Zion National Park, Utah 2016 part 3
We get an early start this morning and are ready to depart for Zion by 6:30. We agreed yesterday that because of the hardship of settling in the backseat that whoever was riding shotgun has to open and close the gate at the end of the driveway. That chore is well worth the tradeoff of not sitting in the back. Since we hiked in Bryce yesterday and saw the main part of the park, instead of returning to Bryce today the four Millers decided to travel to Zion.
We are going to the southern part of Zion which is the most visited area of the park. The siblings have researched trails either on-line or from trail maps and guide books and have decided to hike the Canyon Overlook Trail first which is actually just outside of the park entrance. The landscape becomes quite dramatic as we near the park and the mountain faces are etched with grooved lines forming imperfect squares from top to bottom. Someone reads from a pamphlet or book that this area is known as the Checkerboard Mesa. The name is quite fitting really.
If I recall correctly we stop at the entrance gate to show the senior pass which covers the 30 dollar fee per vehicle for the park even though we really aren’t entering Zion yet. We ask the woman staffing this booth where the trailhead for the Canyon Overlook trail is situated and she gives us directions. The park employee urges us to look for parking along the road before we reach the first tunnel because once we drive into the tunnel we will have missed the trailhead. I spot a parking place along the highway not long after we have left the toll booth and suggest we park here. Since there is no sign indicating the trail I am overruled and we drive on. We haven’t gone far when we see the tunnel the ranger told us about a few hundred yards away. I’m doing the “I told you we should have parked back there” spiel when someone spies the trailhead sign not far from the tunnel entrance. The small parking area near the start of the trail is full but there is a wide area just past the inadequate lot adjacent to the road. Paul pulls the car into it saying he doesn’t see why we can’t park here. Another car promptly parks in front of us so it appears that they think parking is allowed here too.
We gather our walking sticks, backpacks with water (Paul carries water for both of us), cameras, etc. and we are off “like a herd of turtles” as Joy so often describes our departures! The trail is a steady climb up at first but it levels out on parts of the path so we are often walking along the edge of a steep drop off. The trail has some very narrow places, only wide enough for one hiker and you automatically lean in towards the mountainside since it is a long way to the bottom of the canyon. We all raise our eyebrows a bit as we step aside to let a young couple by us whose young boy (4 maybe) is trotting down the trail on his own. Yikes. Doris comments that when she researched this trail that it was designated as a family friendly trail. Maybe but I would have had a firm hold on that kid!
There is a nice wide ledge maybe halfway up the trail and the Millers decide they want a group photo here. I am instructed by Joy on how to take a photo with her iPad and the foursome arranges themselves for the picture. I keep a straight face and tell them to take a step backwards which they do. Giggling a bit I ask them to move back another step but immediately say I’m just kidding! Don’t worry; they had plenty of room on the ledge even if they would have unquestionably followed my instructions.
We enjoy a variety of flowers blooming along the way including cactus, plus we have been scanning the mountain tops and sides for mountain sheep as they have been seen by hikers on this trail the last few days. Unfortunately, we never see any of the sure-footed critters.
When we reach the end of the trail we are rewarded with a stunning view. The various mountains have fitting names such as Beehives, East and West Temple and the Streaked Wall. We don’t have to share the flat rock area with too many people, maybe eight or ten, and there is plenty of room so we can spread out and not bother one another.
Once we have rested a bit and enjoyed the majestic mountains that surround us we start back down the trail. There is a group of people in front of us and one of the young women is identifying trees and flowers for the other members of the group. The woman, perhaps she is a guide or has family visiting, comments that by the looks of the crowd on the trail this morning, this afternoon the traffic on the trails will be a parade. Well that isn’t encouraging. I have been hearing a distinctive bird song all along the trail and since this woman seems quite knowledgeable about the area I ask if she can identify the bird singing the haunting song. She tells me that she isn’t a birder but a member in the group is and he confirms what I suspected, that the cascading song is coming from the throat of the small Canyon Wren.
Yea, the car is still where we left it and we are ready to travel on to Zion. To get there we must drive through two tunnels that are carved through the mountains. One of them is not very long but the other tunnel seems to go on forever. Headlights are required but there are “windows” carved through the rock every so often which allows one to catch a quick glimpse of spectacular views. I did look up info on this tunnel which is called Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel and it is a bit over a mile long. This incredible engineering project was completed in 1930! I believe it took just over three years to carve the tunnel through the mountains. Unbelievable.
We arrive at the visitor’s center and after finally finding a parking space we eat the picnic lunch we brought at a convenient picnic table not far from the car. After lunch we look through the visitor’s center though there isn’t a lot to see. We decide to hike the Emerald Pool trail which is not too long or strenuous and by the photos and description looks quite lovely.
