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Trip Report Death Valley, Zion, Valley of Fire April 09

Trip Report Death Valley, Zion, Valley of Fire April 09

Old Apr 18th, 2009, 09:29 PM
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Trip Report Death Valley, Zion, Valley of Fire April 09

My husband had a business trip in Vegas the beginning of April so we flew out the weekend before and went to Death Valley, Zion and the Valley of Fire.

The trip got off to a bad start when I went to check in for our 7 AM flight at 2AM and found out that American Airlines had canceled the flight and rebooked us on a flight at 10:45 AM. So much for meeting our friends in Vegas and going to Red Rock Canyon Sat afternoon. Two months ago, American canceled my husband’s redeye flight to San Francisco. He went online to check in and it said he’d have to check in at the airport. When I got home from dropping him off at the airport, he called me to come get him because his flight was canceled. Can someone explain why American emails us to tell us we can check in for our flight but they don’t email us to tell us the flight has been canceled?

As if the canceled flight wasn't enough, my husband woke up with some bizarre case of bursitis in his elbow and we had to go to an Urgent Care (which ended up not taking our insurance) when we got to Vegas to get it drained. It was really swollen and we kept icing it during the flight. During the layover in Chicago my husband went to Starbucks to get some more ice. LOL...Always the comedian, he told the guy that the flight attendant hit his elbow with the beverage cart. His eyes looked like saucers.

We made it to our friend's house just in time to drop off our luggage and make our 7 PM dinner reservations at the Ranch House. Dinner was excellent. Our luck had finally turned.

Our friends know that we pack a lot into our days but they said they wanted to drive with us to Death Valley to see the wildflowers and the Pupfish. I told them we only had a day to see the place so we'd need to leave early if they were driving with us. I would have left at 6 AM but we gave them a break and aimed for 7 AM ;-). We hit the road from the north side of Vegas at 7:15 AM and arrived at Zabriskie's Point at 9:15. What an impressive intro to Death Valley. Next stop was the Furnace Creek Visitor's Center and Museum. There were scattered wildflowers along the road and a rock garden with wildflowers at the visitor’s center. They said this year's display wasn't much but, seeing AN Y flowers in Death Valley is amazing to me. I didn’t get my camera out quickly enough to get a picture of the roadside elevation sign for Furnace Creek (Elevation -190 Feet) and then forgot to take one later. We spent about 20 minutes at the museum and then headed to Salt Creek Flats to walk the boardwalk along the creek and watch the spawning Pupfish. It was entertaining to see the males chase off other males that came into their territory while the females seemed to hide out in groups, probably trying to get some rest from those pesky males.

We’ve seen and climbed big sand dunes at Kitty Hawk, NC so we decided to just admire Devil’s Cornfield and Mesquite Flats Dunes from the car but Mosaic Canyon is definitely worth a hike. We got there around noon and spent 90 minutes wandering around in there. The first part of the trail has a really neat slot canyon with curved, winding, smooth canyon walls. Near the end of the narrow section there is an area of large smooth rocks that you have to climb up in order to continue on. Many people were having trouble with that, including our friends. IMHO, you’ve seen the best part of the trail by then anyway so don’t sweat it if you can’t get past those rocks. Shortly after that, the canyon opens up and you walk along a wide gravel path. We veered off on the footpath that climbs up a small ridge on the right that parallels the trail. The path is narrow with steep scree slopes on both sides. I wasn’t too proud to go back down on my butt! If you look back toward the trailhead from the top of the ridge, you get a great view past the canyon walls and into the main valley. I asked someone who was returning from the end of the trail and they said the trail went another 30 min or so and the canyon narrowed again. We didn’t have time to go on because we had to head back and meet up with our friends that got hung up at the rocks. They had made it past the rocks and were resting in the shade, waiting for us. Just before reaching the narrow canyon section, the guys had to explore a large, flat, slanted rock section leading up the canyon wall on the right. There’s a small footpath that goes up through there too. They said the view was worth it so I followed them up there. From the top we could see the trailhead parking lot below and all the way across the valley to the Panamint Mountains.

