Trail once again for a short distance until it transitions into the West Rim Trail. This will be a short two-mile hike, with 1,000 feet of elevation gain, to Scout Lookout. Although rough and broken in a number of places, the trail is paved all the way up to the lookout. From Scout Lookout, we’ll face the most challenging and difficult half mile hike that most of us have probably ever undertaken, as we slowly and carefully work our way up on the heavy chains to Angels Landing and one of the greatest views anywhere in Zion National Park.

The hike from Scout Lookout to Angels Landing is just about as much mental as it is physical, especially when it comes to overcoming your fears and your apprehensions. You have to mentally convince yourself that you can do this, that you can safely get to the top and reach Angels Landing, and then turn around and get yourself back down to Scout Lookout—all in one piece. You must banish all fears, doubts, and second thoughts completely from your mind and concentrate only on the hike. If you can’t do that, you probably shouldn’t even start this hike.

By the time John, Megan, Jay, and I reach Scout Lookout, the rest of the group is already well on their way up to Angels Landing. This is finally the moment of truth. There are already a number of people on their way up and even a few more on their way back down. But due to our earlier starting time, thankfully, it isn’t nearly as crowded as it was on our 2014 Zion trip.

I let John, Megan, and Jay go ahead of me, and I’m the last one to start up the trail. I swallow hard and choke back any last second doubts in my mind, grab the chain with both hands, and start pulling myself up a few feet at a time until I get to the next level.

We all continue doing that, while taking a certain degree of comfort in the repetitive nature of this trail—taking it a few feet at a time until reaching the next level, then the next level, and then the next level, until you eventually can go no higher and find yourself at last standing on Angels Landing. You did it!

view
View from Angels Landing, looking south
into Zion Canyon. [photo by John]
descent
Basma, Diva, and Ralph begin the descent
from Angels Landing. [photo by Lin]

All fifteen of us make it safely to Angels Landing and take a long rest and lunch break as a way of celebrating. After taking in the spectacular views and getting in one last group picture on this trip, we begin the tricky descent back down those heavy safety chains.

Coming back down from the landing is a bit riskier than going up since you now have momentum working against you. As a result you need to hang onto the chains even tighter in case you start slipping, which is exactly what happens to me next. I’m roughly half-way down from Angels Landing, when I suddenly start to lose my grip on the chain at a particularly steep section of the descent, probably due to my sweaty palms, along with the sweat from others collecting on the chain.

With my legs flaying about trying to maintain some sort of balance in keeping me upright but not doing a very good job of it, I begin to slide forward out of control for an undetermined distance, thinking any second now that I was going to lose my grip on the chain and go flying over the edge into thin air for a fast one-way trip to the bottom, a thousand feet below.

I think, almost instinctively, I finally managed to throw out my right leg in an attempt to hopefully break the slide, and it quickly slammed, with the full force of my weight behind it, into solid rock. The sudden impact transferred directly into my bad right knee, and the pain was so intense that I almost dropped the chain. I don’t think anyone else was around me at the time, so I just sat there for several seconds to collect myself before trying to stand up straight and see if my knee would still support me. It did, but the pain was pretty intense.

When I finally managed to reach Scout Lookout, John, Wayne, Ann, and Alex were still there. I sat down and took a couple of Motrin to help ease the pain. I didn’t have my hiking poles with me since I didn’t want to leave them behind at Scout Lookout. They would only be a hindrance on the Angels Landing hike since you need both hands for the chains. The other four stayed back with me for a while, as I slowly limped my way down the trail from Scout Lookout. Wayne eventually found a broken tree branch for me that was just the right size for a hiking staff.

Without that to help me take pressure off the injured knee, I’m not sure how I would have ever made it back to the trailhead. It still took me nearly two hours to get back down, but I finally made it and caught the shuttle back to the campground. Then the short walk from the Visitor Center to the campground took another thirty minutes or so. When I finally got back, I soaked my Frogg Togg brand cool towel in ice water from my ice chest and wrapped that around my knee for the next hour or so to reduce any swelling.