We catch the shuttle and disembark at the trailhead. There is a huge hotel here and the grounds look like a large city park. The lawn has at least one giant cottonwood tree that is dropping fluffy white seeds, making it appear as if it is snowing. We walk across the bridge that spans a muddy river and begin the trek to the lower Emerald pool. The paved trail is full of people walking in both directions. I try to walk on the dirt edges along the pavement whenever I can because I don’t do well walking on this hard surface and as trodden down as the dirt is it is obvious I’m not the only hiker that chose to do this.
Zion is much warmer than Bryce so when we reach the first pool the spray from the small waterfalls cascading off the cliff overhang you must walk under feels pretty darn good. The moisture does make the pavement slick so you have to watch your footing. The Emerald Pool itself isn’t all that impressive but Doris spots a Black Phoebe in the tall grass at the pools edge and we watch the beautiful flycatcher as it hawks for insects.
The five of us decide to continue up the trail to the middle pool and so we take our place in the “parade” that is going on to the next level. At least the pavement has ended and we are truly hiking. Unfortunately, there are so many people on the trail that we are bumper to bumper so to speak. About as many people are descending as there are climbing and the trail isn’t wide enough for two-way traffic so there is a lot of stepping off the trail and letting people get by.
When we reach the middle pool I have to chuckle a bit as it is barely a pool, plus there are so many people milling around you must dodge around them to have a look at things. There is a nice view of the craggy mountains here so that makes the walk worthwhile. We hold a powwow and all of us agree that we have no desire to hike to the upper pool. There are just too many people around to really enjoy this hike.
Once we have made it back down the crowded trail, Lois and I find ourselves walking together. We are nearing the bridge when a girl approaches us licking a large ice cream cone. We both agree that ice cream would be a great ending to this warm hike and vow to indulge in the sweet treat. Once Paul, Joy and Doris catch up we sell them on the idea of ice cream, well it doesn’t take much of a sales pitch. The restaurant is a busy place but soon we are enjoying a variety of ice cream treats or slushies.
We catch the park shuttle which takes us back to the visitor center and Joy brings up the idea of going to a brew pub she found on-line while researching Zion. Hmm, ice cream chased by beer. We see a brew pub shortly after exiting the parking lot but it doesn’t match the address Joy has. Soon we reach the outskirts of town but we have no luck finding the pub. Paul turns the Hyundai around and we decide to check out an area we passed on the edge of town where a large hotel sits along with a few other buildings. Sure enough the hotel matches up with the address of the brew pub. Joy volunteers to go inside and see if the pub is situated inside the hotel. When Joy returns she announces that the pub we have been searching for is the one we passed on the other end of town. Joy justifies the address she used however, telling us that they brew the beer for the pub in the basement of the hotel. None of us are buying that story and we accuse her of trying to save face for the wild goose chase we have been on. Joy sticks with her story and tells us that we can check out her story when we get to the pub.
We find the pub which was only a few minutes’ drive after we left the visitor center parking lot. Since they can’t sell drinks in Utah without it being accompanied by food, we order a couple of appetizers along with the beer. Well, I just drink water because my stomach doesn’t like brew pub beer unfortunately and this pub doesn’t sell bottled beer. When the busboy is at our table Paul asks him if we can tour the brewery. The kid replies that the beer is not brewed here. Oh no! When Paul asks where the beer is brewed he stammers a bit and admits he doesn’t know, adding that he has only worked here a couple of days. When our waitress comes to our table we ask her where the beer is brewed and she affirms that it is brewed at the hotel. Joy is sitting back with a rather smug smile on her face and we all must apologize for questioning her story. Well it still is weird to brew off site.
We polish off the appetizers, the beer drinkers finish their beers and we prepare to return to the ranch house. Doris and Lois have beat the rest of us outside and when we join them in the pub parking lot the two show us a sign that says Zion National Park, with the shuttle and visitor center listed underneath. Holy Cow! We all get a huge laugh out of the fact that we spent a good half hour driving around looking for the pub when it turned out to be within walking distance from where our car was parked. It makes me laugh just writing about it!
As we drive out of Zion I am staring out the window, occasionally snapping a photo. Suddenly I see mountain sheep (also called big horn sheep), lying on a flat-topped rock, two of them have pretty impressive horns. By the time I can alert the others we have driven out of sight of the sheep. Lois then spots a mountain sheep grazing on the side of the mountain and sees it far enough ahead that we all get a look at the sheep. I take a photo but all I end up with is four legs and the rear view mirror! I see one more sheep standing on another flat-topped mesa. Hurray, I had given up on seeing the mountain sheep of Zion!