The Majestic View Lodge delivers a majestic view...
From Highway 9, we meet the Virgin River, which passes through the town of Virgin, and eventually lead us all the way to the mouth of the Zion Canyon...Passing all the po-dunk and wayward ghost towns and mudholes reminded me of how rich and how much life the desert still had to offer. So many shanty towns forgotten by time and space. Still they probably saw thousands of strangers passing through their gates every year on the way to Zion. The wild wild west is still very wild indeed ^^ but with a genuine thirst for life. I make up stories in my head of growing up in these dusty towns, creating a tapestry of Huckleberry Finn adventures as i watch the towns come and go, fade in and fade out of my car window, and my lucid mind.
The front gate at the kiosk...
Plowing along the Virgin River eventually leads us to an expansive opening in the valley. The valley walls are miles apart, like an opening scene to Shangri La (and no, references to the Mummy 3 will be stricken from the record!!) paved out way to the Majestic View Lodge...our humble abode for the next few days. The view from the lodge really IS majestic, in esthetic scenery and feeling. The weather is not to hot, not too cold in the autumn...its damn near perfect really. I really couldnt have asked for better. Apparently we arrived too early to move in, but we were able to check in and grab our keys, so we grabbed them and held a small "round table" to figure out where we would venture off to for the day.
Once inside, our great journey begins...the valley opens its treasure to our eager minds and bodies...
We reached a consensus that the hike should be short to medium in length and easy to medium in difficulty, with an emphesis on beautiful scenery ^^ people after my own heart hahah!! After much diliberation and suggestions by the Zion veterans, we open up a check box for the Emerald Lakes hike, pack our butts back into the cars and voom to the Visitor's Center at Zion.
RJ must have super asian parking power, because we got the God of God parking spot: the first spot on the curb out in front of the Visitor's Center. Mind you he drives a monster of a truck, but we snuggly fit without sticking our taillights into traffic! All the sudden everyone goes off in 5 different directions (yes yes, there are only 4 directions, so what i am saying is true) and im left at the curbside, stuffing this and that into my pack hahaha.
The valley walls surrounds and hold us close...
..i really am OCD when it comes to packing, i take forever. RJ backs me up and waits patiently for me ^^ he's got a homie's back!! A quick cruise through the "very little village" and we decide that packing thai food from the restaurant there would probably not be a good idea (but yummy tho) and make our way to the general store...where it seems everyone is at already anyways...collecting last minute food and snacks. Hurray trailmix!! I grab a handfull of Luna bars, even though they are "Perfectly Balanced for a Woman." I figure it cant really hurt to stock up on girl power hahaha!!
The kiosk at the gate is actually quite packed, but its just a few large groups, so we only stand in line for 5 or so minutes.
Caution...you may only walk up to 25 mph...!!!
Nhi grabs an annual Naional Park pass, projecting a year of liberal National Park usage...or so she hopes haha!! We snap a quick "before" group photo and bam...the animals are loose upon the valley floor. We scatter, scurry, and scamper across the garden paths to the shuttle buses that will take us deeper into the edenic delights awaiting us. We are now off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Zion...together, arm in arm, hand in hand, and foot in foot to the Emerald Lakes. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!! Lucky for us it is only mountain lions, squirrels and big horn sheep hahaha!!
Our trail starts off crossing back over the road that had brought us to the Zion Lodge area, to a metal bridge overlooking the Virgin River.
Before you cross the Birdge of Death, you must answer me these questions three...
We would be crossing and fording her shores countless times as we meander the valley for the next few days. There are lots of people on this trail, apparently one of the more popular hikes...lots of little kids energetically running around. Its quite a nice change of pace for me, to have so much going on around me. Im used to just the sound of my own huffing breath as i slowly die climbing a deserted hot and unhospitable trail while a buzzard tails me hahahaha!! The trail is still hopping with wildlife. We catch a turantula on his morning walk, probably trying to get away from all the racket, finally crawling into some shady rocks off the beaten path. Dragonflies guard the streams and the mossy vegetation by the watering holes, furry (and quite fat i might add for wild animals) squirrels duck and dart in and out from the bushes, although they do not seem bothered by the commotion.
Mother nature stretches her limbs, twisting and turning in the sun...
..im sure they are used to getting a free lunch here and there.
The Emerald Pools in a loop run: Middle(1.0 miles, 150ft elev), Upper (0.3 miles, 200ft elev), then Lower (0.6 miles, 69ft elev).
The trail to the Middle Pool is mildly taxing. Once you get your feet moving and break a light sweat the trail kinda opens up and you can start tearing up the hill. The mixture of small children and "golden year" couples (more like "golden age" hahaha) littered the paths for the rest of the day. Still, we take every opportunity to take copious quantities of pictures around every turn, by every gnarled tree, at every patch of clouded sky. I have never taken so many pictures as i go...my Zion crew is tearing up a storm in pictures.
