The start of a new semester is always a busy time for me at work. But this year we were also adopting a totally new videoconferencing system. Since U of I Boise is a remote campus, most of our classes, meetings and special events are done over video. That meant we went from very busy to totally crazy. By the end of the first month of the new semester, I was starting to burn out and was ready for a break. I was looking forward to the three day weekend for President's Day.
Early in the week I was checking the weather to see if there might be a chance to hike in the foothills over the weekend. It looked warm and sunny. That gave me an wild idea. I checked the Utah canyon country. Normally at this time of year it would be cold and dreary there, with rain or snow thrown in for good measure. Instead the forecast was for sunny weather with warm temperatures for the next week. I talked to Sandy and she was game for a winter hiking trip. On a lark we checked with our regular dogsitter Sarah to see if she could stay with Abby. Even though it was short notice we lucked out - she was able to do it. I took a day of vacation for Friday and voila, we had a four day weekend.
Sandy suggested going to Zion National Park. I had been there a number of times in the past few years but it had been quite a while since her last visit. I checked lodging possibilities online and our luck held. We could get reservations at Zion Lodge, a historic hotel inside the park right in Zion Canyon. Because it was off season it wasn't even that expensive. I made the reservations and we were ready to go.
I've been to Zion many times but never in the winter because usually the weather is bad. I didn't know what to expect for hiking conditions. Even though the forecast promised us a sunny winter weekend, there still might be snow everywhere. In that case we might have to settle for hiking on the canyon floor. Or maybe we could get part way up into the high country. We just figured that whatever we could do, if the weather was nice it would be pretty and it would be worth it to get away.
The ten hour drive to the park was routine. We've been that way many times. At least with an early start, we didn't have the usual traffic problems going through Salt Lake City. When I take a half day off of work and start at noon I always hit Salt Lake at rush hour, which quite frankly, sucks.
We were encouraged when we reached the park - we didn't see any snow in the canyon. But on hikes like Angel's Landing, you go through places with names like Refridgerator Canyon. It would seem like a safe bet that we would find snow there no matter how much it warmed up on the floor of Zion Canyon. So while we were checking in I asked the hotel lady what the snow level was. "There is none." I wanted to make sure she understood my question. "I mean in the backcountry, on the trails." But she stuck to her story. "There is no snow anywhere in the park." Well, I guess that even though Utah is a conservative state, they haven't outlawed global warming yet like other Republican states have. The trails were clear and we could hike wherever we wanted.
After our long drive, we had a nice dinner in the Lodge. We also had a pleasant surprise in our hotel room. Although the lodge was originally built ninety years ago and is on the National Register of Historic Places, it had just been remodelled. Our room was brand new and really nice. Sandy thought it was the nicest room we had ever stayed in at a national park lodge. The lodges are usually cool historic buildings but often means that they are rustic and old. But this one was nice. Just because you are doing hard hiking doesn't mean you can't be comfortable at the end of the day.
The weather forecast for the next day predicted clear skies with a high temperature of 75 degrees. Not bad for winter, especially when the Midwest was in a cold spell with temperatures below -20 degrees. And that's before the wind chill gets added (subtracted actually). It seemed like a great opportunity to hike in shorts and tshirts and post pictures on Facebook to make all of our relatives back in the Midwest envious.
We didn't plan to do any exploring but instead to do some old favorite hikes. Our plan for the first day was to do the Observation Point Trail. Sandy has done the hike before and I have done it several times. Still, it's one of my favorite hikes in the whole world so I was excited to do it.
We were up early and waiting for the restaurant to open at 7 am. After a quick breakfast we made the short drive to the trailhead. Although the forecast was for sunny and warm weather, because we were starting so early we were still in the shade at the bottom of the canyon. It was cold and very windy as we started up the trail. Still we were confident it would warm up so we took a minimum of warm clothes. Since the trail starts switchbacking up a steep slope right away, we were working hard and warmed up quickly. Although the lady at the hotel had assured us there was no snow, I was still nervous. After the first 500 feet or so of climbing the trail goes through Echo Canyon, a narrow, twenty-foot wide slot canyon which is always in shade. But sure enough, there was no snow there. There must have been no snow at all this winter as there would be no chance for it to melt so early in the year at the bottom of a slot canyon.
After the short level stretch through Echo Canyon, the long climb up to the rim resumed. The last section switchbacks up a vertical cliff on trail that was blasted out of sheer rock. It's not a trail for people who are afraid of heights! It was our first hike of the season so we climbed slowly but steadily till we reached the final rising traverse. It crosses a narrow shelf between cliff bands and finally tops out on the rim. After that it's an easy, flat quarter mile to Observation Point. It had taken us over two hours of hard work but we were there.
The view was awesome. Observation Point is one of my favorite viewpoints, although I will admit that this early in the season, with the sun further in the south, the light on the canyon wasn't as good as other times I have been there. Still, the view while we ate our lunch was spectacular. I didn't need the best light - I have lots of photos from other trips. Even the trip down was awesome. The temperature was perfect and the views were great.
After getting down to our car we drove out of the park to Springdale. We had dinner at Wildcat Willies, which used to be the Bumbleberry Inn back in the day. Dinner was good, but I miss having bumbleberry pie ala mode for dessert. Instead we went across the street and had ice cream cones. That worked too.