Saturday, August 2

18 Days Of Vacation

Day 13: Virgin River Narrows, UT

I like to think of
Zion National Park as the red rock little sister of Yosemite. Mountains of red and buff sandstone surround this valley, through which courses the Virgin River, the lifeblood of a natural botanical garden that rivals anything I've ever seen. In this desert location are not only cactus, yucca, and other xeric flora, but also cottonwoods, willows, ferns, and in the spring, a riot of wildflowers of every color. Due to the many plant species, the wildlife is just as varied and interesting. Zion also has its share of colorful place-names: The Watchman, Great White Throne (at right), Checkerboard Mesa. There is a great visitor center, and Zion lodge is worth a look for bigger than life architecture (see the earlier post on El Tovar) and cabins available for rent. My favorite place, however, is The Narrows.

Like the Grand Canyon, portions of Zion have been cut through by the Virgin River. Unlike the Grand Canyon, this river's masterpiece is accessible and easy to experience up close. A 15+ mile trail meanders through Zion's back country, zigging and zagging along the river's course. It starts near the Temple of Sinawava and continues to get progressively narrower until you can touch both walls of the canyon standing in place. In places the trail is on high ground, in others you may be wading up to your armpits and carrying your pack over your head. A sturdy hiking stick is not only fun, but a necessity in navigating some currents. The scenery changes with every turn: vertical rainbow cliffs, sandy beaches under arched recesses, waterfalls, hanging gardens, swards of grass and stands of trees, the trill of canyon wrens, and everywhere the sound of water. As far as I know, there is no other hike quite like this in the country.

I have hiked only three or four miles in, then back out. It was enough for this hike to sear itself onto my memory, and give me a healthy respect for my own limitations. I plan to do more someday. Be aware that this hike is not without its dangers. At certain times of the year, especially summer, sudden storms many miles away can dump enough water to cause dangerous torrents that race down the canyon, even if it is sunny and clear where you are. While the first mile or so poses no significant risk, the farther you go the more treacherous the terrain gets, and the farther from help you are. I advise caution, a well-provisioned daypack (water, 1st aid kit, snacks, poncho, sunscreen), notifying someone of your plans, and checking with the ranger station before you go. I recommend at least rudimentary swimming skills as well. The desert, even in the most benign looking circumstances, can be a very dangerous place for the uninitiated.

Teasers on this trip: Kolob, Bryce, campfire, tunnel

1 comment:

Shari said...

One of my faviorite trips was when my boyfriend and I went on a weeklong camping tour of Utah's parks. I know exactly what you speak of here. Beautiful.