An Epic Hike in Zion

It was six o’clock in the morning on May 19th, 2017. As I laid cocooned in my sleeping bag, I listened to the sounds on the other side of the nylon tent walls. I noticed it was getting light outside and the sun would be rising soon. Although with the towering canyon walls, I wasn’t sure when the warmth of the sun would actually reach our campsite.

Observation Point Zion

Me on the left, daughter Ashton on the right. Angel’s Landing off my right shoulder.

The fluttering of wings as the birds flew from one tree to another along with their continuous chirping put a smile on my face, but there was another sound, an unusual sound, that took me a moment to figure out.

I quietly (as quietly as possible) unzipped the tent and then slowly stepped out.

deer in Zion

The deer in the campground were not bothered by people. This was a rare opportunity to photograph wildlife with a wide angle lens.

The unusual sound I heard while laying inside the tent was made by deer … it was the ripping of grass and chewing. ¬†A deer had been grazing just on the other side of the tent wall, mere inches from my head, but by the time I stepped out of the tent, that deer had moved on. However, two other deer were across the street grazing.

Quaker oatmeal and coffeeThese deer are obviously used to people and when the two grazing deer came walking toward and then past me, I stood frozen and silent. This was one time a zoom lens wasn’t necessary. What an awesome way to start the day!

Ashton and I had a couple of hikes in mind that day, and we wanted to get a somewhat early start.

Shortly before seven, I started heating up the water for coffee and oatmeal, and when Ashton stepped out of the tent, I excitedly pointed behind our tent. There in the tall grass lay three female deer munching on grass while watching the tourists pass by. This was their yard, and we were their tolerated guests.

wearing makeup while campingWe knew in our gut, this was just the beginning of one heck of a memorable day.

With breakfast out of the way, we continued to get ready for the day, which for these gals, includes a little makeup. Hey, just cause we’re camping doesn’t mean we can’t do it in style ūüėÜ

We loaded up our gear and then hiked over to the visitor center to pick up the shuttle bus. Twenty-five minutes later, we exited the bus at stop #7 for the Weeping Rock and Observation Point trails. We headed up the short Weeping Rock Trail which is less than a mile round trip. It’s a steep paved trail which ends at a rock alcove with dripping springs. Kind of cool and interesting and we thought worthwhile.

Weeping Rock Zion

The trail to ‘Weeping Rock’. It was a brisk morning which Ashton can attest to!

Weeping Rock Zion National Park

Weeping Rock Рinteresting sight.  Water seeps out of the rock and vegetation grows in crevices.

Little did we know at the time, but this trail served as a nice warm up as to what was to come. After admiring the seeping rock and lush plants, we hiked back to the trail head and took the spur toward Observation Point. We agreed earlier that morning that this 8 mile (12.9 km) round trip strenuous hike with a 2,148 foot (655 m) elevation gain was more than we wanted to tackle. Therefore, we planned to hike about an hour and a half up then turn around (3 hours round trip) to head back to camp for lunch and explore the Watchman Trail in the afternoon. Good theory!

Observation Point Trail Zion

Can you spot the shuttle bus? ¬†Offers scale. ¬†Little did we know, the trail would climb and take us near the top of that mesa – white portion of rock…. ¬†ūüė≤

From the get go, we could feel the trail climb. We were immediately huffing and puffing and stopping frequently to catch our breath. Although the trail starts out paved, the continuous uphill, zig zag climb is anything but easy.

hiking zion

the trail is a never ending zig zag

As we neared Echo Canyon, we were thankful the trail leveled off and offered a nice reprieve from the continual uphill climbing.

Echo Canyon

Echo Canyon. We enjoy the reprieve from climbing.

