The Vacation 5 – When We Remembered Zion

Hiking boots had been something of a necessity: the only other shoes I own and wear on a regular basis are either my work shoes or my low top converse, neither of which would do well for extended walking, or some work boots, which just aren’t that comfortable. And I wanted high tops, so the hiking boots had been a natural fit. That didn’t stop us from getting a certain amount of shit from Erin’s relatives who commented on the spotless nature of the boots.

Well of course they were spotless. Every time they got somewhat dusty, the rains came to clean them for me. But with Zion ahead, it was finally time to enjoy comfortable shoes for a bit of long walking over rough terrain. 

At first we missed the parking spot and ended up turning down the side road to go through the Zion tunnel. A happy accident, because the road to the tunnel is kind of cool, the tunnel is cool, and the other side of the tunnel is amazing. The rocks over there have been weathered by wind in a much more extreme manner, leading to some very eerie visual effects. We also saw deer. Woot.

But back in the parking lot we hopped on the shuttle that runs up and down the canyon, and went straight for the Emerald Pools trail. There are actually three trails: lower, middle, and upper, and lower would be an excellent way to get Zoe used to the walking before the strenuous stuff. It turned out that the whole of the lower trail wasn’t just a properly maintained path, but was actually paved and mostly even. There were a few hills, and a few minor drops off to the side, but it was ultimately nothing more than a pleasant stroll. That early in the morning it was also still cool down in the canyon. The pool itself was a nice spot, sheltered from the outside world, fed by a tiny waterfall. Normally you’d keep hiking past it to reach the middle and upper pools, but that path was blocked so we had to go back and take another trail that connects to them. When we got back to the start we had a few other families pointing at Zoe and asking if the trail was easy enough for kids. This turned into something of a theme later.

But after another walk along the flat Grotto trail to the next stop, a quick snack, and a rest, we got back to the walking. To meet the middle and upper pools, we had to go up the Kayenta Trail. All of the trails maintained by the rangers are marked at the start with the length, the level of difficulty (easy, moderate, strenuous), and warnings if there are cliffs or slick spots and whatnot. Lower Pools was easy. Kayenta was moderate, and not paved: most of it was walking on a sandy path, with a few spots going over rocks that had been chiseled out to provide steps. It was also much more beautiful. It wasn’t sheltered at all, and was climbing up the side of the mountain, giving wide views of the canyon below. The downside of this was the cliffs.

Oh yes there were cliffs. The whole trail, almost, had a cliff looming to your left. I’d been concerned that my fear of heights would cause me to freak out again but I found that wasn’t the case here. I think having to focus on keeping Zoe safe kept me from properly worrying about it. But after a lot of uphill wheezing we reached the Middle Emerald Pool, rested, and tackled the officially-strenuous Upper Pool trail. It, technically, isn’t maintained anymore. It’s also not much of a path, per se. You’re more or less scrabbling over large boulders in a line, with a few sandy open bits between them. The cliffs were much more daunting, too: go a little too-left on that boulder, and over you go.

But the upper pool itself was pretty incredible. Another sort of sheltered grotto, mostly surrounded by imposing rock walls, massive boulders strewn about that had at some point come tumbling down the mountain. We spent quite a while here resting before we went back down the trail.

On the way down we had several people that noticed Zoe and stopped us. “Did she really make it all the way up there?! That’s awesome!” “What a tough little kid!” Other groups would stop us to ask how far it is to the end (can’t read the signs, I guess). But after all that work we hopped the bus again, rode it to the end and then back to the car, and called it a day. We’d done about five miles of hiking, which is kind of a lot for Zoe’s little legs. She’d done very well! Only a little bit of complaining on the way back down Kayenta, though by that point it was noon and the sun was definitely making up for lost time. A relaxing afternoon passed at the lodge.

The next day was considerably busier, being Saturday. When we got on the bus again it was packed with a group that was equipped for proper rock climbing. We didn’t have as much planned: there were only a few trails remaining that were appropriate for Zoe to handle, and none were difficult. One of these was the riverside walk, which is a mile long stroll along the river. This starts at the very last bus stop, and stops right at the entrance to the Narrows, a very difficult hike including some time moving through water that was deeper than our five year old is tall. But as we reached the end of that trail, we were surprised with a visit from some wildlife.

A pair of mule deer popped out of the underbrush and, ignoring all of the tourists, took a piss in the river. Then they calmly walked past everyone (no more than about ten feet away from us), crossed the river, and got to grazing. Made the whole experience a little more surreal. On the way back down that path there were some squirrels, which were all much more interested in people. We took Zoe’s picture near one of them, though she was a tad weirded out because of all the signs everywhere of some guy’s hand, with stitches, and a quote about how the squirrel mauled him. That squirrel then tried to follow her a bit.

From there we hit the Weeping Rock trail. That’s a very short one, but quite steep. At the top of THAT trail there was another deer, a four point buck, grazing again. And then heading back from there, on the bus, the driver came to a stop in the road to let everyone see a doe and a pair of fawns (of which I got a picture). A very deery trip I guess. But beyond that there wasn’t much else to do. We went back, met with Erin’s parents and Price for one last dinner out in Springdale, and settled in to our wonderfully comfortable room for one last night before we set off on the journey home.