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Zion Canyon National Park

Once again here's a National Park that is uniquely different and amazing.  The canyon is very narrow and deep, approximately 1000 to 1500 foot high cliffs, cut by the Virgin River.  In this park you start out on the canyon floor, looking up, and travel the 10 or 12 miles up the canyon until the canyon is so narrow that you can't continue by road.  A trail allows you to continue by walking along, and sometimes in, the river.  They call this trail "The Narrows" and it is 16 miles long and dangerous because of the possibility of flash floods.  In fact one of the park guides told us that the river was flowing at around 100-150 cubic feet per minute while we were there, (it looked to be flowing pretty fast and full as it was middle May) and that during a heavy rain storm the volume of water could go up to 3000-4000 cf/m for short periods of time.  That's 20 to 40 times the volume we saw!  The tops of the cliffs are rock and the "land" around the canyon is mostly solid rock so the rain water has nothing to do but plummet down the cliffs and it all collects in the Virgin River.

Besides viewing mile after mile of towering rock cliffs, Zion is a hiker's paradise.  We chose one serious hike which turned out to be spectacular and completely exhausting: Hidden Canyon Trail.  This trail was very strenuous rising over 1000 feet with many switchbacks and steep climbs.  Near the top the trail was cut out of the side of a rock wall with chains sunk into the rock for hikers to hold onto.  This section provided a 1000 foot view... straight down.  Talk about scary.  We followed the trail into Hidden Canyon for a mile before turning around.  When we finally returned to the bottom we were exhausted.

Zion National Park has been very well maintained over the years and their new "no-car" shuttle system is a model for Yosemite to follow.  Zion realized that the number of cars driving up the canyon floor was becoming overwhelming so they instituted a no-car shuttle system that works very well.  Everyone parks at the Visitor's Center near the canyon mouth and shuttles run every 10 minutes or so.  This makes it very easy and stress-free to visit all of the stops in the canyon and to get to and return from trailheads.  You can bicycle along the floor if you want to.

The eastern access to the canyon is through a mile long tunnel built in 1930.  This scenic drive must not be missed.

We visited Zion on May 15 and found the springtime in the canyon to be just beautiful because of the new grasses and leaves and the full, flowing river.  Click on this Zion Photos link to see several photographs of the canyon.