Echo Canyon

Enjoying the flat part of this strenuous trail

slot canyon Zion National Park

Ashton’s first slot canyon

This was Ashton’s first ever exposure to a slot canyon and although we only hiked a small fraction of Echo Canyon, it was a visual delight. In order to hike the actual Echo Canyon Trail a permit is required and canyoneering skills are necessary. Yep, not for us. We were thrilled and satisfied with the sliver we did experience.

hiking in Zion

Observation Trail continues

I don’t recall how long it took us to hike to the other side of Echo Canyon, but I do remember Ashton and I being awed by the landscape. The photo-ops were endless and there was no way we wanted to turn around at this juncture … not yet, anyway.Zion national Park

It was onward and upward, and the uphill climb seemed unrelenting, but did we stop?

hiking Zion

Is this our turn around point?

When we came to a trail sign …. (this was the noted spot on our trail map where Ashton and I originally planned to end our climb and turn around) …. we decided, we’ve come this close …. “lets do it“! Truth be told, it was our stubbornness that egged us on. We refused to be each others excuse as to why we couldn’t complete this 8 mile strenuous¬†hike.

Zion National ParkIn other words … there was no way I would accept defeat so my daughter could say, “We couldn’t complete the trail because my mom couldn’t handle it“. ¬†Heck no! That makes me sound old. I may be old, but I’m not that old.

And then, Ashton refused to give in to her fear of heights because she wouldn’t give me the ammunition to say, “We couldn’t complete the trail because of my daughters fear of heights”.¬†Yeah, we’re stubborn!

Ah, but that age thing did catch up with me. At one point, I found the need to actually sit down on the side of the trail to rest and let my heart rate come completely down. All that climbing had my heart pounding rapidly in my ears. Years ago, I worked out with a personal trainer and used a heart rate monitor regularly. Because of that experience and knowledge, I knew I was pushing too hard and needed to take a break for my health and safety. After munching on a Lara Bar, resting, and drinking more water, I felt ready to tackle another stretch of climbing …… ¬†just in time for my daughter to face her fears.

hiking in Zion

Ashton’s fear of heights kicks in! Who’s got the racing heart now?

This would be the final stretch of climbing needed to get to the top of the mesa. The trail was literally blasted out of the canyon wall and offered dizzying drop offs and eye-popping scenery. Not exactly ‘fear of heights’ friendly.

hiking in Zion

can you see the zig zag trail?

hiking Zion

Let’s zoom in a little closer – can you see the trail now? Check out that elevation gain.

hiking Zion

Zoomed in more! This stretch of trail was the most challenging for Ashton, not to mention my lungs.

hiking Zion

Ashton confronts her fear of heights! The popular Angels Landing Trail is just to the top left of Ashton’s head.

Ashton’s fear of heights was news to me. I have to admit, I found the whole situation somewhat humorous and had to ask, “Since when did you develop a fear of heights?” Somewhat hesitantly, she responded in a near whisper, “Since I went bungy jumping in New Zealand”. Her response resulted in more chuckling on my part …. “So you gave me gray hair, and gave yourself a fear of heights.” ¬†Photo-op!

hiking zion national park

Ashton tries calming her nerves – fear of heights! “Seriously, mother!!! You really have to take a picture?” ¬†Yes I do honey, yes I do ūüėÜ

zion national park

Another needed stop to calm the dizziness.

hiking Zion

Whew! Climbing has stopped. Mini panic attack over, but we still had further to go… Far left Mesa in the distance – to the left of the red vertical line = “Observation Point”

Once we reached the top of the mesa, we were able to breathe normally, but still had more distance to hike to get to “the point”. Ashton’s racing heart caused by a fear of heights had calmed down, and my racing heart caused from the ridiculous uphill climbing had also calmed. Deep calming breathes were taken by both of us followed by a sigh of relief.

hiking Zion

Observation Point in the distance – note the red vertical lines against the white rock – the V lines point to our destination.

hiking in Zion

Can you see the specs of people at Observation Point?  Follow the red vertical stripe up.

