Monday, January 10, 2011

A Hike Through Zion

I am not a fan of the one-foot-in-front-of-the-other mode of transport. Except when I'm sightseeing in European cities or making my way through vast casinos to the double-deck pitch blackjack tables, walking provokes in me all the mental and physical sensations commonly associated with the word "trudging." So it should come as no surprise that I am not a hiker.

But last week we visited Utah with our daughter, and she suggested a hike through Zion National Park. The hike in question, she noted, was mostly paved, relatively flat and only (only!) 3.5 miles round-trip. I didn't want to disappoint her or cause her to think I'm a wimp, so I agreed. Do kids have any idea how much their parents do to avoid falling short in their eyes? I'm guessing not; I surely never sensed my parents were making any such efforts.

Anyway, hike we did, and it was wonderful.
Zion is the middle rung of the so-called Grand Staircase that starts in Bryce Canyon and ends in the Grand Canyon. The whole thing was, and continues to be, created by the rain that falls on the 11,000-foot-high Colorado Plateau and then rushes downhill, slicing through and carving layers of rock. This rushing and carving creates glorious scenery, which you get to see from an entirely different perspective when you're walking instead of driving. Frequent forays from the car to see a slightly hidden sight up a little closer or to get the best angle for a photograph aren't the same, I've learned, as experiencing the whole thing on foot.

Zion is spectacular, possibly even more so in winter than in summer. Snow highlights crags and striations in towering cliffs. It contrasts gorgeously with red rocks and creates a charming visual oxymoron with green cacti. There's more visible flora and fauna than in the summer, too, and the cold, cold water in the streams and rivers sparkles with extra extravagance. It could be the ongoing adrenaline rush talking - I'm still thrilled and impressed with myself for having actually hiked - but the park may well be at its pinnacle of beauty when seen on a crisp 40-degree day from a trail that winds through its snow-painted cliffs under the blazing sun.