Camping, Hiking, National Parks & Monuments, State Parks, United States, Utah, Zion National Park

A BeaUTAHful Bucket List: Day 9 – Zion National Park

Day 9 – April 3, 2022

The take aways…

  • Check if the Narrows are open before lugging the hip waders up Angels Landing
  • Lottery permit systems can be a joyous thing
  • Kolob Canyon is worth the peek
  • I-70 has gorgeous rest areas
  • You can fall asleep to the sounds of a geyser in the desert!

It’s Angels Landing day! One of my most anticipated activities of this entire adventure, and the one that worried me the most with my (still) severely sprained ankle, was upon us and I was excited!

Obligatory morning-hair selfie! The hair situation intensifies….

We grabbed some breakfast in Kanab at Jakey Leigh’s, and then set out on our way on the historic Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. This crazy scenic way to access the park includes the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, which opened in 1930 and is the longest tunnel of its type in the United States.

Ho-made pies….
Hello, Zion National Park!
Checkerboard Mesa. It’s unique pattern is caused by contraction and expansion of the sandstone.
First little tunnel on the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway
The famous mile long tunnel
Unreal views in Zion!

Zion National Park was Utah’s first national park, and is its most visited, with a record of over 5 million visitors in 2021. Due to its proximately to Las Vegas and ease of access, the park as found its way onto the list of most visited parks in the whole country. Founded in 1919, the hallmark of the park is Zion Canyon, carved by the Virgin River. There is also a northern part of the park, Kolob Canyons, that is less visited, but still stunning. The explosion in popularity left the National Park Service scrambling to protect the park’s nature and ensure visitor safety (and experience), so there is now only access by shuttle up the Zion Canyon and the popular hike, Angels Landing, is only available by a lottery permit system in the peak visitation months (a huge blessing, that I’ll talk about shortly).

Because Zion Canyon is only access via shuttle bus, we parked at the visitor center. First, of course, we wanted to nab our passport stamps and souvenirs, before heading out on the day’s adventures, which we hoped would include Angels Landing and hiking up the Narrows (which is literally walking in and up the Virgin River). Naturally, I had to jinx the day by buying a patch that said “I hiked the Narrows!”…

Back to the truck to load up our packs full of water, snacks, and hip waders! We then joined the long line for the shuttle bus, which thankfully moved around quickly. I briefly heard someone say the Narrows were closed, but we weren’t sure, and at this point we were not going to take the hip waders back to the truck and then get back in line for the shuttle.

We jumped off at the Grotto stop, which is where the hike to Angels Landing starts. This is one of Zion’s most popular hikes, and thus on April 1, 2022, a permit system was implemented to control crowds and increase safety. (13 people have died hiking Angels Landing since 2000, as it is quite easy to fall to your death!) Eric scored us permits in the lottery for the 9am-12pm entry slot. And since I’m on the topic of permits, I am SO THANKFUL that NPS went to permits for this hike. I could not imagine hiking it without a limit on the number of people doing it! I hate crowds, so the permit system automatically made my experience a million times better, and as a competent hiker with no fear of heights, it also meant I did not have to deal with passing on the narrow chain sections and dealing with all the issues uncontrolled crowds can bring to a naturally dangerous trail. I made sure to tell every park ranger I saw afterwards thank you for the permits, and touted it on social media. I get that the people who never do research or travel last minute hate permits, but that is the price to pay for lack of preparation. (There are permits held back for those to get for the next day anyway.)

THAT is Angels Landing, and yes, I’d be climbing it!

So what is Angels Landing? It is a towering rock formation that in 1916 Frederick Vining Fisher quipped “only an angel could land there.” The 5.4 mile hike begins on the West Rim Trail, ascends Walter’s Wiggles, and splits off at Scout Lookout (this portion of the hike does not require a permit, only the actual Angels Landing part does). Overall, there is roughly 1500 feet of elevation gain, and there are many demoralizing switchback sections which can suck anytime, but especially in the sunshine and heat. Luckily between the switchback sections is “Refrigerator Canyon,” which is a shady section. The last 0.5 miles to the top of Angels Landing is an exposed class 3 climb (meaning you will have to use your hands to aid in climbing), with chains installed in portions to assist. Often times you’re on a narrow ledge on a vertical wall to the canyon floor below you. It tops out at 5,790 feet in elevation with stunning views of Zion Canyon below you.

Heading up before the grades got crazy. The trail switchbacks up the rock face in front of me.
At the top of the first set of switchbacks
Walter’s Wiggles are quite the workout!
Time to get the party started!

At the beginning of the trail there were several park rangers that confirmed our permit. Eric took the chance to ask if the Narrows were really closed, and we received the news that we indeed did lug heavy hip waders up this climb for no reason, as the Virgin River was a-raging and it was unsafe to hike the Narrows. Training, right?

Checked in with the ranger and OK to pass go!

