Zion National Park: Utopia
"The majestic wonders of Zion existed long before humans ever set foot in the canyon, yet it was only through ingenuity and foresight of the area's early settlers that the canyon was opened to the world."
Planning our 2020 camping trip was a little different than previous years due to coronavirus. We were veiled with uncertainty regarding what would be open, will there be another lock down and how safe it is to fly. If there was any year to be connected with nature, it was this year. Once all the practical coronavirus limitations were navigated, we had to decide where we wanted to adventure to. We knew we wanted parks that were close to one other as well as a different type of scenery from the high sierras, which we visited in 2019. Zion National Park, amongst a few others checked all of the boxes for September 2020.
The trip started with flying into Vegas and wow we thought LAX was a big airport! After a minor hiccup with one of our camping bags that decided to take a detour to Detroit and a stop at In and Out, we were off. Like Yosemite, the drive to Zion was beyond words. From the casinos, desert landscape and interstates that weaved between towering red canyons, it was a sight to see. We arrived right as it was getting dark, so we had to hustle to set up camp and settle in for the night. What really took us by surprise was the wind at night as it felt that we were going to be carried away as we slept.
The first full day in Zion was dedicated to hiking the Narrows, which had been on our bucket list for some time. Although, there was a warning of a neurotoxin in the water that was harmful in ingested, we figured as adults we could keep our heads up out of the water the "trail" of the Virgin River was really crowded at first since it is the most popular hike in the park, however, about 2 miles in the it really thinned out. The hike was unlike anything we had done before as you walked between red and white canyon walls through the Virgin River with water that was chest high at some points. The water temperature was a nice reprieve from the 90-degree heat of the day. We hiked until we got that "one picture," that one that you search for the whole time when the sun his hitting the canyon wall so perfectly you forget anyone else is actually there.
Day two was a double hike kind of day as we needed to plan around distance and not wanting to be hiking in the middle of the day sun. The morning hike was Watchman Trail, which was an easy walk from out campsite. The trail was much less crowded than the previous day, which is what we had been searching for. The hike was short and sweet with amazing views all the way up. Boy it was hot though, even with leaving the campsite early, we caught the afternoon sun. After a relaxing afternoon in what little shade we had in our campsite, it was on to Overlook Canyon, which is one of the most specular places to watch the sunset. We were not alone in our idea and once we got to the top, we knew why. From the top, you tower above all of Zion Canyon and the sun dances along its walls as it slowly descends in a sea of color behind the mountains.
Day three was a rest and recover day with the goal of exploring the small town of Springdale. We enjoyed our first taste food that wasn't coming out of a bag at Zion Canyon Brew Pub in the form of burgers and of course ice-cold beer. The rest of the day was dedicated to exploring local art galleries, cheesy tourist spots, and different rock stores along the side of the road. It was a fantastic way to spend the day before we tackled the longest hike we had ever done.
On day 4, we decided to conquer the West Rim Trail, which is about 16 miles and takes you along the top of the west side of the canyon ending at The Grotto at the bottom of Angels Landing. The hike takes some planning as you have to book a private shuttle to drive you to the trail head at Lava Point. The hike is mostly downhill with two short but steep ascents right in the middle. We were completely fooled by the concept of walking downhill as we thought it would be easier on our bodies and we were very wrong. The best part about the hike was that for the first 14 miles, it was just us and the trail without a soul in sight. First several miles were through a meadow that looked out onto rolling hills, which made us feel like we were back home in Kentucky. Each viewpoint got better than the last until the grand finale of the trail making its dramatic descent through the White Cliffs into Zion Canyon. We walked right past Angels Landing, which was closed due to coronavirus and hikers not being able to safely socially distance. I am not sure if we would have braved the dangerous chain linked section as it claims at least one life every year. Although the hike was brutal, we had no regrets as it gave us what we were looking for, which was peace and quiet a world descended into chaos.
The most beautiful part about camping is its uncanny ability to silence the rest of the world. Outside of Zion, the world was continuing to battle coronavirus and we were constantly bombarded with depressing news about death. However, within Zion, it was a type of peace that made you forget the outside world and for the first time in 2020 we felt normal again.