By the time we got back to the car, it was time for lunch so we continued down the road to the picnic area at Emigrant. Calling it a picnic area is a stretch. There were bathrooms and a water spigot but there were only two picnic tables there, which were both in use. Fortunately there were campsites across the road with an open picnic table that the campers let us use.

We made it down to Badwater (-282 feet below sea level) at 3:30. When you get out of the car, be sure to look at the sign high up on the mountain behind you that marks sea level. Right near the parking area there was a little pond with patches of salt crystals on the surface. It’s amazing that that is all that’s left of a huge lake. We walked out toward the middle but it’s hot and, other than being able to see the mountains behind the parking area, the salt patches didn’t look any different out there to me. I’d sure like to know where the deep “potholes” on the well-beaten path out into the valley came from though.

As we headed back north, we stopped at Devil’s Golf Course. Nobody else thought it was worth getting out of the car. I got out to take a picture of the prop golf tee and ball there and to listen for the “ping” that the salt crystals supposedly make when they get really hot. I walked around for a few minutes while listening and looking for special crystal formations but apparently it wasn’t hot enough because I didn’t hear anything. We noticed that the valley was starting to get a little hazy. We assumed it must have been dust being kicked up because it obviously isn’t humid there.

We drove Artist’s Drive and hiked out to Artist’s Palette. It wasn’t a long walk but I was under whelmed by the view. I guess I was expecting a lot of colors. There is a big rock there that makes for a good photo-op. There was a pullout on the right, farther down the road that I thought was more interesting. There was a path leading down from the parking area onto what looked kind of like a washed out road winding through a road construction site with mounds of sand of different colors: orange, yellow, purple, etc.

By now the wind had kicked up so much dust that, even though there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, we couldn’t even see the mountains across the valley. So much for our plans to hit Dante’s View on our way out of Death Valley. But it did give us a little more time to hike Golden Canyon. If I had to choose, I would pick Mosaic Canyon over Golden Canyon. We thought the section out to the Red Cathedral was the best part of the hike. You get views of Zabriskie Point from below and it ends in an enclosed area with sheer red walls but when the trail marker says .25 miles to the Red Cathedral that must be as the crow flies. We were hurrying because we told our friends we’d turn back after 30 min. We had made it to the .25 mile marker pretty quickly so we decided we had plenty of time to make it to the Cathedral. So on and on and on we went. At every turn we kept thinking it had to be just around the corner. At 15 min we had to climb through some boulders that led to the Cathedral. After admiring the view from below, we climbed up the rocks across from the sheer walls for a great view of the horizon from above. Then we hauled butt, making it back 5 minutes late.

We drove through 20 Mule Team Canyon on the way out. There was so much dust that the sun looked like the moon, adding to the surreal feeling of the place. 6:45 PM and we were headed back to Vegas. We didn’t get to see Dante’s View but we hit everything else on our wish list. Our friends slept well that night.

Next installment Zion
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Old Apr 19th, 2009, 11:30 AM
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Excellent report! You give great descriptions of a pefect day-long itinerary for DV, one my favorite parks in the U.S.! Looking forward to reading more.
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Old Apr 19th, 2009, 12:35 PM
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Thanks for the report. You packed in a lot, in spite of the dust. I find Mosaic Canyon to be a highlight of our trips there. I do like Artist's Drive (which I think is very colorful) but have never hiked to the "Palette".

Look forward to the rest of your report.
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Old Apr 25th, 2009, 02:13 PM
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Thanks for the comments. Hopefully I can finish up the rest this weekend.

Before I get to the Zion section I wanted to mention some good website sources I found. Obviously, the NPS www.nps.gov/zion/index.htm site is a good place to start but I really liked this site: www.zionnational-park.com It was filled with information about Zion (and other nearby parks). I especially liked their detailed trail descriptions, however, according to the ranger I talked to at the visitor center, many of the trails described there are not “official” trails and thus are not maintained by the park service. They are apparently just interesting routes that people have discovered and passed along. The ranger said only the trails listed on the Visitor’s guide are marked and maintained by the National Park Service. I also found some information at www.zion.national-park.com/hike.htm and www.localhikes.com