With the goal now in sight, our pace quickened. Ashton and I kept looking at each other with smiles and saying, “We’re doing this. We’re actually doing this. We’re almost there“.

As we exited that last cluster of pinion trees, we were assaulted with the most breathtaking view that is quintessential Zion Canyon. Engulfed with awe, we high-fived each other while huge smiles stretched from ear to ear. “Oh my gosh! I can’t believe we made. We did it!”Zion Canyon

It took us four challenging hours of unrelenting uphill climbing and at times we questioned our sanity. We also questioned each other, “Are you sure you don’t want to turn around?” ¬†“It’s up to you. If YOU want to turn around, we’ll turn around“. “I’m fine. If YOU want to turn around, we’ll turn around“. ¬†“Well, I’m fine too“. ¬†Onward and upward! ¬†Did I mention, we’re stubborn?

hiking Zion

Note the brass survey marker embedded in the rock. As you look to the monolith rock to the right – we are looking down on the infamous Angels Landing. Ashton was ready for a photo-op now!

Observation Point

Observation Point

That view … is that not the most incredible view! Thank goodness we embraced that stubbornness or we might have missed out on this experience. And what an experience this epic hike was. A memorable day indeed …. from start, to finish!

hiking zion

Time for a break! Let’s savor the view.

But the hike wasn’t over yet. What goes up, must go down, and what one thinks might be easy, probably isn’t. Next up, the journey back down the mountain ….

Zion Canyon


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A Special Day of Firsts

As I sit here in Phoenix, Arizona, enjoying the desert sunsets and regular visits with our son, my thoughts drift to our daughter.  You see, it’s her birthday. I wish I could spend the day with her, but knowing weeks ago that I would no longer be in Colorado for the special day, she and I managed to celebrate early and often before I hit the road bound for the desert southwest.Rocky Mountain National Park

Ashton and I always enjoy spending time together and although due to her work commitments we weren’t able to take one of our memorable road trips, we did manage to take in several day excursions.Fall colors in the mountains

Hands down, our excursion to Rocky Mountain National Park turned out to be one of our favorite day trips.  We could not have timed it better.  Fall colors were almost at their peak and the weather was near perfect this 3rd weekend in September.quaking aspen

fall colors in the RockiesSince I had already camped a week in Rocky Mountain National Park as well as taken a few day trips exploring this past summer, I left the plan of the day up to Ashton but did help by giving her several ideas and recommendations.  After a quick discussion, she decided she wanted to retrace our route from our trip six years ago.

Trail Ridge Road it is!fall colors in the Rockies

From Denver we took a lovely scenic drive via Highway 36 and arrived in Estes Park, Colorado, about an hour and a half later.  As we drove down Main Street, we made note of stores and restaurants for our return back through town.  A few miles later, we entered the National Park via the east entrance; Fall River Entrance Station.Fall River Entrance Station

We planned on¬†traveling up Trail Ridge Road¬†(America’s highest paved continuous road) and making a bunch of¬†scenic stops along the way with Grand Lake being our destination.¬† Our first stop was at Sheep Lakes.¬† This is a popular area for mountain sheep to be seen from spring to about July.¬† Starting in¬†mid to late¬†September and all through the rut, Elk can usually be spotted in this meadow.¬† During¬†my several¬†visits this year, I’ve never had any luck spotting wildlife at this location ūüė¶painting in Rocky Mountain National Park

Next stop was just a little further up the road on a side street.  We noticed a group of ladies on the side of the road and had to check it out.  There was some big event happening that weekend in conjunction with an Art Gallery in the town of Grand Lake which was tantamount to a painters marathon (my take anyway).  Later that day, Ashton and I actually stumbled upon the art gallery that was behind the artist event. Grand Lake Art Galleries

Ashton was rather excited when we spotted this gallery.¬† A little browsing was in order. Too bad I don’t have any wall space these days because some of these works were breathtaking and I found several I wouldn’t mind owning.¬† Thankfully the lack of wall space in¬†my RV allowed me to spend money on¬†more important things…. say fudge.canvas painting of the Rockies

