Named for the Hebrew word "refuge," Zion National Park, nestled in Utah's southwest corner, is ranked one of the top 6 national parks in the world. Once you visit you will understand why.
A prominent feature of the 229 square mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to 2,640 ft deep. The canyon walls are reddish and tan colored Navajo Sandstone eroded by the North Fork of the Virgin River.
The rocks of Zion National Park are mostly flat-lying sedimentary layers. The prominent cliffs are Navajo sandstone, made from sand dunes in a large ancient Sahara-like desert. Long after they were deposited, all the rock layers were uplifted some 10,000 feet, and then eroded by rivers and streams, which cut deep canyons and left behind high cliffs. Natural minerals embedded in the rocks and minerals washed down from higher layers, as well as plant growth and mineral alteration on the rock faces, create the colors of Zion.
Canyon formation began some 6 million years ago but even today the Virgin River continues carving away the rocks of Zion, moving an average of 5000 tons of rock fragments daily.
Throughout Zion there are numerous examples glossy black streaks on the cliffs that are referred to as 'desert varnish'. This varnish is composed of clay particles chemically combined with iron and manganese oxides (facilitated by limited moisture) and possibly with some microbiological organisms such as bacteria.
Emerald Pools Trail (approx 3 miles)
This trail is listed as...'one of the trails not to miss' but to be honest, there are a number of other trails that provide a better view of what Zion has to offer. The three emerald pools reached by the trail are named for their greenish tint caused by algae growth. The pools were formed by the compression of water through porous sandstone rock. With the help of gravity and time, the pools fill with water. At the time of our visit, the pools were only muddy damp holes.
Random Trail (mileage unknown)
After being disappointed by the Emerald Pools trail, we chose a random trail situated on the shuttle route and started hiking. We aren't really sure which trail we took but it was a great decision with incredible views and geologic points of interest.
Narrows Bottom-up Route (10 miles)
The Zion Narrows is the narrowest section of Zion Canyon, and one of the most popular slot canyons in Zion National Park. National Geographic places this hike as #5 in their top 100 hikes in the US. What makes hiking this canyon unique is that the Virgin River which flows through Zion Canyon is the trail. Hiking the Narrows refers to both the 3.6 miles bottom-up hike from the Temple of Sinawava to Big Springs, as well as the 16 miles top-down hike from Chamberlain's Ranch back to the Temple of Sinawava.
During our hike of the Narrows, water levels ranged from ankle to calf deep in the beginning to waist and chest deep in some sections after Orderville Canyon.
How amazing is this hike? It appears on almost every bucket list of hikes in the US despite the fact the beginning section of the Narrows can be very, very crowded. The further you travel, the smaller the crowd. Faster currents combine with deeper water to help with 'crowd control' further into the hike.
All set to start the hike with walking sticks and rubberized hi-top sneaker-like river shoes. Coming from a person who does not use walking sticks, they are incredible helpful for this hike.
WARNING: Lighting conditions in the Narrows plays havoc with photography. It's challenging to get good quality pics due to the the lighting, slippery river bottom, and fast moving water. We did our best!
About 3 miles into the hike is the famous 'Wall Street' section of the Narrows where the canyon narrows to 22 feet and the walls soar overhead 1,500 feet. The are no words to describe the sensation of walking through Wall Street.
On our return down river, we briefly explored Orderville Canyon.
Angels Landing (5 miles)
First off, why is the trail called 'Angels Landing'? Legend has it that when Frederick Fischer was exploring Zion in 1916 he stated 'only an angel' could land on top of the fin-like formation that jutted out 1500 feet above the canyon floor. Amazingly in 1926, a trail to the 5790-foot summit was completed.
Angels Landing is one of the most exciting, intimidating and famous trails in the National Park Service. People describe Angels Landing as either extremely beautiful or extremely terrorizing but for Dave it was a combination of both! For some people completing the trail is an epiphany moment.
The trail starts along the banks of Virgin River until it meets 'Refrigerator Canyon' where a steep 1000-foot climb through a series of switchback begins. Even at this point, the views are beautiful.
After completing Refrigerator Canyon, you ascend 'Walter's Wiggles', a series of 21 tightly spaced switchbacks blasted into the sandstone ledge.
After completing the switchbacks, you approach 'Scout's Landing'. From the Landing, the trail continues up the 'Spine', a narrow chain lined knife blade ridge that leads to the Angels Landing summit, The Spine and lots of hikers are visible on the red ridge in the picture below. Now it's decision time for each person.... do you sit at the Landing and enjoy the incredible views or do you continue to the summit.
For us, the decision was obvious, continue climbing. The last 1/2 mile of the hike includes a carved steps and a series of chains bolted into the cliff to prevent climbers from tumbling 1000 feet down to the canyon floor. At times this knife-edge trail is only 12-18 inches wide. You are not a 'hiker' but rather a 'climber'.
The Park Service reports that 5 people have died due to falls while climbing the 'Spine'. During our ascent, we helped two women who had decided they could not continue and asked us to help them turn around so they could head back to 'Scout's Landing'.
These pictures of the summit climb were taken while we were going up and were coming down.
A quick look back at the Spine as we approached the summit. Next is a short walk on a narrow ridge that leads to the summit.
Finally at the summit! It was a little crowded but that didn't diminish the incredible views or the sense of accomplishment.
Then Dave had that epiphany moment and ....
.... asked me to marry him. Of course my answer was 'yes'. Dave said the feeling just came over him, and he realized that now was the perfect time and place to propose.
We celebrated at the summit, ate some lunch, and took in the incredible views. What a way to end this amazing hike to the summit of Angels Landing; it will always have a special place in our hearts.