Waterfalls, wildlife, and wonder at Zion National Park

Zion may be over-loved as the 3rd most-visited national park in the U.S., but I can see why. Such epic vistas at every turn!… Read More The post Waterfalls, wildlife, and wonder at Zion National Park appeared first on Digging. June 21, 2023 Utah and its wealth of national parks drew us west on our 5-week RV trip this spring. Zion National Park in southwestern Utah sparkles as one of its crown jewels. For anyone wishing to beat the heat in canyon country, April is prime visiting season. We arrived at Zion early one late-April morning and just managed to get a parking space at the rear of the visitor center’s lot. We followed the throngs and hopped on the park’s shuttle*, riding to the end of the line at Temple of Sinawava. (*Cars are banned from Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, the main park road, from March through November in a commendable effort to reduce congestion, noise, and pollution. The free shuttle system is convenient and easy to navigate, and there’s no struggle to find parking at trailheads. I understand lines can be very long in summer though, so arrive at the park as early as possible, or be prepared to find parking outside of the park and shuttle in.) Temple of Sinawava Zion may be over-loved — it’s the 3rd most-visited national park in the U.S. — but the shuttle system helps with that. And once we stepped out of the shuttle and gazed around, I could see why everyone loves Zion. Such epic vistas at every turn! Sheer, sooty-red cliffs soar 1,000 feet all around, and waterfalls tumble from their heights to the canyon floor — at least during snowmelt season. The waterfalls, a ranger told us, are ephemeral and largely unnamed, appearing and then drying up depending on snowmelt and rainfall. Riverside Walk We set off on the Riverside Walk trail as the sun crept over the canyon walls. The Virgin River, swollen in late April from a record snowfall in Utah’s mountains, swirls through the canyon, continuing its slow carving of rock. Stately cottonwoods were unfurling new green leaves in the spring sunlight. A yucca manages to eke out a living on sheer rock. Red sandstone walls glowing all around Hanging gardens Springs and seeps trickle down some of the canyon walls, and plants are quick to colonize even vertical rock if there’s water, creating what are known as hanging gardens. Any crack offers a toehold. I saw columbine flourishing on the cliff walls and would have loved to see its rocket-like flowers later in the spring. Low-growing mahonia was already flowering. Wildlife thrives among the rocks too, including rock squirrels. I spotted this one nibbling on something and suspect it’s used to being fed, even though tossing snacks to wildlife is prohibited for the health of the animals. Shaggy mule deer were browsing new grass along the trail. In drier months, visitors can hike the Narrows, wading in the Virgin River through a narrow section of the canyon. But the Virgin was flowing muddy and high when we were there, and the Narrows was impassable. I understand that trail didn’t open until mid-June this year. Weeping Rock and bighorn sheep Another waterfall — a twisting ribbon of white arcing off a V-shaped notch — greeted us at Weeping Rock. We headed up the trail, the waterfall growing more substantial with every step. But then something came into view even more exciting than a waterfall. On a steep slope, with mellow, mote-speckled light setting the trees aglow… …a herd of bighorn sheep! The sheep were lounging, grazing, and occasionally watching the watchers on a grassy slope well above the trail. What a delight to see them in their own beautiful habitat. After watching for a while, we headed on up to the waterfall. A natural alcove, with a low wall added for safety, lets you walk behind the veil of water. A misty spray dampened our faces. Looking out from the shelter of the cave-like alcove… …another magnificent view. The waterfall almost atomized by the time it hissed into a green pool. Fremont cottonwood at Zion Lodge We headed to the restaurant near Zion Lodge for lunch, where a grand Fremont cottonwood tree offers shade to picnickers on the lawn. All around, mauve peaks stand tall against a blue sky. Sand Bench Trail The afternoon had grown warm after our leisurely lunch break. We set out on the Sand Bench Trail and enjoyed shade at first, even though we had to sidestep horse poop along this trail-riding loop. Soon, though, the trail emerged into sun. It grew sweaty, but the views were worth it. Prickly pear grows here in bristly, mouse-eared clusters. Firecracker penstemon and yucca (western banana yucca, maybe?) too A chunkier prickly pear with oblong pads drooped over a slope as if rappelling down. Court of the Patriarchs After climbing and descending a few low hills we emerged into a bowl ringed by red-rock monoliths frowning down on us. This is Court of the Patriarchs. Breathtaking! Here’s a 360-degree video I took on the trail. At the end of the trail, as we approached the turbulent Virgin River, we spotted a bighorn ewe and her small lamb attempting to cross. Nooo, I thought, watching them hesitate at the river’s edge, taking a tentative step and then backing up. The river was too high for the lamb, I thought, and the ewe apparently concurred. Suddenly she turned and trotted to the safety of trees, the lamb galloping after her. Whew! Zion proved to be as beautiful as we’d heard. It was a wonderful start to our Utah park explorations. Later in the week, my husband went back and hiked up to Angel’s Landing, braving the sheer drops and skyscraper heights of that trail, accompanied by soaring ravens and condors. Up next: Hoodoos at Bryce Canyon National Park. For a look back at the desert wildflowers and dramatic views of Horseshoe Bend and Glen Canyon Dam in Page, Arizona, click here. I welcome your comments. Please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading in an email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post. And hey, did someone forward this email to you, and you want to subscribe? Click here to get Digging delivered directly to your inbox! __________________________ Digging Deeper Come learn about garden design from the experts at Garden Spark! I organize in-person talks by inspiring designers, landscape architects, and authors a few times a year in Austin. These are limited-attendance events that sell out quickly, so join the Garden Spark email list to be notified in advance. Simply click this link and ask to be added. Season 7 starts in August. Stay tuned for the lineup! All material © 2023 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited. The post Waterfalls, wildlife, and wonder at Zion National Park appeared first on Digging.

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