What an ordeal this turned out to be! But I’m certainly not complaining, especially since I’m still here to tell the story.

hikers
Jay, Megan, and Barry near Scout Lookout.
[photo by Barry]
group
Trailblazers going up meet Trailblazers
coming down [photo by Wayne]
group
Nicole, Barry, K.G., and Mimi at Scout Lookout. [photo by Barry]
Chuck
Chuck limps steadily along on his trusty staff. [photo by Wayne]
trail
Descending the winding Kayenta Trail from Scout Lookout. [photo by Lin]

As we sit around our last campfire of this trip on Tuesday evening, discussing the events of the day among other topics, I start asking each person in the large circle gathered around the fire what was their favorite hike or what was the high point of this trip for them. This seems to have become another tradition of our car-camping trips, or at least it is for the ones that I organize since I like to get this type of feedback from people.

Most people mention Observation Point, the Zion Narrows, or Angels Landing as their favorite hikes. But a few others also mention Emerald Pools, the road trip to Kolob Plateau and Kolob Lake, or the scenic half-day horseback ride that Sue and Gary took while the rest of us were hiking Angels Landing or Scout Lookout.

Then someone hands out some old-fashioned sparklers that we’re all familiar with as kids. I didn’t even know these things were still around. But instead of celebrating the Fourth of July, we’re celebrating Lin’s special twenty-ninth and a half birthday. 29 ½? Who celebrates a half birthday? Anyway, Happy Birthday Lin, and many more to come, Birthday Girl!

Then I pass around what’s left of the five-pound bag of roasted peanuts I brought on this trip, hoping that we’ll finally finish those off so I don’t have to take any back home with me, while Rudy passes his bottle of pecan pie Piehole around one last time so we can polish that off as well. Nobody leaves this campfire until every last peanut is eaten and every last drop of Piehole is downed!

sky
The star-filled night sky over Watchman Campground. [photo by Wayne]

Wednesday morning, September 20, and the last day of our Zion 2017 adventure trip is here. We’ve had such a busy and productive past five days that it seems like we only arrived here yesterday. But isn’t that always the case on the last day of these Arizona Trailblazers car-camping trips?

After breakfast we begin the long and arduous process of breaking camp and stowing all that camping gear back into our vehicles. At the beginning of the trip, packing gear into the vehicle always seems to go smoother than it does at the end of the trip. But somehow everything always manages to fit, and before long we’re all ready to bid one another goodbye and hit the road for the long drive back home to the still-hot Arizona desert.

Looking back on our special week together here in Zion National Park and all the many great things that we saw and accomplished together, as a dedicated team of 33 hikers, it’s certainly not too difficult to understand or appreciate what draws Karen back to this place year after year. There is definitely something magic in the air here, something that pulls you in and makes you never want to leave. But when reality sets in and you do finally and only reluctantly leave, your immediate thoughts center on coming back again as soon as possible. You are now under the enchanting spell of Zion, and there is no escape. Nor should there be, because we all need a place like Zion to come back to from time to time, if only for a few days. May magical and special places like Zion National Park always be here to nurture and enrich the human spirit within us all—for this and for all future generations to follow in our footsteps.

Perhaps John Muir said it best:
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life. Awakening from the stupefying effects of the vice of over-industry and the deadly apathy of luxury, they are trying as best they can to mix and enrich their own little ongoings with those of Nature, and to get rid of rust and disease.”
John Muir, Our National Parks


According to our club statistician, Jim, these are the cumulative mileage figures for Zion 2017:
33 hikers completed a total of 126 separate hikes, resulting in a total of 877.4 miles hiked. That is the largest number of separate hikes and cumulative miles completed for any car-camping trip in the history of this hiking club. Congratulations to each of you for your part in creating this remarkable set of record statistics that will likely stand for a long, long time.


Please see Cyd’s supplemental report on the East Mesa Trail to Observation Point hike and the West Bank Virgin River hike, with lots of pictures, immediately following this trip report.

Also see Sue’s supplemental report on the horseback ride that she and Gary took, with several pictures, at the end of this report.

Check out John’s short five-minute U Tube video on the Zion Narrows.

Finally, please take a few minutes to look over all the comments that a number of you sent me on your impressions and thoughts of Zion National Park as a first-time visitor.


Supplemental Report
by Cyd Cassel

“Okay. I’ll use my senior pass to reserve a campsite for the club trip”, I told Chuck. And so I did. Once I really started planning for a 6 night camping trip, it became daunting. So I dropped back to plan B, stay in a rented house with 5 other women.

