Friday, December 19, 2014

HMV Day 6: Pools and Narrows in Zion National Park

We woke to a sunrise that was illuminating the surrounding red peaks in glorious splendor.  The morning was a little breezy as Matt prepared breakfast burritos for us before setting out on our adventures.  An Acorn Woodpecker made a brief campground appearance which added a little extra excitement to the morning.
Our intention was to make a loop of two trails--one along the West bank of the Virgin River and the other to the three Emerald Pools.  Unfortunately, a bout of flooding the month before had washed out a portion of our intended route.  So, we had to switch gears on the fly.  It was a little disappointing initially, but in the end the day was far from a disappointment!
Sacred Datura flower
I had never seen so much cactus in one place.
Saplicks along the river
We hiked to the Lower Emerald Pool which is tucked into this lush little canyon that is an oasis of water and life.  Matt and I agreed that the pool itself was rather unremarkable--small and murky.  Perhaps those gloriously vibrant pools in  Yellowstone have skewed our perspective.  But, taken as a whole, the area was a sweet little hideaway.
Lower Emerald Pool is at the bottom of this shot.
A waterfall was gently cascading over the rounded lip of the canyon under which the trail passed.  The water sparkled in the sun.  I wasn't expecting waterfalls.  I always enjoy paths that lead under waterfalls like that or like the Thunderbird Falls in Glacier.  We stopped and had a little picnic lunch under the shade of the rim, overlooking the pool.  It had turned into another nice, hot day--though not nearly so much of a scorcher as the day before--making the shade quite appreciated.
I managed to capture a small portion of the cascading water as it glinted in the sunshine on its decent.
Zion was unexpectedly beautiful to me.  There was so much about it that I didn't expect--though now I struggle to remember what it is that I did expect.  There were so many trees.  The gambel oak in particular captured my attention.  Oak leaves are so distinct and have such lovely lines and contours.  It was as hot as I expected, but not as dry.  Parts were ruggedly desolate with red stained rocks and impressive patches of cacti.  Parts looked just like the sort of thing I'd run into in Montana.  It was so wonderfully strange.  I did not understand canyons before I went to the southwest--and of the three national parks we'd visit on this trip, really, Zion's were probably least mind-boggling.
Trying my hand at chimnneying up the slot canyons.  
Since our Emerald Pools loop was no longer an option we finished up with that hike and decided to check out the Riverside Walk which is the gateway, if you will, to the more famous Narrows.  Seeing the Narrows hadn't really been on our agenda, but, sometimes things don't go as planned--and that isn't always a bad thing!  The Narrows were amazing.  And I only got to go a teeny-tiny way into them since we were so woefully unprepared for river hiking.

The Riverside Walk is an easy, flat stroll to the mouth of The Narrows.  The trail meanders along the river and under the towering red stone walls with splendid sights all around.
The walk provided much time for enjoying the local flora and fauna.  We saw a small lizard snap up a large, black spider--slurping it down with remarkable speed.  We admired the hanging gardens--plants that have found a tiny bit of soil and some water with which to lay down roots all on the nearly vertical rock walls.  It was amazing.  The power of life is amazing.
A spider snack!
This little trickle had deposited a bunch of sand at the base of these rocks.  I thought it looked awesome.
A hanging garden.  Its hard to tell, but this is looking straight up into the sky.  This is a very sheer cliff, but those plants found a way to thrive there!
All at once we rounded a little bend and there it was--the mouth of the Narrows.  This canyon is steeply carved and at points is only five feet wide at the top.  The trail, if you want to call it that, is the river itself.  To hike The Narrows is to hike IN the river.  Matt and I didn't have water shoes or neoprene pants or anything--though next time we go to Zion we will be renting some for sure!  The lack of water gear limited how far we wanted to go up the river.  The rocks are pointy and the water is cold.  Matt and his sensitive feet could only make it across to the other side of the river for a better view down the canyon.  My tougher feet permitted me to go further in, but not as far as my heart wanted!  I rounded one bend in the river and stopped on a sandbar--to warm up my feet--and oh, I wanted to go one more bend...and then one more..and then one more.  Next time!  As it was, I was the only one out even that far without any footwear on!  My toes were pink!  And jubilant!
A view from just inside The Narrows.
Matt wading back across the river.
I felt like a beam of happiness as I walked in the Virgin River between those cool, towering walls.  It shows in this photo, I think.
I rejoined Matt--after talking him into going just a little farther to see a cool little side canyon--and we crossed the Virgin River again.  We stopped to dry our feet before shoving them back in our boots.  I build a few small carins on the sandy shore.  I couldn't get enough of that water and ended up back in the river again, wading out to rocks in the middle, you know, just to see it.
And then I just walked out without shoes on until my feet were dry.  The path was flat and gentle, easy barefoot hiking.
We hopped back on the shuttle at Grotto again and headed back down the canyon.  We got off for a little pit stop at Big Bend as its an area known to have visits from the rare California Condor.  I knew it wasn't likely that we'd see one since there are only like 100 in the wild, but still, we had to stop and have a look...just in case.  We, unsurprisingly, saw no condors.  But, we did see some amazing landscapes.  There were rock climbers that were mere specks on the side of the cliff.  They'd taken three days to climb up, including spending two nights on little beds strapped to the rock.  Crazy, but oh, talk about a room with a view!
The Organ, The Great White Throne, and Angel's Landing.  It was still a bit mind boggling to think we hiked up to that last one the day previous.
We returned to camp and, after a visit to a very neat little independent grocery store in Springdale, just outside of the park, had an early dinner.  We enjoyed the company of a mule deer and her two fawns while we ate as they grazed their way around the campground.  It was kind of funny to see how crazy people got about the mule deer.  I suppose having seen them my whole life they didn't make me run for my camera quite so readily--until there were babies, of course!  We also saw a hairy woodpecker, a wee ruby-crowned kinglet, and new-to-us, the western scrub jay--a very lovely species of jay
We ate ramen noodles for dinner.  We were both shocked at how tasty they were!  Of course, I have eaten unseasonsed lentil mash and thought it was tasty in the woods!  Hiking (or the hunger from hiking) makes everything taste gourmet!  We'd gone to the store to buy some fuel canisters for our stove to replace the ones we bought in California which proved defective.  We also wanted to pick up another tub of hummus, a can of soup or two, and some pain reliever as Matt's wisdom teeth had been bothering him.  And when we were in the soup isle we saw that they had ramen for dirt cheap--much cheaper than cans of soup.  And we thought, "Hmm, its been a million years since we've had ramen."  And it cooks fast.  So, we had ramen--pepped up with chickpeas and chili paste!  It was weird, but good.

One of our camp neighbors came by while we ate and offered us a large pile of free firewood.  This was a real score as gathering wood is prohibited in all three of the parks we would visit.  The woman and her son were going home a day early and didn't want to take it back with them.  This spurred Matt and I to have a conversation about how nice everyone had been in Zion.  On the trail people greeted each other, several offered to take photos of Matt and I completely unrequested by us, and the Rangers, of course, were very friendly and helpful.  In such a splendid setting how could anyone be grouchy though!

After dinner we found a short little trail to a bluff overlooking our campground.  It was called Archaeology Trail as it led up to the ruins of some ancestral Puebloan grain storage buildings.  It was pretty interesting and a very keen evening stroll.  The stone foundations were clearly visible, though all the rest of the artifacts had long been removed.  The sunset was sublime.  We slept like babies.
A spectacular sixth day.