I went to Zion National Park, in Utah, for October break. Desert Solitaire and OTL Leader training in Joshua Tree inspired me to get outdoors more, to be more independent and daring, and more connected to wilderness. We left on Saturday morning and came back on Tuesday night. It was my first time being in Utah. The landscape is breathtaking. In Washington, with the exception of some of the mountain ranges, we appreciate the landscape for what’s on it – the trees, the rivers, the lakes, the animals – but in Nevada and most of Utah there isn’t any of that; it’s just barren land as far as the eye can see. But the land itself is phenomenal. Nevada is a landscape defined by erosion; the badlands between desert country and canyon country, ripped and ravined, undulating hills veined and feathered by sharp rivulets of long evaporated water. And the Utah heartland, with hills that looked like they’ve had scoops taken out of them, and mesas that look beheaded, flat as their hispanic namesake.
Zion itself evokes a range of emotions. Most prominently, it happens to be one of the most staggeringly beautiful places I’ve ever witnessed. The same river that has eroded the winding canyon between thousand foot cliffs has also had the grace to make the area lush and vegetated, appreciable to a northwesterner with aqueous sensibilities. But the National Park is the most commercialized I’ve seen. We stayed in an immense car camping area, still picturesque, but filled with cars and air mattresses and children. Not that I don’t appreciate that, I think it’s lovely that people have that option, but something in me insists that wilderness be earned. If you love it, keep it wild, and struggle and work to breath its fresh air. There’s a tram system through Zion. You get on, the birdcalls start up, you get a recorded tour as you stop at the variety of stops and day hikes, past the lodge, always reminding you that the next tram is only six to eight minutes behind, so feel free to step off and enjoy any one of the short walks.
We started up the Angel’s Landing trail, and my heart sunk further. It was paved. Are you kidding me? We can’t even walk dirt trails anymore? We did two miles up switchbacks blasted into the side of the canyon wall before we emerged on the top of a ridge. The view was incredible, and lying belly-down, head over the edge of a 1300 foot shear vertical drop is spectacular and viscerally terrifying.
I asked a hiker if this was Angel’s Landing, and he laughed. He pointed to a spine protruding out into the valley, a narrow, steep, rocky formation with no discernable path and uncomprehendable drops to either side. Christ. Here was danger. Here was wilderness and self-reliance and discovery, in the tentative steps and deathly grip on the guide chain. Touche park service. Perhaps there’s some animal left in you after all.
On Tuesday we hiked the Narrows. At the top of Zion Canyon, just past the Temple of Sinawava, the canyon narrows. Creative. There is unsurprisingly a mile long paved path that you can stroll along the bank. This terminates where the walls close in to meet the river on either side, where the only course is straight through the water. Elated to get off the cement and away from the elderly, we waded into the cold, slipping on river rocks, and began to hike upstream. The Narrows presented an odd amalgam of wild and tame landscapes. On one hand, it was tough going in some parts, waist deep, blocked by rocks, slippery as hell. But in some parts, there were beaten paths. More than that though, it was as though the entire canyon was a path. At least at first, where there were banks, the dirt was completely packed down. It wasn’t like there was a path between the rocks, it was like the entire bank was a beaten path with countless rocks strewn through it. You couldn’t pick a way to walk that hadn’t been walked before.
We made it about four and half miles upriver before having to turn back for some of the others in the group. It was disappointing, but to go much further would have been increasingly exhausting and unpleasant on the way back. At one point, Devin and I decided to hoist our packs above our heads and wade a neck-deep pool rather than scrambling the rocks around the rim, because what’s a neck-deep river if you don’t partake in it? The Narrows were phenomenal. Like wading streams in Downieville, only with several hundred foot sandstone walls instead of steep, wooded embankments.
I got my fix of nature, in the drug sense. I intend to go back soon.