hiking in zion, days 1 & 2

Two Saturdays ago was meant to be more of what I call a “down day,” a rest and regrouping day. And it sort-of was, if you don’t count the unexpected two-and-a-half more hours of hiking over one rock after another after another in the late afternoon.

The hours before mostly involved getting reoriented and eating carb-heavy foods, including a St. George UT Hilton Tru hotel’s offering of healthy options including Belgian waffles with whipped cream (someone did ask if I wanted it added, uh yes, thanks) and toppings including chocolate chips and Oreo crumbles. I went to wash and get rocks out of my rental car after that, seeing a balloon race or exhibition or something on the way (Ooh purty, now where’s the car wash?), and asked for a chocolate-covered doughnut with chocolate chips on top afterward.

I headed to Springdale UT, bordering Zion National Park and about an hour east around noon. The plan was just to drive through the park, take some photos, and check into my hotel there. On the east end of the park, however, I stopped to go the restroom at a turnabout area. After talking with a couple from Idaho, with the two doing some outdoor bratwurst grilling there, I noticed what looked like a dirt trail leading down a hill. So I got my hiking stick, camera, and hat (Idaho man went, “Yeah, the hat!”) and headed to see what was there.

I remembered reading in a guide that the trails next to some of these turnabouts led to many slot canyons, and tended to be uncrowded. This proved to be accurate advice, even with two major trails closed due to rockslides earlier in the year. Later, I would find that these are in an area known as Clear Creek.

Two women I passed, a mother and daughter I think, told me after I’d been out for a bit that if I kept going I’d come across several pools and big horn sheep. But I kept coming across more and more piles of dry creek bed rocks, and thought, Well, that’s it for today. I mean, really.

I had other shots from the drive, shots which did not include cars, but liked the one here for whatever reason. Another non-trail shot is of the Virgin River, taken from my hotel’s grounds. It’s just the way the river is, no immaculate Hilton landscaping going on. A park campground is on the other side.

What I planned instead, at least for the morning, was a hike through was I saw referred to as the infrequently visited “desert” (in quotes because, I thought, it’s technically all desert) southwestern quadrant of the park. It’s less frequently visited because it’s lower-lying, has almost no shade on trails, and is too hot for hiking in most parts of the year. That’s not true in December.

I found varying reports about the trail’s merits. One elaborately detailed Zion hiking site called it mostly unimpressive compared to other parts of the park, but worth visiting if you like solitude. By contrast, a guide from a resort just outside of the eastern section of the park called it “epic” for winter. I liked the idea of a longer, uncrowded hike, in any case, so I thought I’d try it.

Verdict: I thought I’d made the wrong call on this trail until I walked up a “wash” (dry creek bed), into a petrified forest area, and came upon what looked to be a rockslide’s aftermath. I suppose I could have attempted to scramble over the rocks, but a) I’m from Mississippi, b) I was out here alone, and c) I didn’t want to risk burdening the already burdened health care system. So I turned around, and then … Then! Then things got interesting.

I took a break after four hours around here, barely getting out of the designated parking area’s steep, beaten up, and gutted driveway out (I had a 4WD, which did its thing, thankfully). Then I took the much more popular Watchman Trail at the edge of the main section of the park that afternoon. I walked to it from my hotel. I saw many more people here, but almost all wore masks, and one could do The COVID Shuffle to get out of anyone’s path.

I finally ate healthy that night, fancy salmon, veggies, taters, and greens dish. And ice cream with some blackberry/raspberry tart thing later.