The next stop on our national park tour was Zion National Park. This is a very popular and beautiful park, that is also quite large! Only relatively small parts of it are accessible to most people, but if you are able to get a backcountry permit, there is much to explore! We were able to get a backcountry permit to camp along the East Rim of the canyon, which was quite beautiful, though I’ve heard the West Rim is the place to be (next time!). Zion Canyon and the surrounding canyons in the park cut deep into the earth in-between two of the layers of the Grand Staircase, an immense sequence of sedimentary rock layers. Zion National Park lies in-between the White and Grey Cliffs. Here are a few pictures that try to capture the enormity of the canyons in the national park:
Zion Canyon itself is around 15 miles long and can be over 3000 feet deep. The East Rim where we camped was over 6000 ft., while the bottom of Zion Canyon was below 4500 ft. Zion Canyon, like the Grand Canyon, was formed by millions of years of erosion by a river – the Virgin River.
The non-backcountry areas of the Grand Canyon and Zion are quite different and offer very different experiences. When you visit the Grand Canyon, you start at the tops of the canyon and can hike in; whereas when you visit Zion, you start at the bottom of the canyon and hike up. This allows many people to see several of Zion Canyons interesting features such as the Weeping Rock (a rock wall that has water running continuously down it) and the Checkerboard Mesa.
Another prominent part of Zion Canyon is an area called The Narrows, which is a very narrow (surprise!) part of the canyon, where there is basically no ground that is not covered by the Virgin River. It is a very popular day hike and also a popular backpacking location. However The Narrows can be quite dangerous, as any rain upstream or in Zion National Park could lead to a flash flood, which has been known to claim lives of even the most experienced hikers. Below is the picture of The Narrows.
Ultimately, Zion National Park is a spectacular place that I feel like I have only barely started exploring. There is still so much I want to do there and I plan to visit it again soon for some awesome backpacking!