Zion

11/11/2012

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The drive into Zion National Park from the east was in itself pretty amazing. We saw bighorn sheep and a really really long tunnel that popped us out about midway up the side of a cliff, from which we had many switchbacks to navigate before we were safely on the valley floor. After the near-solitude of Bryce, this place was a real zoo. It was approaching sunset and there were dozens of vehicles vying for places to park along the road to take photographs. Not at all what we were hoping for. We later found out that we had picked one of the most popular weekends to visit the park, during fall colors they have a free entry weekend and invite many famous artists to explore the park. The weekend culminates with an auction of the artwork. After so much solitude it was a bit of a downer to be around people again.
Nonetheless our mood soon picked up as we embarked on the Angels landing hike. It started mellow enough. We were in good hiking condition so the initial switchbacks were standard enough. I ought to add that they were carved out of the side of the cliff which is pretty cool. Angels landing is a 5.5 mile round trip hike with some 1400 feet of elevation gain. As we reached the top of the main trail Bek spotted a big bird. I was hoping for another golden eagle. Alas it turned out to be some kind of vulture. Strange that it was marked with a number. Why would they track vultures??? Only because this was actually a California Condor. This vulture was in serious trouble in the early '80s due to hunting and DDT. A controversial decision was made to capture the remaining 20 or so from the wild and try a captive breeding program. Thankfully the story since has been a happy one. There are now some 100 wild birds and maybe another 100 in captivity. Much better odds for the survival of these massive birds. Wing spans up to 9 feet. Wow. We actually checked out the stats on our bird, #69. We also spotted him soaring later in the day and even from the bottom of the canyon he looked impressive. He roosted in a small cave in the cliff face about 1000 feet up. Anyway back to the hike...
So the next section of the hike turned out to be pretty sketchy. A sign informed us that six people had died on this section in the previous eight years. Real confidence booster hey...  The drop off was at least 1000 feet on either side, vertical straight down no stops til you reach the ground floor. Made me realize there are a couple ways to interpret the name 'Angel's landing'. The path was as narrow as a bodywidth in places. I shook and trembled and crawled my way up to the top. Exhilerating. By and far the most hard core section of trail I have ever encountered.  It felt very satisfying to sit at the top and  look out at the spectacular view of Zion valley below. Just as long as one didn't think ahead to the walk back down...
 





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