Zion Day 1
The next morning we left our friends’ house and picked up some other friends at the Stratosphere and headed for Zion National Park. Even though this was a fairly last minute trip, we were lucky enough to get reservations at Zion Lodge in the park. The bad economy has its advantages! Even better was that I decided to double check the rates 3 days out (last chance to cancel is 2 days) and they had an internet special on our exact rooms for half the rate I was booked at! Too bad we made up for that and more at the Urgent Care place that ended up costing us $445 to drain the fluid off my husband’s elbow. ;-(

We made it to Zion around 11:30 and stopped at the visitor’s center to get some information. The shuttle system didn't start until the next week so we could drive our car in the canyon. We tried to check into our rooms before we hit the trails but they wouldn’t let us so we decided to go back into Springdale and had ate lunch outside at Oscar’s Café (948 Zion Park Blvd). Good food, 60 degrees, clear blue sky and a view of Zion. It doesn’t get much better than that.

After lunch we walked to the upper Emerald Pools. At the trailhead we took the scenic Lower Emerald Pool Trail and then went to the Middle Pool instead of taking the steeper Middle Pool Trail. It was pretty dry and there wasn’t much to the Middle Pool. We didn’t realize that we had “made it” until we saw signs to the Upper Pool. We read that sometimes it’s difficult to get there in the spring because you have to cross a stream but it wasn’t a problem. We noticed a faint waterfall coming out of the middle of a sheer face as we were climbing up but didn’t realize that the base of that fall was our destination. Even though the fall was just a mist at the bottom, it was still neat. The pool is back in the corner next to a sheer face that canyoneers apparently like to rappel off but we didn’t see any that day. The pool is tucked away in the shade so the mist from the fall freezes leaving a snow at the base. On the way back we took the Kayenta Trail back to the grotto picnic area to make it a 3 mile loop trail.

We made it to the Upper Pool in about 40 minutes and did the whole loop in about an hour and 20 minutes. In addition to the variety of plants, there were great views of Red Arch Mountain and the Zion Canyon Valley (just starting to leaf out) and It was a awesome intro to Zion

After checking into our hotel rooms we headed to Weeping Rock. It’s a steep but short walk to a large alcove with a curtain of drips coming from the overhanging rock. Looking out from the alcove you get a grand view of the canyon.

We finished there at about 5:00 and decided to head over to the Riverside Trail to the Narrows while we were so close. Since it’s a slot canyon, it was already getting too dark to get decent pictures without a powerful flash, even though sunset wasn’t until around 7 PM. It was still a nice, easy walk at the end of the day but the views would have been better earlier when the sun was higher in the sky.

After cleaning up on our rooms, we went back to Springdale for dinner at Zion Pizza and Noodle Company 868 Zion Park Blvd). We had the plain old boring pizza and our friends had one of their exotic pizzas and both were excellent. Warning, they are CASH only. We picked up some dessert at the grocery store near the movie theater on the right just before the park entrance and called it a day.

Next Angel's Landing.
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Old Apr 25th, 2009, 07:24 PM
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Death Valley was a pleasant suprise for us. We weren't expecting much, but we really enjoyed it. Angels Landing is my daughters favorite hike. look forward to hearing your version.
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Old Apr 25th, 2009, 08:22 PM
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We were pleasantly surprised with Death Valley too. Whenever we mentioned going there, people raised their eyebrows and asked why we wanted to go there. We were originally going to spend one night at Stovepipe Wells and meet our friends in Zion but then we ended up sharing one rental car and had to pick them up in Vegas Monday. We figured they'd want to leave in the morning so we decided to save the $150 hotel and make DV a long day trip so we could make it to Zion early enough to get some hiking in. I think a full day and overnight in Death Valley would have been perfect for us. That way we could be there at night to see the stars (although we wouldn't have seen any that night!) and be there for some sunrise views and a morning walk in the dunes.
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Old Apr 25th, 2009, 08:41 PM
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I'm visiting Vegas in June and plan to stop by Death Valley National Park. Thanks for the great info!
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Old Apr 26th, 2009, 07:39 AM
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Zion Day 2.
We woke up to another gorgeous day. A little brisk but that’s great for hiking. The swelling of my husband’s elbow went down at night while it was elevated in bed but swelled again during the day so we made a makeshift sling from my camera stabilizer waistband.

