Raw Beauty in Zion Canyon

By Steve Cuff.

Entering Zion National Park from the Mt Carmel Junction made it hard to know what surprise we might encounter on the other side of this man made mile long tunnel. But upon exiting the darkness, raw beauty lay ahead in Zion Canyon that sent a shiver down my spine.

Sheer cliffs we had become used to on our travels so far in southern Utah, but here was something special in the air. The weather was misty and rain fell from the grey horizon which added to the drama. You could see adventure lay beyond as you spun around to view 360 degrees of ascending rock walls, each having their own individual names and no doubt many tales to tell.

The highlight of the day was supposed to be the hike into “The Narrows” where you trek along the actual river bed and occasionally the bank, but with the wet weather the guides did not proceed in case of flash flooding occurring.

This disappointment soon turned to anticipation when I knew that the following week I would return and start a new four day adventure in the Zion and St George area.

On return the weather is clear and we are a party of two on a self guided trip into The Narrows. We have been fitted out with wet weather clothing and footwear by Zion Adventures and take the shuttle bus to the last stop at the Temple of Sinawava where we encounter the first of many crossings of the Virgin river. For at least 50 per cent of the way we are walking in the river and this is the Autumn low season for water level. With higher levels you may well spend most of your time walking within the river.

From the outset it is simply awesome and the Nikon is blasting away at every opportunity. Occasionally the camera is returned to a waterproof backpack but soon I realise my balance is good walking on the uneven pebbled river bottom so it stays out for the remainder of the journey. It is hard to describe the beauty and magnificence of hiking in this special place, and as the trip evolves some of the canyon does become very narrow. With sheer sandstone walls towering 500-750 metres above the river it is an inspiring hike that will become an all-day affair.

If the camera were left in the bag instead of mounted on a tripod in the river bed we would have been up and back to the Wall St junction hours beforehand, but it is near impossible to not stop every 50 metres as you round another bend to encounter another brilliant scenic view. As a photographer and in an ideal world, I could go back there for countless excursions in search of the perfect lighting that you see in the many galleries in the area. But for this time we are content with the images we have and unforgettable memories.

Angels Landing should have been the next big trek but it again would be an all-day affair mixing hiking and photo opportunities to the top of the canyon for an expansive view of the valley, so we opt for some of the more accessible sights.

We had found a photo guideline book detailing all the best locations for stunning images so we start behind the museum to capture the golden light as the sun rises on the Towers of the Virgin, a collection of sacred peaks within Zion Canyon. Another great sunrise vantage point is the Canyon Overlook Trail on the other side of the Carmel Tunnel. We were also lucky to capture mountain goats very close by just passing the time of day and eating away at the foliage.

The shuttle bus stops at all the main hiking departure points, some requiring a long trek and others very close by like the Weeping Rock. It does appear that at certain times of the day the rock sheds tears of joy to be in such a wonderful place. On arrival there were some droplets and then as the sun rose higher in the sky and condensation increased you could have showered under the constant stream of water.

There are multiple options to explore in this wonderful location so I would suggest four days minimum to see most of the main attractions and a sturdy pair of legs for some of the more strenuous ventures. And if the hiking is not your main priority you can simply stay on the valley floor, use the shuttle bus and admire the beauty with little effort.

But for now it is off to the nearby St George area for two days of golfing……