I caught the free park shuttle right from my hotel this morning. It took me to the park entrance. Once inside the park, I got on another shuttle that took me further into the park. A recorded audio program played as we drove explaining some of the park’s history and how Zion came to be. I found it fascinating that approximately 200 million years ago the area was a huge desert, very much like the modern Sahara. They estimate that sand dunes accumulated for 10 million years, reaching their greatest thickness in the Zion Canyon area. The climate changed and the area was eventually covered by a shallow inland sea. Layers of sedimentation formed and as they continued to form, their weight pressed down on the sand, forming the sandstone we see today. Wind and water erosion, along with uplifting from faults helped form the cliffs. The Virgin River has eroded the rock to form the Zion Canyon over many millions of years. It continues to deepen the canyon today, at an estimated rate of 50 feet every 1 million years. The river provided a reliable source of water and drew people to live in the area as long as 8,000 years ago.
I got off the shuttle at the Grotto Trailhead and started up the West Rim Trail. It followed the Virgin River for a while before veering away and getting steeper. Hiking was pleasant, as it was cool, but sunny. After climbing steadily for about half an hour up switchbacks, I shed my long-sleeved pullover. The trail continued up until turning and going into what is called Refrigerator Canyon. The temperature in the canyon always remains cool because it’s always shaded. The trail leveled out for a while and then entered a set of 21 very steep switchbacks called Walter’s Wiggles. At the top of the switchbacks, is a sandy flat area called Scout Lookout. People that are scared of heights generally turn around at this point. On the last half mile of the hike, you must climb along a narrow spine of a geological fin, with drop offs on both sides……nearly 1,200 feet on one side and over 800 feet on the other. The park service has cut footholds and anchored chains to the rock in the dicey areas to help you along. The view from the top was well worth the climb. The park’s shuttle buses looked like toys on the road nearly 1,500 feet below. I spent about an hour on the summit, perched on a rock with one leg hanging over the edge. I took photos, people watched, and enjoyed the sun. There was no shortage of hikers coming up to the top. Among them even some small children and one guy with a baby in a carrier on his back. Probably not the best hike to take kids on. Several people have fallen to their deaths on this trail.
Hiking down was physically easier, but you still had to make sure of your foot and hand holds. By the time I reached the bottom I was ready to call it a day. The hike was only 5 miles round trip, but it had taken me about 5 hours. There were a lot of tired kids on the shuttle bus…..some of them sound asleep. I guess they’d had a big day too. When I got off the shuttle in town, I took a short walk to Cafe Soleil for a late lunch/early dinner. I had looked them up on Tripadvisor.com and saw they were the #2 rated restaurant in town. I had a smoked turkey cranberry panini sandwich. If it hadn’t been so late in the day I probably would have returned there for dinner. I walked back to my hotel and got packed for an early departure in the morning.