BTW, a friend recommended this strap and I absolutely love it. http://tinyurl.com/4zz7v2 I used to keep my camera in a small camera bag across my shoulder because I can’t stand anything around my neck and I don’t want the camera banging around when hiking. This waist strap not only keeps the camera snug and ready with a moment’s notice, but it also holds the camera up a little relieving the tension of the neck strap around my neck. It’s made for an SLR camera but my Canon G9 stays put pretty well. OK…Back to Zion.

This was the day for Angel’s Landing. Last time we were here was in 1996 and our kids were 12, 10 and 6 1/2. My husband carried our youngest on his back during the last section! Angel’s Landing is the main thing I remember about that trip so I told our friends, who had never been to Zion, they HAD to do that trail. We started at 8 AM and made it through Walter’s Wiggles and up to Scout Look-Out right around 9 AM. When you first see those switchbacks you will question whose idea it was to hike this trail but they really aren’t that bad. It’s a constant but gradual climb up. We took photos, had a snack and just soaked in the scenery for about 25 minutes before heading along the narrow ridge to Angel’s Landing. There is an outhouse at Scout Look-Out tucked in some trees on a hill above the trail.

We, and the chipmunk that followed us, made it out to the point at 10:15. I was actually surprised there was only one chipmunk. When we were there in 96 there were chipmunks all over the place obviously waiting for people to open up their snacks at the end of the trail. The 360 degree view standing on that rock in the middle of Zion Canyon is amazing.

The view from Scout’s Look-Out is also great. If you really can’t handle heights, you won’t feel like you survived those switchbacks for nothing. One woman we met at Scout Look-out said she’s hiked the trail every year for 10 years but she has yet to go out to Angel’s Landing. However that last trek out to Angel’s Landing is what makes this trail special. The ridge is really not that narrow but there is a steep drop-off on both sides. There are chains to hold onto anywhere that is steep but I never felt like I needed them to keep from falling. They’re mainly there for ressurance and to help you pull yourself up inclines or give support going down. I was much more afraid of falling when climbing the little ridge in Mosaic Canyon in Death Valley. My husband even made it without problems with his arm in the sling. Going up was not a problem and he realized that going down he could turn around and back down when the chain was on his left side.

He actually got a lot of mileage out of that sling. On the way up he was waiting for some people coming down and three guys with USMC t-shirts were behind him. They commented about him doing the trail with one arm and asked what happened. He told them he got hurt in a rugby accident. He even made up some details about being on the bottom of a scrum! When he told me about it later, he said he couldn’t tell a bunch of Marines that he didn’t know how he got hurt. Before long he was telling that story to anyone that asked about his arm. He finally told some older ladies in front me and our friend and we both starting laughing and he had to fess up.

After a good rest and lots of photo ops, we headed back down. Even though it’s an out and back trail, there are always different views and the sun lights up different parts of the canyon on the return trip. We also explored some little caves along the way with one coming out on a ledge about 20 feet above the trail. We finally made it back to the trailhead at 12:40 and headed to Café Soleil ( 205 Zion Park Blvd) for a lunch. My soup and half sandwich hit the spot. There’s a neat little art gallery next door that we roamed through while waiting for our food.

After lunch we decided to drive the Zion-Mt Carmel Highway. After a bunch of switchbacks and pullouts for canyon overlooks, there is a mile long tunnel, built in the 1920’s, that has several “windows” cut out of it. If you look at the sheer face on the mountain ahead of you, you can see the windows. The tunnel is not wide enough for 2 lanes with trailers or buses so when a large vehicle comes, they have to stop traffic at one end of the tunnel to let them through. I think it was $15 for oversize vehicles. We were stopped with just one car ahead of us, so close! The ranger said something to the first car and then headed toward our car. My husband rolled down the window and told him we weren’t carrying any illegal immigrants. Where he comes up with this stuff I will never know but the ranger laughed so he’ll keep it up ;-) At busy times, I sure hope they line up a bunch of trailers and take them at once because we saw traffic stopped both coming and going. I would think that would cause long delays in the summer.

As you go through the tunnel you can see great views out each “window”. It looks like the windows were originally designed with small pullout/viewing areas for people to look out but you’re not supposed to stop.

