Cedar City, UT

18 July 2006

Zion National Park

As we got on the highway south towards Zion National Park, we noticed a heavy haze hanging over the road and surrounding mountains. We also thought we smelled some smoke. It wasn't long before we saw burned out patches on both sides of the highway and on the mountainsides. There were still some small hotspots that we saw, but the fire was essentially out. A little later, we saw what looked like two fires on the mountains closer to the park. Fortunately, the wind was moving the smoke away from the park. When we got to the park, it was still hazy and we suspect that it was a result of the surrrounding fires. Later, we learned that the Interstate was closed overnight from Sunday to Monday because of the fires on both sides of the highway. The news is full of report of fires all over the west. One of the biggest fires is burning in Southern California, along our route of travel. We won't be in that area for another week, so hopefully we won't see it.

Zion National Park is different from Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands and Arches National Parks. In Bryce and Canyonlands you see the canyons from the top. Arches is really not a canyon environment. In Zion, you are at the bottom of the canyon and ocassionaly work your way up. There are numerous trails ranging from easy to strenuous and downright scary. One of the trails we could see from the canyon bottom is the Angels Landing Trail. This trail takes you to the top of the canyon and requires transversing a knife edge ridge that is 18 inches wide and has 1,000 foot drops on both sides. We are told that the reward for 5 mile/4 hour climb is the great views.

We hiked along two trails. The Riverside Walk, is an easy trail that leads to the Narrows. The Narrows is, as the name implies, a very narrow canyon occupied by the Virgin River and requires a permit to enter. The second trail we hiked was to the Lower Emerald Pool. The pool is fed by small warerfalls that come from the Middle Emerald Pool which, in turn, is fed by the Upper Emerald Pool. The trail to the Middle and Upper Pools is quite strenuous and we opted not to walk them.

Sam in the Virgin River
Susie studying a park map at the entrance to the Narrows
As in Bryce Canyon, we noticed that the animals here had little fear of humans. I joked that they come up to you and charge a fee per picture. Some will sit still and pose for you. The reality is that the lack of fear can lead to their death either because the food is inappropriate for them or that they attack humans who don't feed them. In Bryce Canyon it was chipmunks who were everywhere seemingly waiting for a handout. In Zion it was squirrels, such as the one Susie photographed, below, that were doing much the same. Perhaps a sadder image is that of the mule dear I photographed outside the Visitors Center. It was eating natural foods, but was quite thin, as though it hadn't eaten enough of the right foods.