The drive into Zion had been beauty of a different kind compared to our other stops. Twisting roads and reddish rock encased us as we wound our way into the canyon.
Our first stop in Zion was to the Watchman Campground to set up our gear. That was easier said than done. You’d think that as seasoned campers, we would know how it’s done and have everything we need. Nope! What we hadn’t realised was that the campsites in Zion are on a rocky surface, not flat forest ground. This is probably to try and deter critters and ants from seeing the tent as a new home, however it also meant that we had no place to secure our tent pegs. This was our first obstacle, but certainly not our last. Having secured the tent as best we could (think bags and rocks weighing down the corners), two of us set off for the local shop for supplies whilst two stayed behind to work on the tent.
Arriving at the shop, we found it mostly empty. The shopkeeper (almost certainly an extra from some B movie horror) told us ominously that a storm was coming and that we should make sure that we were safely under shelter when it hit. We were a little naive at this point – the skies were still blue and not a drop of rain in sight! We meandered around the shop, picking up supplies and slowly but surely the day started to darken. By the time we left the shop, we were sprinting to the car, soaked through as the rain ran in rivers down the road, filling the storm gulley to the brim.
Meanwhile, back in the tent, the rain was battering the sides, making our temporary home even more precariously weighted down than it was to start with! These floods and high winds hit sporadically throughout the time we were there, often in the middle of the night, leaving us holding on to the tent poles to make sure that we didn’t blow away! They often lasted little more than an hour or so and were in massive contrast to the scorching sunshine we experienced throughout the day. It was actually that hot that our air beds curved with the heat!
One of our day hikes took us out to the Emerald Pools and waterfalls. You’d think that somewhere like Zion, full of rock and dust, wouldn’t be the best place for waterfalls but you’d be wrong! Upper, Middle and Lower Emerald Pools are all accessible from near the Grotto Picnic area. It was a boiling hot day and although the hike was very warm, it was well worth it for the sights – although the water wasn’t very Emerald in colour on our visit, instead it was coloured a reddish brown from the rock.
The most exciting part of the hike for me was the trail around Lower Pools which actually lets you walk underneath the waterfall. We went in late summer and so the flow wasn’t too strong, more of a light mist pouring over the ledge above us, dusting us with cool water that was refreshing against the relentless hot sun. I’d imagine that in winter this would be a very different experience! We spent quite a bit of time here, taking in the sights and snapping photos under the waterfall in an awe-filled silence. The various colours of the rock provided an stunning backdrop and there was something otherworldly about being behind the fall of the waterfall.
The pathway past the lower falls curved back on itself, winding upwards towards the Middle Pools which provided a good view of the path of the water as it fell down to the ledge below. The source of the water, Upper Falls, opened out to a huge pool, surrounded by some shady spots – a beautiful place to stop for lunch! The views looking out over the valley are amazing, made all the more picturesque by the mix of colours in the red rock, deep water pools and patches of green trees.
This was a fairly easy hike. It’s always useful to have good sturdy shoes for hiking rocky pathways (particularly with good ankle support) to avoid twists and sprains. We also saw a couple of snakes and lizards on the pathways and so the extra height on my shoes made me feel a bit more able to avoid them as I walked!
Another one of our hikes took us out to the Narrows. This is the narrowest part of Zion Canyon and offers a few different options for hikers. The start of the Narrows is accessible from a fairly smooth hiking path – the Riverside Walk. This takes you as far as the river, which more adventurous hikers might want to follow to travel further into the Narrows, although permits are needed for progressing past certain parts of the route. If you want to walk further than the paved section of the hike, you need to wade through the flow of the river – so good sturdy shoes, hiking poles and some dry socks for the way down are a must. It’s also really important to be good at navigating and reading weather conditions to make sure you are safe in the Narrows – many people have found themselves in difficulties in this area after experiencing flash floods, strong currents or getting lost.
When we arrived at this point, the water was up to our shins and fairly fast moving. Given that there was a very high risk of flash floods that day (and we’d already seen first hand how quickly a huge amount of rain could come down) and that we weren’t really prepped for hiking in water, we decided to not go much further than this, content with seeing the start of the winding caverns of the Narrows.