Just after the tunnel is the Canyon Overlook Trail. It was a nice relatively flat trail that took us about an hour RT. It goes above a slot canyon, under a large rock overhang and through some unusual rock formations before ending at the edge of the canyon (I believe the overlook is above the large arch that you see driving up to the tunnel.

When we finished that we walked a few hundred feet down the road to the Shelf Canyon Trail that I found in www.zionnational-park.com It was supposed to go to a slot canyon. From the road we saw a mountain goat on some rocks above. We made it to the slot canyon and there were some really neat layering patterns in the sandstone there but I’m not sure we made it to the final destination. The canyon walls were sloping sandstone without ridges to catch onto so we had a hard time getting a foothold anywhere. We kept going but for a while but didn’t see any obvious treasures ahead and we had already put in a long day so we turned around.

Once back at the car we continued driving the scenic highway out to the Checkerboard Mesa, stopping at some pullouts along the way and then headed back to the lodge. There was no one behind us in the tunnel on the way back so we did a rolling stop and took some pictures through the “windows”. I doubt you could get away with that in the summer.

We tried to go to the Whiptail Grill for dinner but they only had 4 or 5 tables inside (that were full) and it was quickly getting too cold to eat outside. Another couple came in after us and they had propane heaters for the tables outside but one was out of propane so we decided to go somewhere else. We drove around and ended up at Casa di Amigos. The place wasn’t very busy and they hadn’t cleaned any of the empty tables but they cleaned a table for us when we walked in. The food was good and the price was reasonable but our food took quite a while, they mixed up both orders for our friends and didn’t bring out their appetizer until after they brought out the corrected meal (at which point our friend returned it.).

We hit the grocery store for ice cream and went back to the lodge and played dominoes in the little lounge in our building.

We weren’t sure what we were going to do for Day 3. I really wanted to hike the East Rim Trail because I had read that it is one of the best hikes in Utah but the latest trail update online was almost 3 weeks old and it said winter conditions, crampons recommend for some sections. The ranger I talked to the first day said a section near Observation Point is always in the shade and late to melt but that we could probably get through it. The next day I was directed to the backcountry office and after waiting 20 min to talk to the ranger there she said she didn’t have a clue what the trail conditions were. So then I was trying to find out if the trail was worth the trip if we ended up getting stuck at this icy patch before Observation Point and had to go back. No help there either. We also had to deal with transportation because the East Rim Trail is a one-way trail.

Generally the rangers are really helpful but it is really annoying that basic things like trail conditions aren’t updated regularly and posted on the park website so the park rangers don’t have to answer many of the same questions about condition over and over again. I know a lot of people won’t bother to look but it seems like it would be a lot more efficient. Another thing that annoyed me was that the guy ahead of me gave the ranger a trail update on a trail he had hiked the previous day. He told her where there were icy spots, where there were trees down, etc and she didn’t bother to write anything down so she obviously wasn’t going to do anything with that information.

Our friend had never been to Bryce Canyon so we were contemplating going there for the day. We talked to some people on the Angel’s Landing trail that had been to Bryce the day before. They said it was very cold and there was snow on the ground but they got around without special gear, you could see a lot from the look-outs along the scenic drive and it was gorgeous. Then we heard that it might snow ;-( With no TV in the rooms, outdated weather forecasts in the lobby and the internet not working (including the internet stations in the lobby), we were having a tough time getting accurate weather information. Is that an oxymoron? ;-) I finally called my friend in Vegas that night and asked her to check online. She told us it was calling for partly cloudy in Zion and snow showers in Bryce so we nixed that idea, especially since my husband ignored me and didn’t bring his winter jacket.

We had also thought about looking into renting gear to go up part of the Narrows but we decided that wasn’t a good idea with a partly cloudy forecast. FYI, our friends checked with an outfitter the next day and they rent the waterproof gear for $45 a day but you still need insulated clothing underneath to keep you warm.

