(Day 13: Zion National Park)
After getting up early agin in the pre-dawn light and checking out what breakfast the hotel might have to offer, we headed to Cafe Soleil again, where I had a repeat of the veggie scramble and Andrew had a breakfast sandwich. We restricted ourselves to just one cup of coffee as we would be on the trail today.
Cafe Soleil is on route to the visitor centre where we needed to park, so we quickly drove to few hundred yards to the ark entrance, waved our annual pass and then…were delayed by a deer standing in the road in front of us. Luckily for us it decided to move and we could continue. After a short browse in the centre gift shop (I picked up a pin badge for Cedar Breaks, where we went a couple of years ago, but they had sold out of badges) we boarded a shuttle bus and rode most of the way up Zion Canyon to the Weeping Rock stop, the trailhead for Observation Point. On the way, I spotted more deer and wild turkeys, probably the only turkeys looking forward to Thanksgiving.
Now regular blog readers will have read about this trail before, after all, it is probably our favourite and we usually end up doing it. And you will have seen the pictures before. But I’m still going to put lots up! The sky was bright but grey, making photos difficult, but the view was still good as we climbed the switchbacks for the first mile in 40 minutes. It didn’t seem as hard this year, so I was pleasantly surprised.
The autumn colours looked good against the red canyon walls as we approached Echo Canyon. It started to rain and so I put my main camera in my pack, but it turned out only to be a short shower.
The trail was perhaps even more broken up in places than previously, winter, rain and ice working to break down the track, which was originally made by the Civilian Conseration Corps. In many places and semblance of man made surface had hone, leaving the original hewn rock and sand.
At on point we had stopped to look at the scenery and I happened to be staring up at the opposite cliff top. A fellow hiker passing us looked where I was staring to see what was interesting and said “oh! Is that a deer on top?”…He thought we had a spotted it and that was why we were staring. I looked again and something definitely moved. I took a photo on full zoom, although only had my small posset camera to hand. It was a bighorn sheep.
It was right in the very top…
…yes, the very top of that cliff on the other side of the canyon! Now you will appreciate why we couldn’t tell what it was without the photo. And I think the photo came out pretty well for the distance involved.
We continued our climb, following the path as it skirts around the cliff and gives views of the Zion Canyon.
We peered over the edge and looked down on Echo Canyon. You can just make out the trail as it emerges.
Then we reached the top and walked around the sandy trail to Observation Point itself. We took photos, chatted to a couple who we had passed and re-passed several times on the way up (he’d lived in Wilmslow), and ate our trail snack whilst watching chipmunks attempt to get in other people’s packs. It was very busy at the top, probably the most crowded we had seen it.
While we were eating, a Californian Condor soared above us, rising in the thermals. I attempted to shoot with my camera, snack I’m one hand (putting it down was not an option with the chipmunks around!) and Andrew used the other camera. Between us, we just about got some photos.
We descended, stopping often for the view and scenery. Trust me, you need to stop, because you neeed to look at and place your feet carefully whilst moving! The sun had come out once we reached the top, so we even had some blue in the skies. It is beautiful. See for yourself.
A short way before reaching Echo Canyon I spotted more bighorn sheep, this time scambling across the cliff. They were still a fair way from us, but I could use the full zoom on my main camera to take a photo. They even stopped and looked at us…
Echo Canyon was lovely and red in the afternoon light, always a favourite location of mine.
And then it was down the switchbacks. If the going up was easier, going down definitely wasn’t. An unrelenting solid mile do steep downhill. My knees were glad to finish.
After that 8 mile walk with 2,000 feet of climb, we decided to catch the shuttle bus back, but only part way… We got off at Canyon Junction and walked 2 miles of the Pa’rus Trail along the valley floor, following the Virgin River and admiring views of the Watchman, with cottonwoods glowing green and gold.
Our wildlife expedition was not yet complete, as we spotted a Heron in the river and more deer grazing near the track as we approached the visitor centre.
I had hoped to get a nice sunset shot of the Watchman but the cloud cover had reappeared. Typically, back at the lodge, the sun came out again. So we did the only thing we could. We got a couple of beers, a large bag of salty chips and sat on a bench outside the back of our room and watched the sunset.
It is fair to say that our legs were tired, so we ate at the nearest restaurant, which just happens to be Zion Pizza and Noodle… a great last day here, especially with so many animals and bird around. Looking forward to coming back!