Saturday, January 3, 2015

Road Trip Part IV: Zion National Park

Our next destination was Zion National Park and as we drove in the lesser visited East Entrance, this is what we saw.

My immediate reaction was "oh Zion, how could I have lived over 50 years, traveled the world extensively, and never set foot in you before???  You are absolutely, stunningly beautiful.  I am in love!"

We arrived in the park only to discover that all of the campgrounds were full.  This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because we found a campground located just a few miles outside the park which was part of Zion Mountain Ranch.  Zion Mountain Ranch has thousands of acres of pristine views, a herd of buffalo and dozens of horses which abutted our campsite.

This picture from
This photo of the buffalo at Zion Mountain Ranch is from Google images

In fact, our campsite was far nicer than any of those in the actual park itself.

The following morning we awoke early to tackle the Zion Narrows, a slot canyon hike in the Virgin River that has been on my "life list" for decades.  Zion Narrows is a 16 mile long canyon hike and is probably one of the most famous hikes in the world.   Despite the fact we were in the river early, the trail was already crowded.  Fortunately for us, some hikers we met earlier in Bryce Canyon told us about a turn-off several miles up the Virgin River which was just as beautiful, but had almost no visitors.  To get into this side canyon, hikers needed to wade into chest deep, frigid water and scale a bunch of boulders.  Needless to say, that kept most people away. 

Once we were in the side canyon, we only saw a handful of people and the scenery was just as spectacular.  

Despite the fact the main trail had hundreds of other hikers, it was still stunning.  We spent most of the day exploring the Narrows.  

When, not if, we return, I would like to backpack the entire canyon and camp out along the way.  This time we did an out and back hike, but it's possible to get a backcountry permit and camp along the canyon.  

The following day, we climbed Angels Landing, another one of Zion's most famous hikes.  Angels landing is a 5 mile (roundtrip) hike up a well maintained trail full of steep switchbacks.


The last 1/2 mile of the hike is on a very exposed, rock fin that drops off thousands of feet in both directions.  Once on the fin, hikers pull themselves up the rocks with heavy chains that are bolted in.  Mikaela is not a fan of heights, so she opted to wait for us at the base of the fin, but kudos to her for making it that far.


The summit was spectacular, with red mountains and green valleys as far as the eye could see.

That night, Kristi and I splurged and went out for dinner at Zion Mountain Ranch's restaurant located in an old, log cabin.  (The kids thought it was cool that we left them to cook their own meal at the campsite.)  It turns out, the ranch has a huge organic garden which provides the produce the restaurant uses.  We both ordered a delicious roasted vegetable salad and we sat there, looking at the herd of buffalo, sipping a glass of wine and chatting about how incredibly lucky we were to have had such a fantastic time in such a beautiful place. 

p.s.  I found this website to be full of great info about Zion: