This turned out to be a real surprise, much better than I expected 🙂 From everything I’ve read, I never got the impression that Zion was a high-walled canyon which actually rates as second most popular for rock climbing only to Yosemite! We also toured the park at the right time, getting there by 8a.m, as coming out around 2p.m all the car parks were packed and lines of a dozen or more cars in both lanes waiting at the ranger stations to get in.
First stop on the shuttle bus along the scenic drive was the Court of Patriachs. Due to their immense size, you couldn’t get all three into one shot! However, this is Abraham (on the left) and Isaac:
A short distance along and we came to the Emerald Pools area, and some of the most popular hiking trails. Bizzarely, it seemed like although all the shuttle buses were packed, very few people were getting off and walking any of the trails. That’s not such a miss in other parks such as Crater Lake or Lassen Volcano, but you really had to get out and explore in Zion to really get the views + experience. We took the right way in heading to middle pool first as the ascent was much easier than going from lower to middle then upper! This was lower pool though, with the water from middle pool tumbling onto the rocks:
Middle pool was fairly low on water due to it being middle of the summer, but still very scenic:
And a few reeds growing right on the edge of the falls down to Lower Emerald Pool:
The hike to Upper Emerald Pool certainly was quite a hike up a steep, rocky and sandy trail – it was rated as moderate and I’d hate to see a strenuous trail! But it was worth it – photos don’t do justice just how steep and high the cliffs surrounding it were. The pool also had plenty of tadpoles, water boatmen and water nymphs:
In total, it was a good 3 miles or so from the Zion Lodge to lower, middle and upper Emerald Pools before carrying on to the Grotto for lunch:
Weeping Rock was a nice very, cooling area where water that has seeped through the sandstone before hitting solid rock drips out across a ledge. Plenty of plants and ferns grow on the ledge supplied by the water that has been tested as being around 1,400 years old – I’d never have imagined it would take that amount of time for the water to seep through the sandstone!
At the end of the scenic was the Temple of Sinawava which was packed with people sitting having lunch before simply getting the shuttle bus back to the visitor center. It acted as a hub for various trails up around the canyon, however the temperature was up to over 100F so we didn’t fancy the 2 mile or so round trip hike along the Virgin River. After riding the shuttle back to the museum of human history and then the visitor center, we drove along the road outside the canyon ourselves and through the Zion/Mt. Carmel tunnel – over 1 mile long and one hell of an engineering feat back in the 1930’s!
Certainly a very impressive National Park given how everything is so compressed together! Although the shuttle buses clearly had to be implemented given the 5,000 vehicles a day in peak season with only 400 or so parking spaces along the scenic drive, the buses got pretty busy even early in the day and got very hot too due to the very slow speeds they travel at. I also like having my own space and time going through the parks without having a set of 7/8 pre-determined stops I can get off at. It’s also much more peaceful like that as you’re not stuck with a family of 7 pushing a baby stroller with a couple of screaming kids running around and some eating ice cream before dropping the wrapper. As much as I loved the Lake District back in England, I also hated all the stereotypical day-tripping tourists. Kinda ironic maybe given Kat + I are only spending a day or two in each park and aren’t backcountry camping in remote areas, but seeing so many people in flip-flops or clean white socks coming back to the visitor center when even the shortest of hikes would get a good amount of red dust on you seemed like they’d wasted their trip. Different people go for different reasons I guess.
But, at least we’ve also got a 1-year inter-agency pass for free admission to as many more national parks as we want to visit 🙂 The admission to Zion would have been $25, but some quick arithmetic meant for $15 we could trade in the receipts from the last five paid-admission parks and get the yearly pass! We looked at getting one at the very first park, but $80 seemed a lot of money. Now we’ve gone through seven national parks and with at least five or six more (including Grand Canyon and Yosemite charging $25 per car), it works out a lot more cost effective. Those over 62 get a great deal at $10 for a lifetime pass, which probably explains the number of older people enjoying the parks we’ve been to!