Mimi, Eileen, Monica M. and I drove together to the house in La Verkin, Utah, a convenient 20 miles outside of Zion National Park. Since I am still having some “issues” from surgery for a blown out meniscus last year, I knew I would not be able to do the more strenuous hikes. So I agreed to lead easier hikes on those days.

While several Trailblazers opted to take the long route up to Observation Point, 18 of us opted to take the easier trail, The East Mesa Trail. The drive through the East entrance to the park and on to the Zion Ponderosa Ranch (private property) was an adventure in itself.

Along the way we encountered a “Sheep Jam” as a herd of Bighorn sheep had decided to cross the road in front of our vehicles and were taking their easy time.

sheep
Bighorn Sheep Jam. [photo by Mimi]

Once we made it to the Zion Ponderosa, we went from a paved road to a gravel road then a primitive dirt/mud road which deteriorated to a rut-ridden, mud hole, hold on to your seat ride, until we finally found a place where all five vehicles could park without blocking the road.

group
Trailblazers at East Mesa Trailhead. [photo by Monica H.]
Standing: Kari, Lisa, Karen, Cyd, Nicole, Gary, Jim, KG, John, Mimi, Barry, Monika M, Joe, Nancy
Kneeling: Eileen, Carl, Lin, Monica H.

We regrouped under a cluster of ponderosa pines then began our 3 mile journey to Observation Point. In all the hike descriptions I read for the East Mesa Trail, each had mentioned that we would be sharing the trail with horse concessionaires and could expect to have to walk around horse pee and horse piles (if you get my gist). Thankfully, that was not the case. We did not encounter one horse or its leftovers.

About a mile into our journey, one of our hikers began having some medical issues which necessitated being taken to a lower altitude and back to the campground to recover. Barry radioed those who were ahead on the trail and asked them to return to the group as we had a “situation”. Gentleman that he always is, John Scruggs offered to take our hiker in need back to the campground. His riders, K.G. and Monica H., agreed to cut the hike short and accompany John and his passenger. The group went from 18 to 14.

The faster hikers went ahead while the slower hikers brought up the rear, myself being one of them. We hiked through a healthy forest of pines on top of the mesa. There were numerous skeletons of trees that had been struck by lightning but most of the trees appeared unscathed by bark beetles as we so often see in our Arizona forests.

hikers
East Mesa Trail. [photo by Cyd]

East Mesa Trail is nothing short of beautiful. The first views of the hike are northward and feature the Pink Cliffs of the Virgin Rim, which rise up to 10,000 feet. We were treated to views of Mystery Canyon on one side and the Gray Cliffs on the other.

It reminded me of the Wilson Mountain Trail in Sedona except the elevation gain was gradual and rather easy.

Around the two mile mark, when we reached the apex of our elevation gain on our way to Observation Point, there was a steep downhill grade that truly made me concerned. Would my knee hold out going both down and then back up the trail? I opted to wait beside the trail on a downed log to wait while the others continued to Observation Point.

After having some lunch and electrolytes, I felt brave enough to give it a shot. After all, I hadn’t driven all that way to sit on a log.

I continued alone to Observation Point, only to find that I had just missed the group picture taken a few moments before I got there. The hikers who came up the long route had arrived about the same time our group, who had taken the easier route, arrived.

girls
Eileen, Cyd, Monica M., and Mimi. [photo by Yanis]

Instead of returning the same way they came in, Mimi and Gary opted to make the 4 mile descent back to the bottom with the other group of Trailblazers. Our original group had dwindled from 18 to 12.

We enjoyed our trip back to the campground. Then Mimi, Monica M, Eileen, and I went back to the house in La Verkin.


After tackling the Narrows, I am so glad that Eileen, Monika M., Jim, and I had the opportunity to hike the West Bank of the Virgin River. My knees were shot and needed a super easy hike.

The brave souls who were going to tackle Angels Landing that morning had departed at 6 AM to embark on their adventure. Our group convened at 8 AM at the campground to catch the shuttle to Court of the Patriarchs to start our hike.

We initially walked south on the sandy trail to get to the west side of the river and proceeded north following the Virgin River all the way. What an unexpected treat was waiting ahead!! We had the trail to ourselves! That is, until we met our first group of three on the trail with the horse concessionaire. Where the East Mesa Trail descriptions said to expect to encounter horse concessionaires, the description for the West Bank Trail said nothing about them. The wrangler in front pointed out Hangover Rock jutting out of an outcrop above us. We simply stepped aside and watched as the beautiful beasts and their riders passed on by uneventfully.

deer deer
Deer. [photos by Eileen and Cyd]

A little farther down the trail, we encountered a small herd of deer grazing on both sides of the trail. When they realized we were behind them, they lazily regrouped on the left side of the trail as we passed by, stopping to take pictures and admire their beauty.

