Honeymoon Part 1 – Zion National Park (Angel’s Landing, Observation Point, and the Subway)

Our honeymoon was so quintessentially American.  We planned it that way.  After two years traveling abroad, we felt it was time to do some of the great American trips for our glorious return.  This meant hitting up some of the wonders of the Southwest including Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon.

We spent 9 days in the Southwest.  We began our trip in Las Vegas.  And Vegas, to my mind, is equivalent to the first ring of hell.  It’s gaudy, and trashy, and gross.  I hate gambling, and worse than that I hate the depressing sight of other people gambling.  Everyone in Vegas appears to think their personal experience is the only thing that matters.  People walk into you.  People smoke inside.  People wear clothes that make me queasy.  In Vegas I decided that perhaps I don’t really like people, as a general whole.

The one highlight was seeing the Cirque du Soleil show, “O”, which incorporates an element of water – a giant pool!  That was amazing.  A few years ago while on a canyoneering course in Escalante, I met a diver for the show and as he described the responsibilities he had: diving through and around moving equipment, providing oxygen to performers while they are underwater, and orchestrating the show’s logistics from the depths. I was pretty interested in actually seeing the show. Thankfully, we did just that.  And, it was a true highlight.

As soon as we rented our car and began to head out of the city bound for St. George, Utah my stress levels diminished noticeably.  Poor Rick must have thought I had buyer’s remorse the first few days of our marriage.  I was so moody!  Part of that moodiness was coming down from the adrenaline rush of the wedding weekend, but it also derived from some complicated emotions that came up in the days just prior to the wedding.  I had been contacted by an old love, with a strange and heart wrenching letter.  It tore at me, and truly made me miss my someone who was one of my closest friends, who no longer is in my life for important reasons, but who nonetheless means a great deal to me.  I needed some mental space to take in the incident – and Vegas was not the place for that.

Luckily, we headed to Zion National Park after a night in the beautiful little town of St. George, where we stayed at the most adorable little historic B&B.  Once in Zion, we set up our campsite and began hiking.  The first day we did Angel’s Landing, which was amazing and terrifying for me since I am not a lover of heights.

Here’s a pretty good summary of why I was terrified:

A glimpse of why this was a scary hike
A glimpse of why this was a scary hike

We also did the Narrows, which is an incredible hike in a narrow slot canyon. Unfortunately, we hadn’t brought the appropriate gear to do it right by walking up the river the full distance.  We went a short distance into the river, and decided it would be best to turn back.

The next day we hiked to Observation Point, up from Weeping Rock through Echo Canyon.  It was a very scenic hike and also a good climb.  We ascended about 2000 feet up a series of switchbacks to the top of the canyon and then cruised for a while along the rim. Altogether the hike is about 8 miles.  Along the way there were some incredible views of slot canyons below us and wild sandstone striations.  When we reached the top of the canyon and walked out to the point we were greeted with the first snow we’d seen all season and a great view of Angel’s Landing from above as well as the winding Virgin River carving through the valley.  My decision to wear shorts was pretty questionable at that point, so we hurriedly finished our lunch before we dashed back to the bottom.  When we arrived back at the canyon bottom we felt that we still had some gas in our legs, so we headed to the Emerald Pools for a short hike of about 3 miles.  It was a pretty walk, but nothing compared the previous three hikes.  Though a small perk was that on the walk back along the Virgin River we startled several rutting bucks which made for some excitement.

Our final hike in Zion (and my favorite!) was a hike a bit more off the beaten path, which required a permit from the rangers.  It was a slot canyon called the Subway, which can be accessed many different ways.  We chose to hike up into it from the Left Fork, which is a less technical route –  a perfect fit for us as Rick hasn’t done previous canyoneering and in November the water is icy cold.  After descending about 400 feet into a boulder-strewn wash, we slowly made our way up the valley until the canyon narrowed and the river began to cascade over several falls.  We climbed the falls as the canyon walls rose around us and then turned a corner to see “the Subway” looming in front of us – a giant bulbous opening at the bottom of an otherwise narrow slot canyon.  We explored the pools formed within the subway itself and began to make our way into the more technical sections above.  This is unfortunately, where our hike ended as the cold water and air temperatures made it too risky to continue without more serious canyoneering gear.

The Subway was my favorite for a few reasons.  The hike in as we made our way up-valley was warm, sunny, and the turning cottonwood leaves brought beautiful splashes of autumn color to everything.  The terrain was diverse, ranging from loose scree, sun-baked sandstone, and black metamorphic rocks in the early part of the canyon, to fractured sandstone and sculpted slot canyons as we moved upriver.  Along the way we navigated technical hiking over icy rocks strewn across the drainage by countless flash floods.  It made for challenging and endlessly exciting hiking.  It brought me back to my childhood of exploring the ravines around my parent’s house – getting wet, climbing up and over logs and rocks, squeezing between boulders, and searching for the right foot placement each step of the way.  I was certainly never bored!

It felt good to get out and really hike for several days.  With my focus shifting to yoga over the past year, I haven’t worked my legs the way one does hiking in quite a while.  It felt good to have a pack on my hips, my big old boots on, and to pound out the waves of emotion that come with all that we have done over the last few weeks – from moving, and riding the adrenaline wave of the wedding, to coming down in the oddest of all places for that: Vegas.  Pounding out the miles with Rick, silently thinking, or passing commentary on the landscape around us or the book we read together really helped to forge a bond between us.  This kind of trip is what we love; moving our bodies, seeing new places, and immersing ourselves in the land.  It was such a joy to experience beautiful Zion with him.

Of course, Zion was just one part of the trip.  The best part, the Grand Canyon, will have to be discussed in another post!

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