Then I got an idea back at the room. Our friends had gotten somewhat hiked out and weren’t really interested in a major hike anyway. He has a bad ankle that was bothering him and she still had an annoying rash from a major poison ivy encounter two weeks earlier. So I called them and asked if they’d be willing to drop us off at the East Rim Trailhead at the east park entrance in the morning. Then they could have the car to do as they please while we hiked the East Rim Trail, taking our chances on making it through the icy patch. They agreed and we had a plan for our final day in Zion.
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Old May 2nd, 2009, 01:52 PM
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Zion Day 3
Since we were going to be out hiking all day, we decided to have the buffet breakfast at the lodge instead of our typical granola bar and fruit. We sat down at a table and waited, and waited for the waiter to show up. We finally just got up and headed to the buffet. That caught his attention. He came up to us in the line and aksed what we wanted to drink. ;-) The food was good and there was a decent variety of items to choose from: eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits, gravy, fruits, cereals, oatmeal and muffins for $7.25.

Loaded with water, trail mix and granola bars, we headed out to the East Rim Trailhead.
We had never done any “backcountry” trails and were a little concerned that we’d be by ourselves so we stopped at the ranger booth on the far side of the tunnel to make sure that the trail would be obvious. The ranger happened to be the same guy that my husband had joked with the day before. He said sees thousands of people every day but he remembered us. He reassured us that the trail would be well marked and it was. There were a couple of rocky areas right before the turn-off to Observation Point where the footpath wasn’t obvious but the trail was marked with cairns. We just figured out this trip that little stacks of rocks were for were to mark the trail. Since we first saw them on a trail in Hawaii 5 years ago, we’ve been wondering what everyone’s fascination was with stacks of rocks on trails-doh.

The trail is 10 miles one way. Unless you are a glutton for punishment you start at the east entrance where you gradually climb up to the rim and have a steep descent down switchbacks the last 45 minutes or so, finishing at the trailhead at Weeping Rock.

We hit the trail at 8:30. It starts with a gradual climb to the rim in sand. In an hour, we made it to the rim with a view of Checkerboard Mesa then on to the top of Jolly Gulch, a fun slot canyon, 20 min later. It’s supposed to have a spectacular waterfall when it’s wet but everything was dry when we were there. We spent about 10 minutes climbing around Jolly Gulch and being teased by a bird that was making a really strange, and loud, mechanical sound. Every time we’d give up and start to move on, he’d make the sound again. We scanned up and down the lone tree trying to find him to no avail. Obviously, we are not birdwatcher material.

Next we came across a patch of ivory colored rocks that had piles of thin roc fragments at the base. It looked and sounded like walking through seashells piled up along the beach only it was a bunch of these broken rock layers. It was very strange.

At 2 hours, the trail made it to the other side of the ridge with grand views across the wilderness. The only sign of civilization was a HUGE house off in the distance. Looking at the map, I would guess that it was the Zion Ponderosa Ranch. For the next 90 min we walked in and out of burned out pine forest. I assume the fire was fairly recent because there was not a lot of new growth. We hit some patches of snow and made a little snowman. My husband wanted to write SOS in the snow but I didn’t think that was a good idea. Then we remembered that it was April 1st, so we wrote SOS and we wrote “April Fool’s” next to it. I guess you get a little slap happy on a 10 mile hike.

We made it to the 5 mile marker in 3 hrs 15 min. The marker said Stave Springs was 150 feet back but we didn’t notice anything as we walked by. The turn off for the Deer Trap Mountain Trial (4 mi) and Cable Mountain (3 mi) was just a few minutes farther.

We reached the canyon rim again at 3 hr 45 min. Across the canyon we could see the switchbacks for what I believe was the Observation Point Trail. At the start of the trail we had entertained the idea of doing a side trip to Observation Point but after seeing those switchbacks we nixed that idea.

We finally encountered our first hikers as we worked our way around the canyon walls to the other side- 4 hours into the hike! They had just cleared the icy section so at least we knew we could make it. The icy area was along a narrow ledge with steep drop-offs. If there had been much more snow I doubt we would have been able to cross it without crampons so we lucked out. The hike wouldn’t have been worth it if we had to turn around at that point. It was long but fairly easy up until then but IMO the best was yet to come.

The trail worked its way down and around the canyon and through some neat sandstone formations. This is the area where we had to watch out for cairns marking the trail. We made it to the turn-off to Observation Point in 5 ½ hrs. There was a little more traffic after that but up until then we had only seen 4 sets of hikers.

