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Zion National Park
Wednesday, January 3, 2001
What better way to start the new year than by visiting some of the most awesome national parks in western America - the group of parks in southern Utah stretching from Zion to Arches. We know going this early can be risky because the weather is unpredictable, but we also hope that we'll see more nature and less tourists at this time. And anyway, it's the only time we can go since we are both on winter break. So, the day before, Nils had driven to St. George, Utah, experiencing quite a change in climate coming south from his snow-packed home in Bozeman, Montana. Matthias, on the other hand, was already accustomed to the temperature, coming north from Sun City, Arizona, where he had spent Christmas with his roommate's family.
Early in the morning, our journey begins at the Motel 6 where we met in St. George, the first destination being Zion National Park. We want to hike to Kolob Arch - a 22 km roundtrip hike, covering some 100 meters in height, down and up and down again. When we depart from the La Verkin Creek trailhead at 9 AM in the fresh morning air, it is pretty cool because we are still in the shadow of a tall wall of orange-red rock to our left. We find hiking in this area is fun and not too strenous, though, because it gradually gets warmer, and the scenery changes with every turn - sometimes we walk through desert, sometimes over rock, sometimes we just have shrubs and bushes at our side, sometimes high trees. The ground is covered in snow or ice in some places while being completely dry in others. Sometimes we are right next to a river, sometimes high above the valley floor. And above everything towers the huge, red mountain wall.
Finally, Kolob Arch Trail branches off to the right of La Verkin Creek Trail. The last few hundred meters lead through a riverbed with huge boulders that we have to climb over. Around 12 noon, we arrive at a relatively narrow cul-de-sac valley from where we have a good view of Kolob Arch. We can't get close to it because it's in a rock wall high above, but its size is still impressive - with about 94 meters, Kolob Arch has the widest span in the world.
The way back is more strenous because the sun is warmer, and we accidentally take a detour over a long, steep ascent. The last half mile of the trail is the hardest because it leads 300 meters steeply upward. We are completely exhausted when we finally return to our car at about 3 PM.
We then drive up the Zion Canyon Scenic Road, stopping for some smaller hikes along the way. At the end of the Scenic Road, we take the Riverside Walk, a short trail on the bottom of a narrow canyon. The trail follows the Virgin River for about 1.5 km and then ends on the stony shore of a shallow pond. On our way back along the Scenic Road, we stop at the Weeping Rock, a long-stretched rock alcove where water is seeping out of cracks in the walls and dripping from overhead everywhere. Our last hike today finally takes us to the Emerald Pools. There are springs, rivulets, waterfalls and ponds everywhere, transforming the rocky scene into hanging gardens. However, with most of the water still bound in snow fields, the waterfalls aren't too impressive yet - a sign along the way gives us an idea of what they will look like later in the year.
By now, it's getting dark fast, so we check into a motel just outside of the park, where we have a good dinner and screen our first batch of photos. Since it's off-season, there are almost no other tourists, so we're virtually alone in the parks, and accomodations are cheap - we're only paying half the regular price at the Best Western this night.
The weather has been perfect all day - sunny, not a cloud in the sky, not too hot and not too cold for hiking. We hope it'll stay this way for our whole trip.
|© 2001-2003 Matthias Book (Text), Nils Grunwald (Photos)|