The cliff at the Middle Emerald Lake...
..of which i am glad and greatful. Never have i had so many merry memories and such comprehensive documentation of a casual stroll...im gonna have to bring everyone with me everywhere i hike now hahaha!!! I try to capture as much as i can into my little phone camera...all i have for this trip. She proves to be worth her weight, and i am liberal in my approbations of her performance.
Reaching the Middle Pool brings us to little more than a puddle in the late summer season. The lack of life and the subtle movements of the stream come alive once the whole group arrives. The "Zion8" take a modest mountain backdrop and transform it into a photo studio paradise. The flash of shutters and of smiles light up the narrow canyon walls.
We make time for a little silliness...
On the canyon side, the stream continues up and around the trees and boulders, growing bigger and bigger around every bend. On the cliff side, we get a peek at the immense drop off over the edge, which is fenced off by chains. This does not however discourage photo taking "over the edge" hahahaha. At least everyone still has their marbles and balance; no one takes the dive just yet, not today anyways hahaha.
Nhi immediately disappears into the dense foliage while we take turns posing and snapping. And slowly, one by one, we creep farthur and farthur up the stream leading to the cliffs at the back of the canyon. By the time we catch up with Nhi, deeply rooted on a rock surrounded by the changing colors of fall, she suggests that we continue to clamber and crawl unti we can touch the canyon wall in the distance.
Blarg...boulders crack at my very wim!!!
To my pleasant surpise and dismay...everyone starts up the stream, hungry for adventure, "and i, infinitesimal being, drunk with the great starry void, likeness" find my feet following, and my head swimming...i think i have found my flock for the winter. I think i'll like following this group anywhere...their ferver and frenzy to do the spontaneous bring me back to my childhood, when wandering into the wild was a full time profession hahahaha!! I have traveled off the beaten path before, countless times, but never into the thick of the brush hahaha!!
We traverse tree trunks and errant braches, scale big, then gigantic, then humongous boulders, squeeze thru cracks and crawl spaces, and turn around and re-evauate our path everytime we hit a snag or deadend.
Technical difficulties in the great outdoors...Houston, we have a problem...hahaha!!
The time becomes timeless, and a part of me wants the experiance to never end, the canyon walls to never come closer, and just wander, inside my mind forever. Our laughter at overcoming snags, and huffing at overcoming boulders, is broken by a wailing, "MARCO!" We answer back, "POLO," and 5 or 6 more "Marcos" come wailing from every direction. Evidentally, the path to the Upper Emerald Pool is right above us, and we cannot distinguish between Sal and Jenn's Marco's from the half dozen others.
The higher and higher we go, the closer and closer we get to what appeared to be the trail to the Upper Emerald Pool...how about them apples hahaha!! There we were, chasing the "backdoor to Narnia," and some one else had already planned ahead and build a trail.
We regroup under a bowed branch along the stream feeding the Middle Emerald Lake...
By the time we decide to head back, the Upper Emerald Pool trail is practically upon us. Actually, going back down the stream proved to be tougher than the ascent, because we have already forgotten how we had come up, so we had to play the guessing game again, backtracking our own footsteps. Reminds me that "Tigger's can only bounce up, they dont bounce down!!" hahahaha!! Holes and cracks that looked too small to squeeze thru before look even smaller now, and the rocks and slopes look steeper. We arrive back at the Middle Emerald Pool in time to find Sal & Jenn enjoying a bit of a snack. If we had had a picnic basket, it would have been raided about now. Seemed like the perfect place for a meal, but Jenn declares that she is rejuvenated and the Upper Pool is completely within hand!! Woot Woot!! We strap our packs in close again, and fire up the trail.
A portal leading up into another place and time...
I dont know why i didnt expect it earlier, but the day gets better and better as it goes along...
Now the children on the trail are in full sprint, pounding the ground with the pitter patter of restless feet & legs. Dodging slower folks proves too much a nuissance for both parties...by the time we pass them up, we eventually stop to take photos and end up playing leap frog over and over again hahaha. Our quick run up the Middle Pool streambed has our hearts pumping and our blood moving...we tear up the trail in a blaze of glory, although Jenn does remark that the 0.3 miles to the Upper Pool is somewhat inaccurate hahaha...the trail however seems to eat up the time, and the time eating up the trail. We are now well in the shadow of the cliffs, the sun on the western half of the sky.
My moment of Zen is invaded by treasure seekers and dreamers alike ^^
..so the trail has cooled off considerably since our initial dustoff. Below to the left, is the streambug which we had just attempted...hahaha, so close, and yet so far off hahahaha!!
