Zion, Utah … A bit late!

8/5/2017 

Growing up as a child in Salt Lake City, my parents would take me to places like Moab, Canyonlands, and Zion what seems like every summer. Some of my fondest memories of my childhood are of these hiking and camping trips we would take, and I’ve always felt very grateful to have had such opportunities. One place in particular that always stood out in my mind was the vastness of Zion National Park. For some reason my heart held on to the feelings I got when we would pull off on the side of the canyon and walk over to the edge, looking out to what seemed to be a completely endless horizon of canyons and mountains. It was this memory that made me pick Zion to show Kyle, as we only had time for one of these amazing places in Utah.  

As a kid I remember just showing up in Zion, walking the cute little streets of Springdale, and then driving up the canyon to hike, site see, and camp. Easy. Well, things are much easier when you’re the kid and don’t have to pay attention to much, and also things and places change with time. Kyle and I drove to our campsite just outside of Zion National Park; a beautiful sandy open spot right down by a creek, free because it was BLM land. We were both excited about our spot as it was shady and had awesome views and a few short hiking/horse trails across the creek. After dropping of Sunny we headed towards the Zion Visitor Center to pick up our backpacking permits for the following day. As we made our way up the road towards the visitor center I began to notice a lot of things I didn’t remember from before. Major development, all sorts of gated communities and what I call “tiny boxes on the hillside”, and the amount of cars and people blew my mind. We got lucky and found a parking spot near the visitor center, but it was pure chaos. Plus I found out from reading some signs that you are no longer allowed to drive through the park in your own car. Unless you have reservations at the lodge or campground, no cars are allowed through the park- only the free shuttle that runs every few minutes. I guess it’s a good thing because based on the amount of people waiting in line for the shuttle, I can’t imagine the road would even be passable if all those people were in cars. Anyway, we got our permit no trouble, and I spent some time talking with the guy at the wilderness desk about the crowds. He said in the last 5 years that the place has just become so insane they don’t know what to do. He also mentioned that in the next few years things are going to change dramatically and that you might need a reservation to even be allowed in the town out side of Zion. There are just too many people trying to come.

I was feeling super overwhelmed by all the people and trying to navigate the car through town. It saddened me a bit because the simplicity I remember as a child was completely gone and tourism had completely taken over. I totally understand why, it is one of the most amazing places on earth, but being from the area I was feeling a bit bummed. We quickly left the chaos and headed back to our calm and quiet campground for the night, both of us hoping that since we were doing a bit of an arduous overnight backpack the following day, we might lose the crowds.

The following morning we awoke to my alarm at 5am. We quickly got some food, made coffee in our french press, and locked up Sunny. We headed towards a company where we had paid to reserve a shuttle to take us to the trail head, and then we would hike the 14 miles back down the canyon and take the free shuttle to the car. Sunny would stay put for the night with a friendly campground neighbor watching after her. Our shuttle up to the trail head took about 45 minutes and due to the early hour was just Kyle and I. Our shuttle driver was super friendly and we all got along really well and even exchanged cards since she is a fellow vagabonder and will be heading towards Florida in the next year. We said our goodbyes and headed off on West Rim Trail, knowing we had the entire day to do 9 miles, we chose a leisurely pace. And fortunately our hopes of losing the crowd by doing a backpacking trip came true as the following 36 hours are some of the most amazing and enjoyable hours I have ever had backpacking!

West Rim Trail: Lava Point to Grotto Picnic Area

7:40am- Hopping out of our shuttle van we grabbed our backpacks; gravel crunched under our shoes as we walked across the parking area towards the trailhead. Double checking our map with the sign, we continued down the trail. Being that we had driven 45 minutes up the mountain, we found ourselves on top of a ridge with vast 360 views. The crisp morning air had me alternating between sweater on and off, until finally I decided to hike faster so I wouldn’t get cold. We had 10 miles to go that day, and had the whole day to to do it, so we took our time, stopping a lot of enjoy the view, eat snacks, and look at all the wildflowers. Shortly after beginning the hike we descended into a meadow covered in tall grass and various wildflowers- I am slightly obsessed with wildflowers, so I was skipping and giddy about where we were.  

12pm-Having descended into the meadow, we eventually had to head back up to the rim. The hike was tough but in a good way. Sweating under the Utah summer sun, we dug our trekking poles into the dry ground below us to aid us up the mountain. Arriving on the top of a ridge, we found a spot in the shade and enjoyed fresh veggie sandwiches for lunch. The views continued to get better and the temperature continued to get hotter!  

2pm- The sun really started to beat down on us as we made our last half mile to our campsite. After descending another mountain, we found ourselves arriving at campsite 1 & 2, as well as the natural spring to resupply on water. Two other backpackers were sitting under a large tree in the shade, overlooking endless red rock, mountains, and canyons below- meditating quietly on their yoga matts they pointed us in the direction of the spring.  

4pm- The thunder head we had been watching all afternoon started moving in, bringing booming thunder and dark skies. Thankfully the clouds lessened the affect of the sun, allowing us to come out from under our sun shade we had assembled with our ground tarp and trekking poles. It was pretty magnificent- there we were, just the two of us in a secluded campsite, our tent, food, and water with a spectacular view and a thunder storm rolling in. 

8am- It continued to rain the entire evening and into the night. We played games and read our books in the tent, before passing out rather early- exhausted from 10 miles in the desert heat.  

11am- The hike down from the ridge was by far the most amazing hike I have ever done. I have over 2,000 miles of hiking behind me and the 3 miles we hiked to get from our campsite to the base of the trail was seriously the best hiking/backpacking I have ever done. Kyle concurred. I wish that photos could show how amazing it was, but they don’t and my camera died so I only was able to take a couple shots. Oh well. Plus- we only saw 3 people the entire time until the last mile! Anyway, if you ever get the chance in your life to backpack the West Rim Trail, please do so- it was amazing. Enjoy the photos! Cheers. -D  

P.S. I am behind on updating this blog. But we have made it back to Florida and had an awesome road trip home. Soon I’ll post an update about that journey and share what we are up to now. 

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