Zion is one of my favorite national parks. But a lot of other people agree with that assessment so it is very crowded. The first time that I visited over thirty years ago you could just drive up the canyon. Today you have to park in Springdale and take a shuttle. The Park Service does the best that they can. The shuttles are free and run often. But it is still inconvenient. One aspect is that you have to take whatever you need for the entire day with you. And you have to fight the crowds. Beautiful as it is, Zion canyon is not a wilderness experience.
The first shuttle was at 6:30 am but we were not quite that fanatical. We caught the 7 am bus. It was still early and most of the tourists were still sleeping. It was quite cold that early in the morning. We had to take our jackets. We shed them not long after hitting the trail and had to carry them around all day. Oh well. Dave was more optimistic than I was and wore shorts. Blue jeans were fine for me. I figured that I would average out any discomfort - a little cool in the morning and a little hot in the afternoon. On average I would be perfectly comfortable.
The Observation Point trail starts at the Weeping Rock shuttle stop. Nearby is an arch in the cliff that has water flowing from it. It's known as Weeping Rock. A lot of the tourists are content to take the quarter mile trail to get a close up view of Weeping Rock. But we took the other trail. It starts out with switchback after switchback. It was a good thing as the hard work of gaining elevation warmed us up quickly. We were in the shade and it was still chilly this early in the morning.
After climbing about a thousand feet the trail moves into the narrow section of Echo Canyon. Instead of broad vistas and big, deep canyons you hike through a canyon only twenty feet wide. It drops below the trail for a hundred feet or more. Above the sky is just a slit a hundred feet or more above. (And yes, I did yell and it did echo in Echo Canyon.) The trail disappears on slickrock and you climb over rocks and around pools of water. After a short stretch the trail emerges into the high country. We are out of Zion canyon now and into the high plateau which surrounds it. The trail climbs steadily and the views continue to improve. The entire area is slickrock and off trail exploration is possible anywhere if you are willing to tackle the tough terrain. But we are sticking to the trail which climbs relentlessly up, up and higher up the side of the mountain.
We pass a trail junction. It leads to a trailhead on the road above the Zion tunnel. It's an alternative to the route that we have taken. It is less elevation gain but longer. But I prefer the hike from the bottom of the canyon. The view from the top is so much better when you hike up from the very bottom.
The trail from the junction also goes to Cable Mountain. The early settlers of Zion canyon cut lumber in the high country and then lowered the logs into the canyon to build their houses. The frame for lowering the logs is still visible on the rim of the canyon. That is one hike in the park that I have never done. Someday.
Eventually the trail loops back to the main canyon and emerges high on a cliff face. Here the trail is just blasted out of the cliff. I always wondered who looked at that cliff and thought "hey, that would be a good place to put a trail". It is about as unlikely a spot for a trail as you will ever see. The trail is quite wide but the edge drops down a long way. There are three switchback on the cliff face and then the trail emerges onto a high terrace. It uses this natural feature to make a high traverse to the buttress that ends in Observation Point.
Now most of the work is over. The elevation gain is done. We have gained over two thousand feet from the floor of the canyon in three miles. Now there is a mostly level mile to Observation Point. After the terrace traverse there is a trail junction. A trail comes in from the east. Instead of hiking from the canyon you can take a long drive on a low-grade dirt road to a trailhead that allows you to get here with a long, boring, level hike through forest. Bah. I'd much rather do a hard hike than a hard drive.
Then we are at Observation Point. It is an incredible viewpoint that overlooks all of Zion canyon. Dave is faster than me on the uphill so he beat me here. There are only two other people so we find our own spot and sit down to enjoy the view. We eat some snacks, have a drink, and take lots of pictures. This is just one of the most amazing places that I know. The weather is beautiful and the view is incredible. I could just sit here all day. It feels even better with the work it took to get here. Four miles and over twenty one hundred feet of elevation gain. Not so much to wear you out, but enough to make you feel like you worked to earn the view.