After looking at maps and reading descriptions I’m still not sure exactly where or what the various sections of Echo Canyon are but about 25 minutes from the trail to Observation Point, we hit a narrow slot section with curved walls that I believe is the Echo Canyon Walkway. The sun lit up the walls of the slot and it was magical. It was my favorite part of the trail. I even ended up backtracking to retake pictures after I realized my camera settings had gotten bumped. I suspect you’d want to plan to be here in the middle of the day so the sunlight can get into the deep slot.

Within 10 minutes of leaving the walkway, Zion Canyon opened up in front of us and we started the switchbacks down to the canyon floor. The turn-off to Hidden Canyon as about halfway down the switchbacks. It was still pretty early in the afternoon so we thought about taking a side trip there but we got conflicting reports from people about how much farther it was and our friends were expecting us to be back in 6-7 hours so we decided to continue on down, finishing the trail in 6 hrs 45 min. Then we walked back to the lodge, passing a group of 5 deer grazing right along the trail.

If I had it to do over again, I don’t think I’d do the East Rim Trial, at least not if I was hiking Angel’s Landing too. Since it’s a one-way trail, you have to arrange some sort of transportation to the trailhead at the East Entrance. Jolly Gulch was neat and I’m sure it would have been even better if the waterfall was flowing but a lot of the middle forest section was burned out. That was interesting to see and that section was pretty flat, so it was easy, but I didn’t need that much of it. There were sweeping canyon rim views but we got that on the Angel’s Landing trail, which was an adventure in and of itself. Instead I think I’d try the Hidden Canyon Trail and spend some time in the canyon and then pick up the East Rim Trail on the way back and go over to the narrow slot section of Echo Canyon. It’s probably only 25 or 30 minutes away and it’s definitely worth the trek. OTOH if you’ve only got one day in Zion and you can arrange it, the East Rim Trail gives you a taste of everything that in Zion Canyon (without the steep uphill climbs) along with the different scenery and flora of the eastern side of Zion.

Our friends ended up driving to Kolob Canyons. There was a lot of snow but they said it was really nice. On their way back they checked out Grafton, an interesting ghost town. http://www.americansouthwest.net/uta...host_town.html

We tried the Whiptail Grill for dinner again and were lucky enough to get a table this time. Looking at the menu, we weren’t sure what to order because they had some unusual items but everything was really good.

Unfortunately this is our last night in Zion and I forgot to check out the stars until I was already in bed. I remembered doing a ranger program on stargazing when we were in Zion in 1996 and there were so many stars that it was hard to find the simple ones like Orion's belt. We'll just have to come back again ;-)

Tomorrow we head to the Valley of Fire State Park on our way back to Las Vegas.
mdod is offline  
Old May 2nd, 2009, 05:04 PM
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It sounds like you had a wonderful trip, even early in the hiking season. Looking forward to more!
Dayle is offline  
Old May 3rd, 2009, 12:13 PM
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Thanks Dayle. T was a wonderful trip.

I forgot to mention that the weather forecast was totally wrong for that last day in Zion. I don’t know how it was at Bryce Canyon but after worrying about potentially getting stuck in the rain in the middle of a 10 mile trail, we ended up having clear blue skies all day in Zion- not that I’m complaining!

Anyway back to the trip report...

I woke up really early so I grabbed my camera and Gorillapod mini tripod and went outside to try to get some shots of the stars. There was too much light around the lodge so I drove down toward Angel’s Landing. By the time I got there the sky was starting to lighten up so I settled for some nice silhouettes of the mountains then I drove down to the Three Patriots area to get some morning shots there. I could hear wild turkeys gobbling but I didn’t see any. When we were packing the car later on, a wild turkey slowly wandered across the large lawn in front of the lodge.

Our friends moved from Reno to Vegas a year ago and they’ve been bragging about the Valley of Fire State Park http://climb-utah.com/VoF/valleyoffire.htm about an hour north of Vegas so we decided to stop there on the way back. They recommended that we exit I-15 at Overton and head east to the Lost City Museum then continue on Moapa Valley Rd (NV 169) to the east entrance of Valley of Fire, drive west across the park and pick up I-15 again. That route worked very well.