The sand on the trail is very fine dust, also found sporatically along the riverbeds. It is light and fluffy, so please pick up your feet as you make your way along and urge others to do the same. I had no problems wearing contacts in the dust, and barely felt the effects of inhalation, although im the type of person who will stop and let the dust settle rather than tramp right through the thick of it. I would not have ecpected such fine sand for a valley trail, but most of the valley is made up of sandstone i guess. This makes the trail at this point very soft, easy on the feet.
The edge of the world borders the edges of sanity hahaha!!
The trail brings us up to a giant boulder right in the middle of the path, which people have been creative enough to leave "ducks" on. The top of the boulder has countless ducks of all shapes and sizes...i found it enough to take pictures from the ground, but someone shoots up onto the top and eventually we all take turns sitting amongst the stones and the skies. I find it amazing that just 10 feet above the ground, sitting crosslegged surrounded by stacked rocks...one feels like one is already in a whole nother place and time...the small separation of space pales in comparison to the distance the separation takes you. I take my few moments of Zen before it is invaded by more pilgrams seeking the divine embrace ^^. I also take a few moments hanging off the edge of the world hahahaha.
The Upper Emerald Lake is quite busy, teeming with tourists and tired teens...
The Upper Emerald Pool itself is bigger than the Middle Pool, but not by much hahaha!! It is however bounded on all sides by the high cliff walls, which have now closed in around us, perfectly curtaining the lake on al sides. We are deep in the shade now, with a crater opening up above us calling to the sun and sky. It is the pinnacle of the hike (only topographically of course haha), and everyone is still in high spirits when they come down the final desending staircase of tree roots. There are people crawling on every rock, nock and cranny of the solid surfaces around the mud hole. The noise level has reaches a peak here, a conglameration of white noise comprised of screaming kids, parents and old folks enjoying a much deserved ret after the climb.
The cliff walls, like a slowly weeping stone facade sits like an altar atop the Upper Emerald Lake.
We take the oppertunity ourselves to blend into the crowd and grab as many pictures as we can, dodging the chaos around us.
As we are standing there in a circle, talking amongst ourselves, a loud thwack hits Nancy & me as we look behind us, to discover mud on our backsides and an angry little girl in a rainbow tshirt glaring at us, her little fists clenched in dirt. Everyones' reactions are kinda slow as we dont really know what to make of the seemingly random occurance, but the girl's mother exclaming, "No Way!!" quite diffused the situation as the girl's mother's reation was more amusing than we were angry at the mud flinging hahaha. Still...she better watch her back hahahah!!
We tried a few times to take a group picture on the few logs sitting close by the shore, but they were well in the water enough to swallow up our boots, threatening to seep into our socks, so we decide it'd be better just to take some standing photos.
The Zion8 take a moment for the meeting of true minds...
This prove much more efficacious, so we take take take, and then prepare for our "circle picture." I had only looked on Sal's profile a few days before, and had seen some circle photos in his blogs, but didnt expect myself to be in any of them anytime soon, but i got a treat as i took my first circle picture with the group ^^ うれしい !! The few attempts to capture the circular cliff walls above us were to no avail...oh well hahaha.
As we make our preparations to leave, I close my eyes here and printed the scene onto the back of my mind, commiting the sights as well as sounds into deep memory. The breeze blowing through the trees, the smell of the wet soil beneath our feet, the shreaking of running children, the heavier clopping of their parents giving chase, and all the clouds and stars spinning in my head.
The tiered cliffs above Upper Emerald Lake, like earthen organ pipes...
The towering cliffs above our heads sit like giant stone pipe organs...at any time they could sound fire, spewing a dense, heavy, terrestrial symphony. The psalms play inside my mind, ringing in my ears. Somewhere, on the other side of the world, someone breaths the same sighs of contentment as i do, feeling as though we are the only ones in the universe to be so connected to the nuances of Shiva's gestures.
The trail leading to the Lower Emerald Pool is all down hill, quite literally from here. We once again pass by Rock Mound and say our farewells, as it is now others' turns to join the ranks of the small monuments, if only for a few photos. The trail leading down is really well groomed, probably the most groomed section of the entire loop.
Once we get below the cliff bluffs, the plants open and offer up the colors of autumn...
There are stairs built from flat rocks and deep cuts thru gigantic boulders, which slowly lead us back into the rich warm colors of fall again. The small waterfall streaming off the cliffs that we saw while walking to the Middle Pool is now above us, spitting and dripping down the concave cliff walls. The trail is a thing of beauty, in both color and shapem wrapping around the Lower Pool, which is virtually hidden by the boulders beneath the falls. The trail is quite wet and muddy. We make our way around, trudging thru the thick mud, trying to stay on our feet. The end of the falls area marks the begining of a paved path back to the bridge of the Virgin...or rather, the begining of the Lower Emerald Pool trail if one were to start the loop from there.