We had a nice chat with the couple that is up here with us. They are from Connecticut and on a long vacation touring through Utah. They are envious of us because we live so close and can visit this area so easily. Indeed.
Finally it's time to head down. Because we had an early start we saw very few people on the way up. But on the way down we encounter hordes of hikers. Most of them are sweating hard as the day warms up. There are advantages to our early start, tackling the heavy uphill work in the cool of the morning. Some of the hikers are just out of their element. They are out of shape and don't know what they are tackling. One lady asks me "am I almost there?". "No, another half mile and you will be about half way". But I didn't say that. I just said that she still had a ways to go. Just like with little kids riding in the car. "Five more minutes."
Dave is usually faster than I am going uphill. I like to take it slow and easy. But I am faster than him on the downhill. He has knee problems while my knees are thankfully still very sound. So as we started down I checked with him about what we would do when we got to the bottom. We both wanted to go to the Lodge. He wanted to check it out as a possible place to visit with his girlfriend Jodi in the future. I wanted to hit the giftshop which has some of the best Zion tshirts. So I proposed that I would go ahead and meet him at the Lodge. No, Dave didn't want to do that. He didn't think that we should separate. So he told me not to take the shuttle without him. Better not to get separated. Although I didn't think it was that big a deal, I agreed. I would wait for him and not take the shuttle by myself. Remember that for later.
I got to the bottom about half an hour and four shuttles before he did. That was fine. I found a shady spot and watched the tourists. It was entertaining. A word of advice. If you visit a national park, and you are a male in your fifties or sixties, don't wear dress shorts, a polo shirt with a golf club logo, loafers and high socks. Just don't.
Dave checked out the lodge. Of course I found a tshirt in the gift shop. Dave wanted to eat lunch at the lodge. I had a buffalo burger which was good. He had the taco bar. It was strange as he heaped his plate full of taco stuffings. Twice. He just didn't have a taco. Whatever works. He was making up for missing dinner the night before. Lunch on the patio was good after a hard hike in the morning.
Our plan from here was simple. Take the shuttle to the car. Drive about two hours to Escalante where we had reservations at a motel for the weekend. Easy. But then disaster struck.
On our way out we stopped at the rest room. I came out first so I waited for Dave in the lobby. And waited. And waited. After about ten minutes I got worried. I went back in the restroom. He wasn't there. So I went back to the lobby and waited. And waited. And waited. So I looked around. Back in the restaurant. In the snack bar. At the shuttle stop. In the gift shop. No Dave. He had made such a strong point not to take the shuttle except together that I knew he had to be somewhere. I looked everywhere. Twice. Three times. I was stumped. I even checked every stall in every rest room in the lodge. He wasn't here.
So I took the shuttle back to the parking lot. I was really worried. Because now we could be at different spots and could keep missing each other. But when I got to the parking lot and went to the car, there was Dave waiting. I immediatly expressed my relief at seeing him. "WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING HERE!!!"
We spent the next five minutes yelling at each other. The people at the next car were clearly amused. Then, since we had each clearly explained why what the other guy had done was really stupid, we were satisfied. We hopped in the car and headed for Escalante. It took us about two and a half hours to drive there. We checked into our motel for the weekend. Escalante was a really small town, like three motels and two restaurants. The setting wasn't very impressive either. It was just a small town in the middle of the desert. Dave was wondering what to do. I suggested that he use his laptop to go online - the motel had wifi. He hadn't brought a laptop. I suggested he just read a book. He hadn't brought a book. Noob. No helping him. I suggested that he just call his girlfriend and talk to her.
That evening I scouted out the town and found the only place that had good tshirts - Escalante Outfitters. I did some posts on earlier trips. I researched hikes for the next day. I had a number of good possibilities but the weather forecast was iffy so we would have to see what tomorrow looked like to decide what to do.