Zion National Park is a beast to hike and even more of a beast to photograph.
The problem is everything is up in the air!
Zion Park is basically Zion Canyon, which means most of the hikes feature gnarly elevation gains. This is all right for one or two hikes but after three or four your calves start to complain and dreams of the hot tub back at the lodge start to overtake your thoughts. Yes, I wasn’t really roughing it on this trip.
To try to capture the imposing cliff faces a thousand feet in the air with the rushing water at your feet, and with a sliver of blue sky too for contrast; well, that’s way too much for my camera and my poor camera skills. I did the best I could. Enjoy.
The weather was perfectly pleasant. Highs in the mid-70’s, nothing but sun.
We took it easy on the first day, taking a tour of the park and setting out on mostly small, flat hikes. We got a firsthand look at the Virgin River, grayish-green and roiling with spring runoff. We perused the weeping rock, where water that is a thousand years-old seeps through the rock and dribbles down the cliff, causing a verdant chasm of life to thrive in its misty shadow.
Zion is a fascinating blend of desert and alpine environments. A river carves its way through the sandstone. The cliffs are tall and craggy so there’s always an interesting play of light. It’s a land of opposites working in concert to mesmerize and enchant.
We were fortunate to be visiting the park in May because there was still the presence of colorful wildflowers on display that gave me lovely photographic opportunities: micro-manageable ones.
That night we went into town, indulging in pizza and beers.
The next day would feature the most thrilling hike of my life: Angel’s Landing.
The Angels Landing Trail is one of the most famous and thrilling hikes in the national park system. Zion’s pride and joy runs along a narrow rock fin with dizzying drop-offs on both sides. The trail culminates at a lofty perch, boasting magnificent views in every direction. Rarely is such an intimidating path so frequented by hikers. One would think that this narrow ridge with deep chasms on each of its flanks would allure only the most intrepid of hikers. Climbers scale its big wall; hikers pull themselves up by chains and sightseers stand in awe at its stunning nobility. The towering monolith is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the Southwest.
It starts off tame enough, a slow gradual climb up from the valley floor into refirgerator canyon, a hanging canyon that is kept cool and shaded all year round. Then there’s something called Walter’s Wiggles, a series of switchbacks built into the mountain. You reach Scout’s Lookout first, which is impressive and stunning in itself.
This is where my wife told me to take care and that she would be staying right where she was. She has a small fear of heights and didn’t think torturing herself was a good way to spend a vacation.
Beyond Scout’s Lookout was nothing but chain and precipice.
Looking at Angel’s Landing from Scout’s Lookout – notice the ridge you climb up.
It took quite a bit of Jedi mind-over-matter to get through it. It wasn’t that challenging on a physical level, although at times I was a bit winded, it was looking down at the meandering river down below, so far away and tiny, that caused a bit of vertigo and, what I call, oh shitness!
Once you reach the end of the ridge, you’ve made it!
Angel’s Landing affords great views of the canyon and surrounding cliffs, the Virgin River, and birds flying around below. Up there there are chipmunks that have taken to scampering through hiker’s bags for food and people have been known to be bit. I wonder if any chipmunks have ever been kicked off the cliff after biting a less-than-understanding hiker.
Here’s the view from Angel’s Landing.
Those are my feet, of course.
These are my thoughts: “Life is beautiful.”
The climb back down the ridge was easier. I passed other hikers trembling up the mountain, skipped around them with aplomb causing some to look at me in awe, others to probably question my sanity. I was showing off a little bit at this point. Years of Joshua Tree made me a expert boulder swimmer. That and the rocks at Leo Carrillo.
This is the way going back. Notice the tiny head of the hiker on his way up.
Once I reached my wife, I looked back at the ridge I just traversed with gratitude. I was safe and so it was okay to admit it finally, that shit was scary!
That night I went up on the hilltop at the lodge we were staying at and took some night pictures.
They had Native American prayer flags attached to the limbs of a dead tree. It made for some interesting photos.
They also had a labyrinth up there. Circles make great photos!
This was earlier in the day.
If you love camping and hiking and live in Los Angeles, Zion is only six and a half hours away. Take some time from the grind, from traffic, and from this modern world so hectic and demanding, and immerse yourself in nature. Just watch out for the chipmunks.
Trust me, you’ll be a happy camper.