Ashton and I watched these gifted ladies capture the scenery on canvas.¬† I’ve never possessed such talent but I have always appreciated it.¬† This was a first for Ashton.¬† She had never seen an artist in action before.¬† She was fascinated and in total awe.art galleries in Grand Lake

We reluctantly tore ourselves away from the artists at work, and continued on our journey.  We made a couple of quick stops before taking a more leisurely stop at the Tundra Communities Trailhead near Rock Cut.unique rock formations

I wanted Ashton to see Mushroom Rock and hopefully a few Pika’s.¬† She’d never seen a rock shaped like this before and found it quite interesting.

I noticed the tundra during this visit looked very barren and brown.¬† What a sharp contrast from my August visit.¬† I could feel the harshness of the land knowing¬†winter was just around the corner.¬† Although¬†I found it rather strange that the¬†temperature during this¬†September visit was warmer than my August visit.¬† At an¬†altitude of 12,125,¬†I expect cold temperatures.¬† During my visit in August, I wore gloves and earmuffs but the tundra wildflowers were still present and the pika’s and marmots were everywhere.¬† No wildlife sightings today and no need for earmuffs.¬† I almost didn’t need to wear my sweatshirt – that’s how mild the temps were.photography in ColoradoLast time I experienced a little light-headedness on this trail, but today was no problem.¬† Thus, Ashton and I hiked to the end.¬† At the end of the trail, we climbed up the rocks a little to take in a bird’s-eye view.¬† Before doing so, I reminded Ashton to be sure to step only on rocks and avoid stepping on vegetation.tundraThe tundra has a very delicate ecosystem and the plants are¬†quite fragile. I am totally¬†intrigued by the tundra and the ability of anything to survive in such a harsh environment.¬† Ashton and I find ourselves lingering in silence and¬†in awe.¬† What splendor lay before our eyes!Tundra

Our stomachs growling finally broke our trance and had us returning to the vehicle.  We decided to bypass the Alpine Visitor center and continue down Trail Ridge Road in search of a scenic spot for lunch.

Lake Irene Colorado

Ashton tries to cut a bagel with a butter knife.     After some serious laughing and attacking the bagel Рsuccess!

Lunch along Lake Irene proved to be the perfect place for our picnic lunch.  Stomachs satisfied, we were off to Grand Lake for a little shopping.

shopping in Grand Lake

hitching posts are still used in Grand Lake, Colorado

shopping

stuff we all could live without ūüėČ

One ice cream cone, one piece of fudge, and one key ring later we were back in the truck driving the 48 mile stretch of Trail Ridge Road back to the town of Estes Park.¬† Let’s see – it only took us 3 hours to¬†drive 48 miles from the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park to the town of Grand Lake.¬† Gorgeous scenery has a way of lengthening any drive.¬† I believe it’s called ‘photo-op’.three amigosThe return trip¬†to Estes Park¬†took a little less time but still ended up taking a¬†couple of hours due to Elk viewing.¬† Ah, yet another first for Ashton as she listened to the Elk bugle.¬† Although the ‘rut’ hadn’t officially started, it was obvious the time was nearing.Elk in rutAfter a light dinner at an Irish pub in downtown Estes Park, it was time to head home.

elk in rut

It was exciting to stand this close to a herd of Elk

It was definitely a memorable day with several first’s for my daughter…….

*  Fall colors near peak in Rocky Mountain National Park
*  Artists at work in the field
*  A rock shaped like a mushroom
*  Elk bugling
*  Standing so near to a herd of elk

It was a¬†special day indeed –¬† Happy birthday, Ashton!Rocky Mountain National Park

Picnic Time Sorrento Insulated Cooler Backpack with Picnic Service for Four (Green)
Eddie Kohair Elk 8″ by Douglas Cuddle Toys