The first of five Utah National Parks we visited
It was early afternoon when we got to Zion National Park, after a leisurely, scenic drive through Grand Staircase Escalante. After a few obligatory pictures of the entrance station, our first stop was Checkerboard Mesa. An ancient sand dune hardened into rock, lines and cracks in it have formed a checkerboard pattern. We pulled over and took a walk among some rock formations, and Tyler ran ahead and climbed halfway up the mountain! Next, we had to go through a long tunnel to get into the Park. We had to wait for a large RV that was coming through, they have to stop traffic both ways for large vehicles so they can ride right down the middle.
There are overlook windows in the tunnel, but you can't stop in there. We stopped at the visitor center, and looked at maps of a lot of the trails they had. We almost got a primitive campsite within the park, but then found out there was one just outside the park in Springdale with more amenities, including hot showers for only $10 more, so we went there instead. We were able to leave the truck at the campground, as travel through Zion is by shuttlebus only...there is not enough parking in Zion to accomodate all the visitors that come through. They had a shuttle back into the park, then they had large tandem shuttles outside the visitor center that would take you to all the points of interest within Zion. They are free, and one stops at each point about every 10 minutes or so.
Getting dripped on at Weeping Rock
This allows you to get off at each stop, spend as much time as you like, and catch the next shuttle to the next stop! Very efficient, and good for the environment as well. I'm betting that more parks will take up this system in the future.
We got off at each stop and spent a little time at each one, but saved our long hike for towards the end. First, we walked to Weeping Rock, so named because water traveling through the porous sandstone constantly flows from the walls and overhang. The water fell as rain hundreds of years ago, and has worked its way through the mountain to drip on us today! The walls were all moss covered because of the constant moisture. It was a fairly short hike, and it was still relatively early, so we decided next to tackle the Hidden Canyon trail.
Hiking up Hidden Canyon Trail
The trail started as a long, paved switchback, that crisscrossed up the mountain as it gained elevation. Eventually it turned over to a dirt trail, with a stone staircase at one point. After that it was mostly a narrow rock trail, always going higher up. Points of the trail were so narrow, they had lengths of chain fastened to the rock to hang on to as you inched your way along! I was impressed by Dawn, she didn't let her knee problems or fear of heights stop her from taking this beautiful, scenic hike up the mountain. We followed a young hiker couple up the wrong trail at first, then realized our mistake and made our way back to the main trail. It narrowed into a slot canyon with a sandy bottom, and a nice red rock wall going straight up.
Slot canyon at the end of the maintained trail
The trail continued further, but it the sun was coming down and we had no lights, so we decided to start heading back. It took us a few hours to get up to this point, and we wanted to at least get back to the paved part before dark. We saw a man with a red hat pass us on the way up. He had no light either, so we advised him to turn back, but he just kept going up. I told him he probably shouldn't go past the point with the chains at least, because that area would be very difficult to navigate in the dark.
Once we got back off the rock and on the trail, Tyler went way ahead of us, but Dawn and I took our time, enjoying the views and the sunset. The sun was down when we reached the paved part, and got darker and darker as we went down.
Parts of the stone trail were so narrow, they had guide chains to hang on to!
Soon we couldn't see the shuttles going by, we only could see the headlights. Tyler said he got to the bottom about 20 minutes ahead of us, he saw several shuttles come and go while he waited for us. While waiting at the stop for the next one, we looked up at the now pitch-black mountain. There was no light here at all! On the way back to camp, we wondered and worried about red hat man. The shuttle driver said they kept going up to that stop until 11 pm, and he would keep an eye out for him. We felt bad that he was stuck up there in the pitch dark with no light, but we tried to warn him, he just didn't listen!
We got dropped off back at the visitor center, then walked across the lot and a little bridge to catch the next shuttle to our campground in Springdale.
Getting darker now, time to head back!
Our camp was in a nice spot right next to the river. We made a large fire and cooked hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill. We had wanted to do laundry, but this one closed with the camp office...not open all night like other places we've stayed. After eating we hit the hay, worn out by our long day of hiking. Around 2:30 am, I got up to use the facilities, and saw the coolest, brightest shooting star right near the camp! It flared up, went out, then flared up again, lighting up the whole sky for a few seconds, then I saw a poof of sparks as it impacted on a hillside, across the river on the other side of the campground. Very cool!! When I was a kid, I was very into astronomy, and sometimes my friends and I would stay up all night watching for shooting stars... but I never saw a meteor actually hit the ground before!