third day: scenic drive, zion

Featured here are photos I took on the morning and early afternoon of Monday, May 7 in the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive section of Zion National Park. For those not in the know: I was in the park at the only time of year you can take the scenic route in a personal vehicle, given that it is the off-season and park shuttles do not operate then. Even so, parking spaces within the drive area are first-come, first-serve, and the route is shut off when parking is full. As such, I had to get up early again Monday to make it into this zone.

This was not a challenge, however, as I had regularly been getting up before dawn on this trip. I even managed to get a full breakfast and get checked out and still get into the scenic area around 7:45. Then I walked, hiked, took photos, and took things in. I ate a large, yummy chicken cordon bleu sandwich from the park lodge restaurant while out on the lodge lawn. Then I headed for another short trail. And I took off around 1:30 or so to head for Bryce Canyon, an hour-and-a-half down the road.

The only big hike I did was a popular one called the Emerald Pools Trail that is easy-peasy on the first third, only to get maddeningly strenuous by the last third. I loved it, except for the oh-great-slippery-rocks-and-more-rocks-again bit in the last third. But it wasn’t as interesting photographically as an earlier, somewhat lazy walk along the Virgin River.

I thought the same was true of the easy path I took after lunch, the Riverside Walk trail, which starts at the Temple of Sinawava (the quasi-official beginning of Zion Canyon) and heads toward the Narrows section, where it’s only water and a towering, narrow canyon–and you need special water-resistant gear to make the hike, neoprene socks and waders and such to keep going.

Speaking of the Narrows, I didn’t do any of the Internet-suggested “must do” hikes, because a) There was an NPS danger alert about toxic algae in the Virgin River, and this was December besides, and b) There’s already this virus thing going on, and the Narrows and the (risky) Angels Landing trails are said to be nearly always crowded. This year, two major trails elsewhere were also closed due to rockslides. That made hiking the most publicized trails a big nope for me. I had a good time anyway!

In any case, I read much before heading into this trip about how Zion has become a victim of overtourism and crowding in peak season. My impression, however, was that the scenic area is popular because it should be. This is not to say that other parks, and even other parts of Zion, are curiously overlooked. It’s just to say that sometimes crowds are right, as much as they may need to be shepherded around to other places.

Best not to follow people too closely right before a vaccine comes along, though. Gotta get up before most of the crowd, slip past people, all that. Maybe that will be a good rule of thumb for the post-COVID era, though, as much as we humans need and rely upon other people? I’m thinking yes. In all things, balance.