Not too much later, we encountered the second group of horses and riders on this beautiful little trail. All of us were surprised to see that two of the riders were Trailblazers! Sue and Gary had opted to see the West Bank of the Virgin River on horseback instead of by hiking.

Gary
Gary on the horse. [photo by Cyd]
turkeys
Wild turkeys. [photo by Eileen]

The sights, smells, and sounds were nothing less than tranquil for the entire hike. As we popped around a little bend, we came upon a flock of six or so wild turkeys on the trail. They were busy catching bugs for breakfast and paid us little attention. Once they did notice us, they sauntered off the trail and up the hill with absolutely no hurry. It was apparent that they too were used to the park hikers.

Shortly down the trail, we did finally encounter three other hikers. I stopped briefly to let them know what a treat they were in for as the trail was so beautiful! They weren”t sure how far they would hike but agreed that the scenery was exceptional.

The trail to the Emerald Pools intersected at the bridge where we crossed to continue our hike which was scheduled to end at the Grotto Trail.

bridge
Bridge over the Virgin River. [photo by Cyd]
river
The Virgin River. [photo by Eileen]
hikers
Cyd, Jim, Eileen, Monica M. at Weeping Rock. [photo by Cyd]

We crossed the bridge back to the east eank of the Virgin River and stopped for a snack on a large felled log. The east bank definitely was suffering from the water rushing down the river. There were numerous places where it was obvious the riverbank was receding at such a rate that made me think that the trail we were hiking would not even be there in a year or two! What a shame that would be but we all know you can”t fight Mother Nature.

While we were enjoying out snack, a single little fawn popped out of the high growth on the side of the river behind us, stopped to take a long drink out of the river, then proceeded to cross to the other side.

The original plan was to finish our snack then hike over to the shuttle at the Grotto Trailhead. The revised plan was to take the shuttle on up to Weeping Rock, then to Zion Lodge gift shop for some souvenirs, then back to the Visitor Center and over to the Café Soleil outside the park for lunch.

Once we finished lunch, we returned to the campground, said our goodbyes and headed back to the house in La Verkin.

Cyd   


Supplemental Report
by Sue Williams
Sue
Sue on horseback. [photo by Gary]
Gary and I ventured to the Zion National Park horseback riding corrals, located across from the Zion Lodge, for a 3-hour tour on Tuesday, September 19. We saddled up at 9:00 AM, and we quickly became fast friends with our guide and our horses. We did have another lovely woman on our tour, and she rode a mule.

All our animals were gentle and well-behaved. My horse, Porter, was so fun to ride. His coat was brown but in the sunlight he had gorgeous burgundy highlights. He is so lucky. Between 9:00 AM and 12:15 PM we viewed the Three Patriarchs, the Court of the Patriarchs and the Sentinel. This route was known as the Sand Bench Trail.

We did a very safe and easy 500-foot ascent on our ride. The views of the southern end of Zion Canyon were spectacular. Halfway through our ride, we stopped for a guide-provided water break. Our tour was superb. Beautiful views, great people, lovely animals and the temperatures were perfect. The entire experience was so joyful and serene. I felt so fortunate to see Zion without having to climb the terrain myself.

Gary Sue
Gary and Sue on horseback.

Sue   


Comments From Zion Hikers:

I asked all of our first-time visitors to Zion to share with me their thoughts and impressions of Zion National Park—what impressed them the most, what they liked and didn’t like, and what they might like to see different on a future trip. For some reason, this particular trip generated a greater response than any of my previous car-camping trips over the past 19 years. Some very insightful and interesting commentary. Here is what some of our hikers shared with me, in addition to a few comments from return visitors to Zion National Park.

Sue

This trip was my first visit to Zion. I thought it was gorgeous and beautiful. I have been to several National Parks, and I think the beauty rivals Arcadia National Park. I enjoyed this park more than Yellowstone and Yosemite.

The sheer size and the rock formations were so vast and cumbersome. I felt blessed to be in their presence. If you don’t think there is a higher being, then Zion will have you thinking twice. I also liked the history of the park. The Mormon settlers and the names of some of the mountains were from the First Testament. I felt protected in an odd way.

