I like my solitude; going all day with no other person in sight allows for introspection and contemplation. Moments of peace and calm wash over and through me as I take in my surrounding's sights and smells. But you gotta be flexible, and all that solitude yak goes out the window in Zion. A relatively small national park, the canyon is hemmed in by sheer towering walls, cramming the visitors onto the canyon floor where the Virgin River continues its ongoing trenching. In 2017 Zion had 4.5 million visitors (compared to my stomping ground Mt. Rainier National Park, which saw 2 million). When my daughter and I were there for a weekend (July 6-8) sometimes it seemed like there were that many currently on the trails....but probably only hundreds. Now that I've set the lack of solitude tone, I'll say that the compensation comes in spades by the ever present vast visual palette.
Tromping on any trail, the scenery changed constantly in a most spectacular fashion. The varying colors of the sandstone pop in direct and reflected light. The layers and etchings form lines of symmetry and chaos simultaneously. Whether looking down or craning your neck up to take in the lofty barriers, a craving for solitude is mitigated by this awesomeness of ocular overload, present even when raining. No wonder 4.5 million visitors came here in 2017.
The park seems to handle this well, with regular shuttle service to all the stops on the narrow canyon road, which surely would be unmanageable were cars allowed in. My daughter and I took advantage of these and the free town shuttles to the entrance to make forays into the park both early and late (the last park shuttle is 9:15 PM, town shuttle 10). Originally we were there with permit in hand for the 16 mile top to bottom Narrows hike. But it's monsoon season; afternoon thunderstorms and a "possible" flash flood advisory along with overcast skies at 5:00 AM had us change our plans to the much safer Angel's Landing hike, where only 6 people have plunged to their demise since 2004. Yeah. However, I was surprised to find out later that more deaths (7) have occurred on the seemingly innocuous Emerald Pools trail, which we did on Friday night.
NOTE: 3 days after our visit Zion saw 3 inches of rain in 3 hours, creating flash floods, rock and mud slides and closures of various trails and trail heads, including Highway 9
I'm not a fan of exposed heights, but the start of Angel's Landing skirts a wide fin and doesn't look so bad, especially with chain rails in place. Once around the corner, though, I looked up at the route on a narrow and steep looking fin and thought, "Are you effing kidding me?" However, my daughter gave no hint of retreating and the hundreds of kids, older ones and tourists on route somewhat bolstered my confidence (shame is a powerful motivator); I set off with my daughter in tow to brave the thousand foot drops on either side. With concentration on foot and handwork my queasiness subsided and soon enough (despite the traffic jams) we found ourselves up top on the "plateau". Rain and wind started shortly thereafter, so we departed for the descent, the airiness magnified on the return. By now I was accustomed to the environment and we finished up just when the clouds parted and the sun boosted the temperature towards that day's high of 102 degrees.
We left all the people behind as we continued up the West Rim trail this Saturday, afterwards returning to the park in the evening to cooler temps, refreshing rain and lower elevation hiking. Combined with our Friday evening sojourns and my daughter's earlier Narrows hike, our interest was piqued enough to plan a return visit, adding to the 4 million plus that will clog the trails next year. We're good with that.