Zion's 147,000 acres are a study of contrasts. Part extreme desert, part lush green areas made possible by water seepage from the various rocks (mostly Navaho sandstone), and all geological formations from millions of years ago, it gets (according to our ranger guide) over 5 million visitors a year. The Great Smokies by comparison, gets about 13 million.
We have been doing our hiking and exploring starting in the early morning, and make it home by 1 or 2 when the heat of the day starts to get up to the mid-nineties. We are camped by an incredible spot next to the Virgin river, and Wendy has been cooling off in the afternoons in the fast-moving but completely safe stream. Many kids and families are tubing there, although that is a loose term considering the water is about 6-10 inches deep and there are many rock obstacles.
Hiking along the many trails is the primary activity, made easy by the free, very well-run shuttle system thru the park. You cannot take cars in at all. There is also a free shuttle bus running thru downtown Springdale, the main town outside of the park, and our campground (Zion Canyon Campground) is only a couple of stops away from the visitors center. So between the two shuttle systems, we have not had to move our RV the entire time here.
Wednesday we hiked the Weeping Rocks and Emerald pools trails. These are both places where water, some decades old, has travelled down through the layers of sediment and "weeped" through, forming beautiful waterfalls. A little of it comes from rain and snow, but very little since this is a desert area. We visited Zion lodge where we enjoyed our lunch, sitting on wicker rockers outside. It is the only place to eat inside the park, and even though it burnt down twice, is on the National Historic register. Other trails that we hiked included the Kayenta and the Pa'rus trails.
Thursday, we started our day with a two hour ranger-led shuttle tour, stopping at 5 or 6 special places to see different rock formations--the Twin Sisters, Court of the Patriarchs, watching thru binoculars those brave souls who were walking up to Angel's Landing, winding their way up about 1500 feet of twisting switchbacks. We stayed at the last stop to explore a little bit of the most popular hike in the park, the "Narrows" which starts with a one mile pretty easy trail that ends up at the Virgin River. The rest of the 6 mile trail is IN the river, where people with water shoes and hiking sticks follow the river with canyon walls just about 20 feet apart. Although Jim put on his water shoes and hiked about 100 feet up, we left the rest to the hordes of (younger) tourists.
On Friday, Wendy needed a break from hiking so Jim hiked the Hidden Canyon Trail solo - very steep with lots of switchbacks up the side of cliff. Lots of scenic vistas, of course.
All in all, Zion is an amazingly beautiful and spiritual place - literally awesome!
Our RV is starting to feel like home, although storage and cooking are challenging. The campground, as I mentioned is well situated, with easy access to the shuttles. We tried to watch the full moon and starry sky last night, but both ambient light and the massive rock formations made it difficult. Sometime soon we have to go the dumping station to experience our first clean out of grey and black water tanks. We'll let you know how that turns out!