Zion (Utah Pt. 1)
So! Been a while, hasn’t it? Nearly five months since the last on-time post, which as coincidence would have it, is the length of your average college semester. I’m not saying there’s a direct connection, just that classwork and other things kept me much too busy to write a decent post. Well, maybe there’s a little connection after all. I don’t want to bore you with the details, though, you’ve gone a long time without new photos and you want something good NOW! Thankfully I come prepared. The last five months have seen me visiting some of the most beautiful and unique areas of northern Arizona and southern Utah thanks to an excellent photo class which involved field trips, sleepless nights on the road, and more field trips. To kick off our class, and now to breathe some life back into this site, our first destination was Zion National Park.
After a drive of some six or seven hours we arrived at the beginning of a deep, narrow canyon appropriately named the Narrows just as the sun was rising. It had snowed lightly overnight, making the winding road perilous but coating the red-orange rocks in a shining dust of white. The effect was especially striking as the sun crept across the high, more heavily-powdered peaks guarding the valley, to the point where all eyes were drawn upwards all the time. The Narrows trail wanders along and through an icy creek, pure blue bedded by worn pebbles, with little in the way of banks except bare stone and cliffside. On a few occasions I got to see just how icy and blue the water feels when up to my knees in it, and I was thankful for wool socks and waterproof boots. It soon became apparent to our group that yes, it was February, and no, wading hip-deep or deeper through the creek wouldn’t be in our best interests, so after too short a time we turned back to the comfort of the trail. The Narrows is surely a place I will visit again.
As everyone dried off and the next leg of our visit was planned, we were treated to the unveiling of a particularly nice mountain peak just across from where we parked.
It was decided that we would explore the Emerald Pools trail, which winds itself up a side valley following a small creek which collects in three beautiful pools. After a short walk up the first pool is revealed, and its acquaintance is closely met as the trail passes so nearly behind its feeding waterfall that it was unwise to take pictures for more than a few seconds at a time. The effect was stunning though, sunlight streaming through the water droplets and reflecting off the towering cliff faces to every side, with the whole valley of Zion as a backdrop.
From there the trail meandered upward through cracks in massive boulders and under tall trees until it opened on the second pool, located at the very top of the previous waterfall. The second pool was more like two in their own right, connected by a slide across slippery corrugated stone. There was much more area to explore around that pool, from the edge of the waterfall itself to the steep, brushy slopes on all sides. This pool attracted many visitors and as a result wasn’t very photogenic, but the best waited up ahead.
The last leg of the trail was the longest, winding sharply upwards through increasingly snowy foliage, following the deep gorge bearing the creek to its source. After a last scramble over boulders the third and final pool spread out in its blue-green depths from edge to edge of a massive auditorium in the mountain, a feathery waterfall plunging hundreds of feet to patter off the pool’s surface below. This place, like the last, had several people simply walking around in awe of the sight, and regrettably my lens could not take in the full scope of the waterfall, but the one scene I managed may give you some notion of its beauty.
I stayed there for some time before heading back, and as is often the case, one of the more picturesque vistas in the park, at the very top of this post, was revealed by walking the same trail backwards. Given more time and a more mild season there would be much more to see and explore along that trail, but the touch of winter gave it a unique aspect all its own, and I am glad to have seen it in such a way.
The final destination of our stay in Zion was something of a special opportunity, as most people in the group had been exhausted by the other two hikes and elected to stay behind. Only six of us, including the professor, set out to climb what may be the park’s most famous trail: Angel’s Landing, named (so I heard) because it was once thought so high that only angels could reach the top, until one intrepid hiker disproved that in fine form by being the first to summit it. It is the highest peak within the park, and is notorious for the sharply ascending trail near its end. We were optimistic though, and the afternoon was bright, so we began.
Some people will tell you that the first part of the trail is easy, that it only starts being difficult when you begin climbing the series of twenty-one switchbacks carved like a zipper into the rock. Do not listen to those people, they are trying to impress you. The ascent to that point clings to the mountains, and in a few places is cut into the mountains, going up and up steeply until a brief shady canyon between two peaks is reached. Of our group of hardy explorers, one had to turn back before making the canyon. For a time the going is peaceful, but then the scope of the coming problem reveals itself to you as you turn a corner. The trail had been growing progressively more icy as we climbed, snow packing in along its sides, and when we caught sight of those twenty-one switchbacks there was a choice to be made. We all tried to press on, battling the slick surface and the merciless hand of gravity, and unfortunately a friend of mine and myself had to stop there. We simply did not have the traction to tackle the trail, but the last three members of our group crept doggedly upwards. I still do not know how they made it up, much less back down, but as they vanished over the top ridge there was nothing to do but head back the way we came. Talking to them later we learned that they progressed past impossible ridges set with chains for pulling yourself up, and though they did not make the summit, they were treated to magnificent views of the valley from that high, cold place. As some consolation my friend and I also had quite a sight stretched out before us on the way down, and though we did not make it to the top, it was worth the climb.
When we had all reached the bottom the sun was quickly setting and our entire party began setting up camp on the valley floor. The night was numbingly cold, but the sky was clear and overhead were more stars than I have ever seen before. There are occasions when a photograph is simply not the thing to take at the moment, and looking up into the milky way that night was one of them. We slept icily and fitfully the rest of the night until daybreak, leaving Zion behind with many a backward glance, our adventure in Utah not yet through.
Not bad, eh? Just a couple more things to inform you, dear readers, about what’s going on behind the scenes here. I have nine or ten more posts to make before I’m back on schedule (like I said, busy busy!), and I’ll try to put those together in a timely fashion now that summer’s here. If I go anywhere really special I may post that before finishing the backlog. I also plan to make some changes to the basic structure of this site, polishing it up and making it more accessible for you who so kindly visit. I’ve got mountains of photos on here (HA HA) but they’re organized like my archives, and not in a way which makes them viewer-friendly, so keep an eye out for those changes sometime soon. If there’s any feature that you’d like to see, leave a comment and I’ll see what I can do. I’m no wizard, but I’m always open to suggestions. Thank you for reading, I hope to see you back here quite soon!