I’ll never forget my first trip to Zion National Park in Southern Utah. I’ve been to other National Parks, but none have compared in beauty or in array of activities. The main attraction, if you had to narrow it down to just one (no pun intended), at Zion is The Narrows. Carved from the Virgin River, The Narrows is a natural wonder unlike any other. The pottery smooth walls that tower to heights that skyscrapers would envy are just the beginning.
Being the adventurous type, I couldn’t just do as others do and enter the bottom amp; work my way upward… No, that would be too easy. I like to take the road less traveled and that is exactly what I did, after getting my backcountry permit of course. With driving directions, a not too specific hiking guide, and a few companions, I headed to the journey of a lifetime. The sunset drive was definitely notable and the directions lead me to a not so smooth dirt road that eventually came to a gate that opened to a small parking area in a cow pasture.
We were specifically told that no tents were to be pitched on this private piece of property, so we prepared for a chilly night under the stars with the cows. Awaking early, very early, the next morning we got ourselves together, ate a bagel, and went on our way – flashlights in hand – to find the entrance of the National Park. As we set out, the movie “Stand By Me” came to mind. The first portion of the adventure is an easy walk on a dirt road that leads you to the river. I remember that it was cold and the sun hadn’t officially started work for the day when we reached the river. I carefully hopped from rock to rock to cross without getting wet, something that seems quite ridiculous since the next 10 hours were spent in the water, I guess I just needed some time to come to grips with the reality of hiking in a river.
It isn’t so bad once you make the commitment to have wet feet. It wasn’t long until we reached the beginning of the Narrows, marked by a sign that welcomed us to Zion National Park. It seemed out of place, considering we were in the middle of a river in the middle of nowhere. We continued onward, stopping to take pictures of the scenery. I remember the feeling of awe that came over me when I finally decided to stop and turn around. Had I really walked right past those amazing sites without even taking notice? From then on I made it a point to stop and smell the roses more often, while still intently watching my every step from slippery rock to slippery rock (please note – walking sticks are a must). I vaguely remember a sign marked Campsite 14 (?), I couldn’t believe my eyes. Were they kidding? Who in their right mind would hike hours through a river with camping gear? Although, I must admit it seemed a bit intriguing and I even noted the sites that were the most compelling.
The nonstop scenery was unbelievable: waterfalls, narrow passages that shut out the sun, blue pools of water, trees growing right out of the rocks, rocks that were producing water, caves, birds nests, fish, and absolutely no other people. We had been alone for about 10 hours before we saw our first human life forms. We ask them what time it was and how long they had been hiking. To our disbelief they had started at the bottom the same time we had started at the top. It was then that I realized what an accomplishment we had embarked upon. What we saw would never be seen by our upriver hiking friends. Eventually we came across more and more tourists wading their way to swimming holes and natural waterslides. Most of the hike was pretty straight forward in ankle to calf high water, but it did entail the occasional climb over fallen trees and big rocks, and a few episodes of carrying your backpacks over our heads while wading through chest high waters. When it got too hot we’d hike to a bank where we could leave our belongings and make use of the deeper parts of the river. When we got hungry we stopped and ate on a big rock.
There were several photo ops and we took advantage of all that we could (a word of advice, bring a lot of film). Towards the end of the hike, my feet were waterlogged and I was getting tired. The flagstone stairs to the trail that lead to the bus, that lead to the car, that lead to the drive back to pick up the other car, was a very welcomed site. We deposited our walking sticks in the bin for others to make use of and left the peaceful canyon. We ate a quick bite at the Zion Pizza amp; Noodle Company (great pizza, pasta, salad, and beer!) before heading to our riverside campsite for some toasted marshmallows. Since then I have planned a Zion Camping Trip every year to either take on the Narrows or to explore other wonderful attractions, like the Subway! For information on how to plan your own Narrows adventure, check out the National Park Service site: http://www.nps.gov/zion/ZionNarrows.htm
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