The Lost City Museum www.comnett.net/~kolson/ is a small museum with artifacts collected from Anasazi Indian sites that were in the flood zone of the Hoover Damn. In front of the museum they have a pit dwelling and out back they have recreated a pueblo that you can go inside. It’s a great little museum that only costs $3 and is a good side trip to Valley of Fire if you’re traveling along I-15.

The east entrance of Valley of Fire doesn’t have a manned booth. You stop at the first pull-out for Elephant Rock and they have payment envelopes that you fill out and put into a lock box. Keep the receipt because they will ask you for it if you exit through the west entrance. Also pick up a map to the park there (or check out the one at the link above). I didn’t notice them and couldn’t find one anywhere in the Visitor’s Center. When I asked if they had maps I had to assure them that I didn’t get one at the entrance.

We followed the trail around through some dry brush and up to a large mound of big red boulders that reminded me of the clumps of red clay that you pile up when digging a hole for a bush. Near the top of the mound there was a large formation of rocks in the shape of a standing elephant. If you climb to the top you can see other rock formations in the distance. The trail isn’t long but it ends up that Elephant Rock is right next to the road just a couple of blocks past the parking lot so if you’re not into hiking and have no interest in climbing around the rocks, you can look at it as you drive by.

Our friend told us to be sure to hike the White Domes Trail (at the end of the road that you turn off to go to the visitor center) and to Petrogyph Canyon/Mouse’s Tank if we had time. After looking through the exhibits at the visitor’s center we drove out to White Domes. We passed Rainbow Vista on the way and it looked like a wedding was in progress. They must have a lot of weddings there because there was a sign posted saying that you had to reserve the space for weddings. Rainbow Vista is also where the trail to Fire Canyon/Silica Dome starts but we didn’t have time to stop for either one.

The White Domes trail packs a lot into a 1 1/4mile (1 hour) loop. The first ¼ mile is a moderate decent through some large rocks then you gradually work your way back up as you continue around the loop. If you can handle going down the rocks the uphill is nothing but you will be in full sun the whole time.

Near the beginning of the trail you can see the remains of a set from the 1965 film “The Professionals”. Apparently many movies have been shot in the Valley of Fire including “Transformers” and “Total Recall” and Captain Kirk fell to his death at Silica Dome in “Star Trek Next Generations”. There’s a bunch of neat rock formations and colorful sandstone layers. After seeing Elephant Rock we were seeing elephants and other animals almost everywhere we looked! You also walk through a slot canyon section where it is so narrow that you can reach out and touch both sides of the curved canyon walls (that look like Swiss cheese from all the eroded holes in them). There were patches of wildflowers scattered along the trail and on the last third of the trail we saw several blooming cacti.

We stopped at Mouse’s Tank/ Petroglyph Canyon Trail (1/2 mile RT, flat) on the way out. At the trailhead there is a key to the petroglyph symbols found on the canyon walls. We were pretty oblivious on the way out to Mouse’s Tank (a water collection pond at the end of the trail) thinking they were around the tank. We were checking out the rock faces and little nooks and crannies near the end of the trail. I saw a large rock formation that looked like a moray eel, an elephant head and a hawk head but no petroglyphs. Then someone told us to look for them in the black (varnish) sections of the rocks on the way back. They must have thought we were blind because practically every rock that had a black surface had symbols carved into it, even on large vertical faces high up on the walls. I’d love to know how the heck they got up there. We were then on a mission to find the elusive “Mystical Bat Woman” symbol. The guys say they found it high up on a wall but I wasn’t convinced. ;-) I also saw some more animal rock formations: a moray eel and an elephant head and trunk.

Unfortunately we had to get to Vegas in time for a dinner meeting so we didn’t get a chance to stop at any other sites in the park. We spent a little over 3 hours at Valley of Fire and could have easily spent the whole day. If you are looking for a day trip from Vegas I highly recommend this place. For about an hour drive and $6 entrance fee you can’t go wrong. Many of the sites are visible from the road or a short walk and the trails are easily manageable with kids.

I guess that's the end of our journey. I hope the information is helpful to others planning a trip to the area.
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