So we set out up Angels Landing, and maybe it was the adrenaline, but I had an absolute blast. I really had not been exposed (ha) to exposure like this before, so I was unsure if I’d be fearful or what. Instead I discovered I had an almost unhealthy non-fear of the heights and exposure! (No fear, a few months later on a climb in Colorado I realized I do healthily respect exposure when I got a bit scared on a scramble on a rocky summit all by myself! I’m not an absolute lunatic!) I felt like we really zipped up the entire half mile, and did not have to deal with much descending traffic. Pro tip: I wore gloves, which was great for added grip and I didn’t have to touch the chains barehanded (I am weird about my hands smelling like metal…). I wore my Black Diamond crag gloves, but I saw others in gardening or bicycling gloves – anything grippy would work.

A section of chains starts almost immediately
Nature finds a way in the strangest of places
We reached a small saddle before the last push to the summit
The view of the canyon and Virgin River was spectacular!
Hi, Eric!
Getting closer!
Navigating the steepest portion

At the summit we grabbed photos, and I sat down and made a tuna salad sandwich with my feet dangling a thousand feet above the Virgin River. (Feel free to reach out for a sponsorship, Bumblebee!) I noticed a girl making peanut butter sandwich, so we exchanged greetings! I think overall there were less than ten of us on the summit, which was great!

Made it!
Summit views
Summit views
Doing my sitting on the edge thing…
This little guy was looking for a handout. (Don’t feed the wildlife!!)
Can’t say I’ve had many other tuna sandwiches that were as scenic!

The down climb was harder than going up, which is always the case. I was mostly worried about the fine sand on the sandstone, which could make things slippery. But luckily we made it off without incident. The rest of the hike down was tough on the knees, and Eric and I just started running down, because if you’re going to have ouchy knees, might as well just run and get it all over sooner! Plus you can’t think about the ankle if the knees are throbbing…

Heading back down. I feel like this took more focus due to the sometimes slippery, sandy surface.
Looking back at where we had just been
Walter’s Wiggles deserved another view

Since the Narrows were out, we boarded the shuttle back to the truck, ending our day a bit earlier than we had planned. Therefore, we sought out lunch in Springdale, the town right outside of the park, opting to try Whiptail Grill. Serving sizes were plentiful, and we even got surprise salads with our entrees!

No tailgate sandwiches today! We enjoyed some refreshing beverages, chips, and Mexican food at Whiptail Grill

We had another super long drive to cap off the evening – over four hours to make it close to Moab, where we would close out our Utah adventure.

Interesting roadside find as we worked our way back to I-15

Since it was still open, we swung in to briefly visit the Kolob Canyons section of Zion National Park. Located literally right off of exit 40 on I-70, there is a five mile scenic drive that takes you through this part of the park. We stopped to our our pass (a requirement, it is not free to enter Kolob Canyons), and then took the short drive.

Kolob Canyons entrance sign
The small visitor center at Kolob Canyons was closed, but there was still a ranger checking for entrance passes, brochures, and passport stamps.
Heading up the Kolob Canyons scenic drive
Very unique looking arch thing!
Kolob Canyons was worth the detour!

Now for the long journey on the interstate highway system. Luckily I-70 going east from the terminus with I-15 is quite pretty, making the drive at least scenic, though long. After snacks in Beaver, we headed east. At the Sand Bench rest stop we took a break to watch the sunset and look at the desert views before night enveloped us.

Back on the interstate highway system
I-70 in Utah and western Colorado has to be one of the prettiest stretches of the interstate system if you ask me!
Checking out the views at the Sand Bench view area/rest area. There are several scenic rest areas along this stretch of I-70 in Utah.
Definitely great to take a break and watch the sunset in this pretty location!
Goodnight, sun!

Upon seeing signs for Goblin Valley State Park we ever so briefly considered driving south to see it since it was skipped on an earlier day, but we kept on driving. Eric stumbled upon a campsite tip that involved a geyser… wait a geyser in the desert? Sign me up, I love geysers!

Crystal Geyser is a cold-water geyser driven by carbon dioxide that started erupting after drilling in the 1930s. Not an “Old Faithful,” eruptions are rather unpredictable, somewhere between 17 to 27 hours (and also are not geothermal or volcanic in nature, so definitely not Old Faithful-like in multiple ways). The Utah Geological Society has a great webpage on Crystal Geyser.

Eric nervously giggled as we drove the dirt roads into the desert south of Green River. I think after the bag of dirt outside the Grand Canyon we were heightened to the fact we could easily be “disappeared” and made into a jerky product sold at small roadside stands (a so-called urban myth, but do we know it’s really a myth?!).

Crystal Geyser doing its thing when we arrived!

And wouldn’t you know, when we arrived Crystal Geyser was erupting!! We nabbed some videos and photos in the dark, and then set up camp around the bend. Is this real life – we fell asleep to the sounds of a geyser splashing away!!

2 thoughts on “A BeaUTAHful Bucket List: Day 9 – Zion National Park”

  1. There’s a geyser in Utah? No freaking way! That’s so cool! Also, I’m so glad you enjoyed Angels Landing, and also that the permit system is working well. I hiked it many years ago, but my fiancé never has so we’ve been trying to figure out when to enter the lottery.

    Liked by 1 person

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