Back in the Promised Land of Zion May 21, 2013 Wednesday

(Not gonna lie. One of the fun things about Zion is using all the grandiose names the Mormons gave the park in my titles)

Yesterday when we finally rolled into Zion National Park after early morning dawn shoot on the Bryce Canyon rim, two hours of horseback riding, and four hours of driving (because we took a side trip to see the Kodachrome State Park—overrated except for hundred-foot monolithic “stone pipe” standing all by itself on the floor of the desert basin) I felt like my eyes had taken in so much beauty, I’d had so many experiences in one day, I simply couldn’t take any more in.

But upon arriving at the promised land of Zion (the Zion Lodge)and throwing our luggage into the room, we both immediately felt our spirits lift and energy return. We decided to take the tram to the back of the valley where the Lodge is located for the sunset. It was familiarly wonderful, and there walking beside the Virgin River under the Temple of Sinawava toward the famous Narrows hike at the back of the canyon, we were both again calmed and energized by everything about this place. Grandeur, accessibility, perfect temperature, song of birds, rustle of new spring leaves and that unearthly powdered glow that happens at sunrise and sunset when the sun strikes the colored mountains and reflects into the air.

On the spot, we decided to hike The Narrows at dawn the next morning, a hike rated “strenuous” with highly recommended special cold-water hiking shoes and poles, because much of the hike is through the forty-degree rushing river up into the steepening canyon. Just glimpses of the beauty of it at sunset got our excitement going. (This hike was one of the many activities we hadn’t had time to do on our first two days at Zion.)

Did we wait for the outfitting store to open to rent poles and the special water hiking shoes? *snort* Do you really need to ask that, by now?

So dawn rolled around much too early, and the horseback ride I’d thought I got away with the day before had caught me—my old hip injury was back full force. I woke at five and began doing stretching and my own version of home chiropractic using the “miracle ball” a rubber ball I lay on that stretches problem areas. By the time we got on the first shuttle to the top of the canyon I was at least walking, if hunched and stiff.

Mike stopped to take a photo and I decided to walk ahead when we reached the chill and shadowed trail so he wouldn’t get irritated with my slow pace—we had a mile to walk before we even got to the “hard part” where we had to wade. So I walked, and walked, pausing to take pictures, wondering why Mike didn’t catch up with me with his usual long-legged stride. It was a little spooky there, so early and dark, but that otherworldly glow had begun at the tops of the peaks hundreds of feet above, and I was entranced as I walked.

I heard some loud sound far away— it sounded like it might be someone calling for help, but it bounced off the walls so I couldn’t tell where it was coming from or what the words were. I worried we might need to help someone, and got my phone out to call Mike. No Service.

The cries were getting louder, and I began getting worried, so I turned back to look for Mike at my shuffling pace—when suddenly, coming around the curve of the trail, I realized the echoing shout was my name: “Toby! Toby!”

Mike must be hurt! I went running back (as fast as I could run with an eighteen-inch cripple stride) eventually saw Mike come running toward me, red-faced and even more freaked out than I was.“Where the heck did you go? I’ve been looking and calling for you for a half hour!”

“You’re not hurt?” I felt stupid saying it, but adrenaline overload at 7 a.m. on one measly cup of coffee isn’t fun for anybody.

“Don’t run off like that ever again!” he exclaimed. “Couldn’t you hear me calling you? I thought something bad happened!”

We walked on together awhile, not speaking and working off the fright, and turned to each other and said, “I’m sorry,” at the same time—and made a rule that if we ever get separated, after five minutes we’ll go back to where we saw each other last. And about that time we got to where the “River Walk” dead-ends with the clear, rushing Virgin River. The way forward was in.

Along the path, I’d been looking for a stout stick, “highly recommended” for stabilizing on the slippery stones underfoot, and right at the start of the Narrows, leaning on the wall of the canyon other hikers had left a variety of sticks of every size and length—a sight that delighted me. I felt connected to everyone who’d done this hike before us and returned to share their sturdy support.

Mike had put most of his camera equipment in plastic bags, and we both had on our worn-out tennis shoes to be sacrificed to the cause. I went in first, and halfway through the river (bruisingly cold in case you wondered) I took this picture:


It was gloriously gorgeous and we felt that “first explorer” feeling again, having beaten the crowds and reveling in the awesomeness of new day blooming gardens of color in the Navajo sandstone all around us.

The cold was a little frightening. My feet burned, then went numb. I would hop out on the little sandbars and kick them and wiggle my toes (though I couldn’t really tell if they were moving or not) and I worried about Mike as he said he “didn’t feel anything” and stayed in the water much longer than I did. Finally, after one rather brutally long stretch that ended in a long waterfall and golden beams and we were able to get on a sandbar, I decided it couldn’t get any better further upstream. I was getting chilled and wanted to go back.

Mike wasn’t ready to go, focused with that intensity that he gets when he’s onto something, so I turned around and went back alone, meeting a steady stream of incoming hikers and able to say, “Wait til you see the sunrise on the waterfall!” like an old pro.

I thawed out in the shower in our room (still having problems with my hip) and Mike returned, and we compared photos from our latest adventure. I also told him I’d made the decision I wanted another night here, and had already booked us for Thursday. Three, count them three, nights in the same fabulous Zion Lodge bed.

It just doesn’t get any better than this. Resting and reflecting on it all on my “miracle ball.” 🙂

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