The waterfall above the Lower Emerald Pool
The cascade over the cliff sprinkles everywhere underneath, churning the trail into a thick muddy mess, but the bulk of the falls rains down onto giant boulders beneath the trail. Images of tropical falls and water holes comes to mind. There wasnt any sun to offer a rainbow but there should have been one ^^. Everyone has a hayday here, taking lots of pictures. The pictures from way out, look jsut as majestic as the super closeups of the cliff walls.
The walls of the cliffs themselves under the falls are weeping wet, with huge cracks running both up and down, as well as side to side, sprouts of green and vegetation lining the gaps. Ive never seen such a majestic view from such a small trickle of water before hahaha.
Groundwater leaks and seeps and through the sandstone cliffs...
..but the size of the falls does not detract or take away the awesomeness of the scene. Mothers & couples push strollers of children through the thick if the mud as they make their way against our flow. We are even reunited for a brief moment in passing of the mud slinging little girl ^^ riding upon the safety of her mother's back...seemingly tired and tuckered out from a long day on the trail. Im quite glad we did the loop in the order that we did...the waterfall is a nice closing touch to the day.
As i come around the corner, having taken my last picture of the falls, i come upon Jenn resting by the side of thetrail, but no sign of the rest of the group. She motions to me to climb up the small hill next to us and tells me that everyone is taking pictures of the holes in the side of the cliffs, that i should hurry up and join them.
The waterfall empties onto the boulders below...
I dunno what to make of the strange advice so i hasten up the hill to discover the crew deeply imbedded in the karst topography of the cliff walls, engaged in mock rock climbing and the cramming of bodies into the holes. Everyone took turns becoming a balled up rock fixture in the sandy gaps. I get a chance to jump in myself, and find a small cave which i cram into for a few more photo ops. I feel like a carved buddha, solemn, sitting inside the "cave for one." The others have other words to offer: "like a shrew peeking out of his hole" hahahaha!!
The paved trail opens up to the sun once again, and we kind of mossie our way back to the bridge where i find Tracy & RJ soaking their feet in the Virgin ^^ washing their sins and dirty feet away hahaha!! I dunno why bridge are so fun, but this one offers shape, form and function all in one.
The trail is quite muddied directly beneath the waterfall...
The rusted ferous colors are matte and brilliant at the same time, a robust and deep red, like much of the rocky surfaces we have seen. The shallow bowed shape over the river is simple and elegant. Its not really much to look at when ur on it, but it looks more and more beautiful as you take a farther glance, able to take in the structure as a whole. There are as many smiles taken from on the bridge as are taken from under the bridge ^^ it is a time to enjoy the company of those close by. We are spread all over the trail from the Lower Pool to the bridge. Everyone is in pairs or trios, slowly making their way back. I love the intense intimacy and passion of this group. It has taken us over 6 hours to do little more than a few miles, but i have gotten more out of the day than across the lengths of the longer treks i have been on.
Smiles & peas from on high...
I have made some lifetime relationships in little less than half a day, and there was still dinner to come, and we have not even come close to the point of the entire trip: to see the Orionid Meteor shower later that night.
A small note on water. I brought a 2 litre bladder & a 3 litre bladder, which turned out to be quite overkill for the Emerald Loop. However, most of my trail mates had only brought along a small bottle of water and barely touched them by the time we returned to the begining of the trail. Bring at least a 1 litre bottle, and drink it all, even if you do not feel particularly parched. The water goes a long way to reduce strain on your muscles and provides countless other benefits to your body that are not connected to your thirst.
The few and the proud after a long day of hiking and of chores...we still have enough radiant energy left to offer up beaming smiles...
If you bring more than enough water, then drink liberally. You will feel much better ^^ not to mention cooler.
We head in towards the Zion Lodge to await the shuttle bus that would take us back to the Visitor's Center. We miss the first few shuttles, not wanting to fight the crowds onto the scant space that they had to offer, but when one stopped, some people got off and urged us to get on, not to miss the show. They said, "the driver is worth the effort alone." Not knowing what to expect, we suck in our stomachs and squeeze in hahaha. Lucky for us we heeded the friendly advice. The driver really was worth the effort. Kinda reminds me of the "angry old man" sketch with Dana Carvey from SNL. Both abrassive and comedic at the same time, it was a real treat and a good break from the frothy dry "pre-recorded" drivers one usually gets at a national park.
The Zion buses are a frequent and convenient way to get to the trailheads and points of interest along the valley floor...
I sure hope to hell he doesnt get fired any time soon for his behavior, but it really helped to break the monotony of the shuttle ride ^^. We laugh inside coyly to ourselves, trading smirks and smiles all the way home.
By the time we get off the shuttles, everyone is practically in a full sprint to the cars...steak awaits!! And no one, in their right mind, waits for steak hahaha!!