Saturday, April 26, 2014

Zion Day 1, Made it!

Zion has been on my must visit list for ages, lets blame family stories and Edward Abbey or just my perpetual curiosity and wanderlust for the West. Regardless this park was first on my must visit list this season what with wanting to avoid ridiculous summer high temperatures and crowds. Spring in the desert offers cooler temps and more water, a winning combination. I had research from my last cancelled trip (darn you government shut down) and I spent some more time clicking through Google searches. Vague plans formed but with online permits all full concrete plans were a no go. I knew I wanted to do the Zion Traverse, a hike that pieces together a few different trails to take you across the whole park. Its a one way thing and requires a shuttle with camping only at designated permitted spots. I made a shuttle reservation with the Zion Adventure Company (basically who every single online trip report used) for my second day in the park hoping I'd have luck with the few walk up permits that were available. Other than that I figured 5 days in Zion couldn't be too hard to fill up with adventures.

I set out late afternoon/evening with my sights set on Highway 50, the Loneliest Highway in America with high hopes for scenery. It did not disappoint, although I only got around 4 hours of daylight to enjoy it. Oh well it may have been smarter to save the pretty drive for daylight. No regrets though, I did get killer views, gathering clouds and showers plus an awesome sunset. Then it was hours of dodging suicidal jackrabbits, insane speed limits (I'm pretty sure I'll die if I actually go 75 in the dark, even if the road is straight) and a total of 10 whole other cars all night.

The drive was fine until around hour 8, and then it became endless. I finally crossed the Utah border and soon enough came to the park (all lies, it was almost 2 crazy hours later, complete with terrifying 80 mph speed limits and a very sore butt/hip, how do truck drivers do it?). Either way I officially made it to Springdale around 3 am and was more than ready to be done driving. Then came the tricky part, the visitor center opened at 8 am, I wanted walk up permits and had no idea what the line for them would be like. In my infinite wisdom and too many google searches I was thinking 5 am was a pretty logical time to wait at the permit office but sleeping for an hour or two seemed silly. So after more wandering and being unable to figure out how to pay after hours entrance fees I parked in Springdale across from the Zion Adventure Company and walked the 1/4 or so mile to the visitors center at a little after 4 am. This place is something else, I've never seen such a big fancy visitors center before! Springdale was 100% deserted as was the park, I milled around reading signs in the dark and realizing it was getting much colder than I was prepared for. Darn you deceptive car warmth. I stubbornly stayed because I would hate for someone to show up 2 minutes after I walked the twenty minute loop back to my car. Maybe an hour and a half later a couple showed up and we all chatted and moaned about the cold until we enjoyed sunrise and they finally cracked the doors at 8:01.

one of the fancy shuttle stops
Sunrise brought the ridiculous beauty of Zion to light, mesas and clouds and gorgeousness were such a great morning surprise. Plus I felt slightly smug when the doors opened and there were suddenly 15 people in line. I got my permits with a totally doable itinerary starting at Lee Pass and I decided to end by going out Angel's Landing and the grotto, a total of 38ish miles over 3 days. Water every night and my last campsite was exactly what I wanted. Back to my car for layers and recollecting myself I went.

entrance into Zion
the view from my street parking spot, not too shabby...
I sat down in my car with every intention of being productive. 45 minutes later I woke up drooling on my steering wheel. Guess I was tired. So sleepy I couldn't function I crawled into the back of my car and passed out until noon.

looking back behind the library up the street
After my impromptu nap I woke up groggy and hot. I wandered up the street to the library charged my phone and took advantage of bathrooms and wifi. I headed back to the park and decided on a short dayhike or two. Up the Watchman Trail I went, a shorter trail at only 2.7 miles with supposedly good views and a start all of twenty feet from the visitors center. Why not?

Welcome to Zion, have a rattlesnake on the trail

starting up the canyon

verdict on the watchman trail: totally worth it

Back to the main road and feeling tired I opted for the easy Emerald Pools trail, 1 mile and a few shuttle stops away.

However I soon realized I was quickly reaching my breaking point. Turns out I picked National Parks Week, Easter weekend and the end of a few states spring break. Too many people for me and the busiest weekend of the season so far according to the shuttle driver. Poor trail etiquette and ridiculous numbers of people make me cranky, I dislike waiting in queues full of obnoxious people to just go up and down a trail.

a small taste of the crowds

Out the grotto and out of the park for the evening. Back to my car to organize food and gear and get ready for my 7 am shuttle to Lee Pass. High hopes for sure.


  1. Yes, Zion is not where you go to avoid the crowds! This is actually very you were there because we did Lee's Pass up Kolob Canyon for a quick one nighter a few days after you. Was the wind bad for you. We were car camping in Snow Canyon State Park (right out of Saint George) the days previous and IT WAS WINDY. Zion is great but you need to get down to the real desert: Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Anza Borrego. My stomping ground!

  2. PS There are great backpack trips in Death Valley and Joshua Tree. Don't work to much!

    1. I was in that wind! I was back in springdale that night, whole valley disappeared under a hazy cloud of dust for a few hours. I decided this trip was fro zion and death valley and such deserve their entire own trip. Can't believe I've never been to the desert before, I will 100% be back