One of the most profound trips I have ever taken was in my own “backyard”: The Canyonlands of Southwest USA. Most of my journeys afford me views of man-made wonders – what took my breath away in The Canyonlands was all natural. I had never really reconciled the existence of one omnipotent, almighty entity until I took this trip – but what I saw (and heard) convinced me that there is something out there much, much bigger than us who has created immense, exquisite, powerful, humbling, terrifying and yet tremendously peaceful vistas. Just as the rings in a tree trunk tell of story of the tree’s history – years of famine, drought, deluge – this area gave an almost too much to be consumed resume of this country’s birth and growth.
It’s hard to fathom that the three main areas I explored – The Grand Canyon, Bryce National Park and Zion National Park – which are vastly different in topography, are all part of one National Monument known as The Grand Staircase or Escalante Monument, which is part of the greater Colorado Plateau:
Today I want to tell you about Zion, specifically Zion National Park, an area filled with soaring cliffs, cascading waterfalls, rich dense forests and hidden treasures. It is almost an oasis dropped into the middle of the Utah wilderness and it is no wonder that settlers thought they had found “The Promised Land.” Inhabited originally by a smaller sect of the Anasazi and Palutes, it gained its current moniker when a group of beleaguered Mormon missionaries stopped there in their pursuit of a homestead refuge. But the true treasure of this canyon are wild and enchanting – even the names given to the various sights add to the feeling that you are in the land of the Gods:
Courtyard of the Patriarchs:
The Great White Throne:
The Virgin River:
The Emerald Pools:
And The Temple of Aeolus, which is now known as Angel’s Landing:
It is on the way to Angel’s Landing that I learned to have the utmost respect for nature. I was fit at the time and enjoyed hiking – so this 5-mile round-trip trek was a perfect challenge. After a lecture on safety (avoid the mountain lions – ok!) and having a map at hand, we had already taken a few of the other recommended trails – meandered along the laid-back Riverside Walk, forded the Virgin RIver, viewed the depths of the Emerald Pools and visited Weeping Rock – so my comrades and I felt we were ready for the ultimate trail the next morning.
Right away we could see that this was no simple feat – the trail was narrow, winding and treacherous:
I don’t remember the name of the woman in front of this picture- as soon as it was taken, she along with my friend decided to go back to the lodge – so I moved on with others in our party. Cue heavy breathing and sweating – did I mention I took this trip in mid-August? Fortunately the road led to a crack in the rock called “Refrigerator Canyon” (crevice was more like it) – which provided some cooling relief. However, this was short-lived as the next section, known as Walt’s Wiggle (after one of the park’s superintendents in the 1920’s when it was built) is a steep group of switchbacks providing a ladder up what would otherwise be an impossible cliff:
More and more I questioned the decision to do this trail – the signs, as well as the pre-hike safety talk spoke of danger:
Still, I reasoned with myself, we had been told that it was dangerous to ford the Virgin river, as a downpour in the nearby mountains could mean INSTANT flooding where we were walking – and we crossed the river successfully. As I pondered this while inching ever so slowly forward – two things occurred. One – I saw this one time tree (image isn’t particularly good as I hiking and more concerned with staying upright):
Second and decisively so – a series of claps of thunder rolled at our heads. “Claps” is a misnomer- it is hard to describe what it sounds like when thunder literally explodes over your head. We had been told in the event of thunder/lightning to crouch on the ground – so as not to become an instant likeness to that tree I just showed you – so down I went and voila! all thoughts of going further emptied from my brain. Fortunately whatever had been brewing in the skies changed its mind and went away – but I was done- and down I went and met my friend for some ice cream sundaes in the Lodge.
I so made the right decision – if not – this is what was waiting for me at the last leg of the trail to Angel’s Landing:
Though things did not go as originally planned, I nevertheless felt this was a satisfying and never to be forgotten experience, well outside my comfort zone.