I think the Zion and the Springdale shuttle systems were ideal. I rode them often, and I spoke with all my drivers too. I learned so much from them, and I never had any problems navigating. The drivers and the park personnel were the most laid back, friendly and helpful people of any park I have visited in the past.

For example, the park personnel gave me temporary passes when I left the park, and I never had a problem returning to the park. (I don’t have a regular pass). Springdale had some of the best restaurants too. The food was great, and the staff engaged me in nice conversations about themselves and the park.

I thought our campsite was a terrific location, and there were plenty of restrooms too. Since it was very hot and sunny, maybe the participants could pay a little more for one additional campsite to have as our gathering location. We could put our chairs, a canopy, a bonfire and ourselves there so that we didn’t always impose on the people on that site.

I say this because I sat over there very often since Rudy’s site had much more shade than mine. I think the unintentional guest caused a distraction. It was unnecessary drama, but it didn’t impact me at all. Perhaps the club can address this scenario via the bylaws.

Likewise, the noise produced by our group should cease at 10 PM. Unfortunately, the leaders may have to address this, but maybe that could be announced throughout the trip. I think all car drivers should be told to check for any space limitations several weeks in advance. This caused me quite a bit of stress. And I had to impose on you and John.

It all worked out, but it was crazy the night before our departure. I was very upset and annoyed. And once again, thank you for helping me out, Chuck. I think it would be nice to have Follies the last night in camp, in addition to everyone stating their favorite activity in the park. We could make up little skits about our adventures in Zion, some people may want to sing, some people could do standup comedy, etc. We could do this at our bonfire.

My favorite activities were the bonfire, the horseback riding, the car ride the group took to the different sections of the park (Kolob Canyon), the shuttle rides and the group camaraderie. This trip exceeded my expectations. Thank you, Chuck.

Diva

Words cannot express how grateful I am to have made it to Zion, my first! I had an amazing time hiking with you all, meeting/bonding with new hiking family members.

I also appreciate ALL your support and encouragement on my upcoming Ironman. It was awesome to train in Zion.

Huge thanks to you, Chuck, for organizing this trip. I hope you’re able to catch up on your sleep.
:) Thanks to all for making this one unforgettable/memorable experience for me. Until we meet again ... my AZT Hiking family!

My forst time in Zion. It was magical! I had no expectations other than it’s going to be a great time with my AZT family! Trip Highlights for me were:
1) Angels Landing - Loved how we worked together as a team, encouraging each other, helping others overcome their fear as we summited and celebrated our accomplishments on top of Angels Landing.
2) Our last night’s campfire - recapping trip highlights and memorable moments.

Eileen

Chuck, thank you so much for setting this all up. I am really glad that I was able to go. Although I petered out on two of the days, but managed to hike two trails on Cyd’s hike that I had never done before. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Kudos to you for putting this together!

Monika M.

Thanks for all your hard work to plan and organize this wonderful trip to Zion. Even though I was unable to go on some of your more challenging hikes, I am glad I came.

Zion has so many hikes to offer and I thoroughly enjoyed the hikes I was able to do. The knee is getting better, by the way.

Carl

Thanks for putting together such a great trip. It’s a lot of work, and well appreciated by me and all the others. It was a fun-filled trip—lots of good memories, great hiking, great scenery and camaraderie.

Ralph

Chuck, I had a wonderful time. Thanks for all your planning and execution. You did an excellent job!

Karen

Yes, Zion is my favorite place. I have been 8 times. I’ve camped solo for up to 8 nights on a couple of those times, and have done the Narrows 10 times. It draws me like no other place and I try to get there on a yearly basis. And there are still places I have not seen, and some we will explore on this trip. I know all of the main trails like the back of my hand and I still can’t get enough. And I truly love showing this remarkable place off to newcomers and ensuring everyone sees and experiences the best in the time allowed. The Narrows is truly one of the world’s most renowned hikes. There are no adequate words to describe it and even videos don’t do it justice.

Kari

Zion is breathtaking. The moment we rode into this magical place with the soaring mountains I was in awe. The 1-mile tunnel, the unique Visitor Center and all the spectacular hiking. I just can’t say enough. I haven’t camped in 30+ years so it was like my first time. I’d do it again and again! What fun to sit around the campfire with members of AZ Trailblazers. Lots of laughs!

