I don’t how many times we said that in Zion (and in Arches).
We have NOTHING in the UK like Zion. Nothing. I live and breathe mountains be it Scotland, The lakes, North Wales, Chamonix or Switzerland but we simply don’t have the geology that the US does there I said it. We may have some of the oldest rock on the planet (Assynt is approximately 4bn years old) but the red , striated and river carved steps of the entire Colorado rivers length we do not have.
Until now our trip had been cold, green and mountainous (with the odd giant hot springs of course!) but as we wound for 11 hours counter clockwise south from Wyoming’s West yellow stone we entered fist the sprawling farmland of Idaho and then we transitioned to the increasingly desert like landscape of Utah and Zion.
We had already taken an overshoot “detour” to take in Bryce Canyon (see an upcoming report ) so had some sense of how different the landscape can be as you head into Utah and Arizona but nothing prepared us for Zion.
We arrived initially late afternoon and drove through the park to reach our accommodation taking it in one “WOW!” at a time, very excited to return early the next morning to explore it more. The first thing that we saw as we wound our way through the park was the “checker-board” mesa – a slab faced rock rising high into the air scoured horizontally and vertically by wind to resemble a patchwork of squares. (see above)
We arrived at our hotel just outside the park, grabbed food and a beer and soon headed to bed too excited really to sleep but tired from our long drive. IMPORTANT NOTE for any travellers from the UK to Utah … you will need ID to get alcohol (I’m 45 and was refused entry to a bar without it) and its only available with food in hotels – they don’t have a bar as such! So plan what you want to drink, don’t close your food tab unless you are finished or you will need to order more food even to get a beer !!
The key objective , again as we had limited time in each park was Angels landing the “go to” hike where many test their head for heights on a narrow (ish) ridge that rises out of thee valley and up along the spine of rising and increasingly narrow and steep path to arrive flatly at the short flat top with views that would take an Angels breath away.
The route is renowned for 2 things sadly – overcrowding and very sadly deaths due to hikers falling (despite its fairly pedestrian nature for experience mountaineers or climbers). Its not a route to undertake when the rock is wet – regardless of skills and experience.
Luckily as we were there early season and got up very early to catch the first free shuttle bus up the valley (the only way bar walking) as no driven traffic is allowed which is great. We arrived with the few hardy hikers and we set off a blistering pace in the cool morning, the shadow the peaks keeping us nicely in shade.
As we made our way steadily up the winding path and the sun rose we were continually awed by the emerging views back along the valley , rock faces rising sharply all around, lush vegetation giving way to red rock.
The sadness is that again this used to be revered lands for the local tribes and used for rituals and worship – we were very mindful of this and tried to be as respectful of this throughout out time here – not wishing to in any way sully the memories of what had gone before. Truly this was a cathedral for any soul.
As we rose so did the sun and by the time we arrived at the base of the last “spine” the temperature was heading north. I was aware of how crowded and narrow the route could get so we pushed on , trying to move at pace but also ensuring those few who had got out even before us could descend safely . There are at higher point chain link “handrails” but its still a very airy and exposed route – even more so with lots of people but we moved along it, reaching one false summit after the other before finally pushing up and onto the summit slabs.
All along the way the numbers had reduced as “tourists” dropped back, then casual hikers, then serious hikers until only those with a real head for heights or the bravery to push through made the last section. As often happens we picked up some new friends along the way and coached at least one of them right to the top when their friends passed on going any further with a “no frikkin way” !
After a brief time sitting taking it all in and a grabbing a snack (and feeding a local gopher) we decided to make our way down, knowing how many would now be coming up.
After much negotiating groups, helping some, bypassing others, waiting, moving and finally hiking down the last section of the tail the sun was as high as the temperature. In Yellowstone it got as low as minus 1 or 32 , here in Zion only 2 days but a few hundred miles south it was heading near to 40 and close to 1pm!
Top tip… you need to really think about gear/clothes on a trip like this ! Check weather predictions for each location and try to talk to locals via social media or friends and pack to match !
Once down we headed for lunch and as usual were treated to AMAZING US service and MASSIVE portions…… i still feel full!
Next stop (after the local gift shop of course …. Moab and Arches park !