A highlight for me was camping at Watchman Campground with Karen and Lisa. I loved hiking the Narrows and would do it again when the water is clear. Another highlight was being a passenger on Karen’s Harley from Zion to Bryce. THAT actually was amazing and thrilling as I had the best views on the back of “Stella”. We rode on the scenic highway then visited Bryce which was stunning.

Allow hikes, gatherings, eating out to all be optional. Structure and on time hikes, but whoever shows up is whose attending. No “pot luck” even though it’s a tradition, as it’s just somewhat of a hassle to prepare/present. Suggest adding the Subway hike next time.

Zion went ABOVE what I expected! With all the visitors in this famous park I thought everything went smooth with the transportation, showers, campgrounds and incredible hiking! The restaurants were fabulous. We went 3 times to Meme’s as the food was outstanding, healthy and large portions so it was “Linner” (lunch and dinner combined).

Nicole

A huge thank you, Chuck, for all your hard work to make the Zion trip a reality. I went through Zion with my husband 27 years ago during our honeymoon and we hiked to Emerald Pools and nowhere else, as we had a busy trip in this side of the USA and travelling from Switzerland. I really enjoyed waking up and having my coffee under the beautiful Watchman Mountain. What a treat. We also lucked out that the moon was rising early morning, making for beautiful starry nights. I have really enjoyed all the different hikes and especially the Narrows. I am very fortunate. I found the AZ Trailblazer group full of very nice and kind people enjoying hiking.

Lin

Thanks for all your hard work Chuck. It was an EXECELLENT trip. Love the weather you ordered, love the food we shared, love the fun we had, love the hikes we did. Thanks so much.

Ann

Chuck, thank you for an amazing trip. So much organizing goes into these trips before, during and after. Really appreciate it and had a great time. Beautiful park.

Jay

My first impressions of Zion include the amazing height of the high vertical cliff walls and the varying colors imbedded in the rock that were exposed from the many years that the Virgin River spent cutting through it. It was a beautiful sight to see.

Every hike that we took was an opportunity to look at the canyon from a different view point and each one had its own special nuance that I can easily recall by memory. I thoroughly enjoyed the Observation Point hike. This was an opportunity to really get a solid hike in while catching various scenic views including the final view of the entire length of Zion Canyon. This was absolutely breathtaking and I will always remember it.

I honestly have zero complaints about the trip or areas for improvement. There were a few bumps and hiccups but what’s a road trip without them. I truly enjoyed every bit of it. That includes the sights, the people, the planned hiking routes, etc. It was definitely more than I expected and would love to do it again.

Megan

First impression while driving into the park: this place is huge! I couldn’t believe how tall and beautiful the mountains in Zion were, and just how much land the park occupied. Highlights for me on this trip would be hiking through the Narrows and overcoming my fear of Angels Landing. Both of these experiences were incredible, and the scenery was unlike anything else. I also thought it was neat to be able to compare the views from down in the canyon to those way up on the mountaintops.

I’m not sure what else I would do differently if I returned to Zion. I felt we accomplished a lot in the days we were there. I would climb Observation Point again, maybe try to finish it in less time (poor Jay had to stop every 5 minutes on the way up to wait for me).

The trip to Zion was more than I ever expected. Camping is always a great time, and to do it in a place as majestic as Zion with a bunch of great people and some Piehole whiskey is more than I could’ve asked for.

Basma

My first impressions as a first-time visitor to Zion were that the nature and mountains were really impressive. The time, history, ages, people, weather and life passed on these mountains are so deep! It felt like I was in the presence of something way much more than the rocks or even mountains we see in other places.

The varying distances of mountains and the different colors you see, when you look from many angles, make you just want to look more and have very relaxing thoughts. Of course, you shouldn’t be on risky edges, when you do that.

You have really done an amazing job with all your work on organizing and making this trip an unforgettable experience. The people I met were really amazing and I really spent an amazing time there, so thank you very much again Chuck for the great work on this and the trip report.

I thought the organization of the park and the experience was really unique and I will definitely bring Simon or other friends to this park again. The mountains had their own mystery. The Virgin River had its own unique color and the park shuttle drove nicely to so many places and we were able to go to all the good places without having to walk much.

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Arizona Trailblazers Hiking Club, Phoenix, Arizona
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updated November 13, 2017