SeaSalt Chronicles 5: Weekending In Zion
This time, my adventures in California took me much further. After accepting my friend’s invitation, I’m spending the weekend with her and two of her friends at Zion National Park in Utah.
We leave Santa Barbara on Thursday afternoon and drive all the way to Utah through Las Vegas. We spend eight hours in a car, stopping halfway through the journey for a little break. As we’re crossing the desert, we watch the sun going down. From inside the car, we see wide and vast deserted camps filled with cactuses, just before we drive through Las Vegas. The company is so great and we have a lot to entertain ourselves – from cracking jokes all the time to listening to music and karaoke we never get bored. As soon as we get to Vegas, we see this city built in the middle of nowhere, emerging right in front of us. We plan to stop by on our way back on Monday, but right now I can only tell that Vegas is this spectacle city, not vibrant at all but with vibrant colours and lights everywhere as if to call “Look! Can’t you see me? I’m right here. Come and play.”
In Utah, we’re staying in a small village called La Verkin in a little flat with a kitchenette. We arrive late at night and go straight to sleep so we’re fresh next morning. When I accepted coming on this trip, I did it because I haven’t hiked ever since I went to the Pyrenees with the scouts. Also, I want to challenge myself in these 3 days and be in contact with nature. When you’re hiking you completely lose any notion of time and place. I love walking and not knowing where the trail will take me. Even though it feels endless, I just know it will have an ending, eventually. You just got to keep going and keep moving forward because as soon as you walk out, you know you’ll have to walk back before daylight is gone. When you feel exhausted, to the point you can’t feel your limbs anymore, the pain and tiredness keep you focused on the hike and most importantly, it brings your mind to a sense of readiness and determination. There’s no room for any other thoughts and I find that very peaceful.
On the first day, we take a trail and hike up to a point called Angel’s Landing. The hike was super tiring, as we had to climb a lot. There are barely any plain parts to the trail. However, the more we climb, the prettier the view gets. At the top of the mountain, it’s colder and there are snow, lots and lots of snow. I can’t remember the last time I saw this much snow. I even start making snowballs with my hands and throwing them at my friend. Angel’s Landing, however, is another short climb to the top of another rocky but smaller mountain. In order to climb it, you’d have to hold on to some chains on the rocks. I am already happy I managed to climb all the way to the top, so I leave Angel’s Landing itself for the sportsmen. After lunch, we have to hike all the way down from where we came from. Now, here comes the exciting part, as we are descending, the snow turned into ice. We almost glided our way down and you should’ve seen me holding on to the walls, panicking all the way through as I didn’t want to land my butt on the floor. Lucky for me, I had brought my hiking boots, whereas my friends were all wearing trainers. Not a smart move now, is it? When we get to the parking lot, there is still time for another hike. This time it was a fairly easy one, no climbing at all and instead, the trail takes us on a side view of the mountains and valley. At the end of the trail, there is a cave with a small pond, so we sit resting for a bit while admiring nature’s sounds around us.
On Saturday morning, we wake up at 5 am in the morning. I am so exhausted from the previous day and don’t even want to wake up. It is still dark and cold outside. We were planning to leave around 6 am and have a reinforced breakfast at a cafe in Springdale. However, the cafe was closed when we arrived so we decide to go to the Park to watch the sunrise. We drive all the way up and park the car close to the trail. We follow the irregular paths, in which the rocks of the mountains present themselves in layers to us. It is a very different landscape, like nothing I’ve ever seen.
When we get to the point we are supposed to get, the landscape opens before us and drops into a vast abyss of deep valleys and monstrous summits around us. In front of us at a distance, there is a mountain summit called the West Temple with a slightly more reddish part of it called the Altar of Sacrifice. As the sun rose, the typical orange colour of these mountains becomes even more orange, almost red. It is beautiful to watch.
We then went back to Springdale for breakfast and had a crépe with hot chocolate. No words to describe my satisfaction. We are about to go for a hike called the Narrows. We all thought it would be comfortable and pretty relaxed since at the entrance, it is specified that the hike was accessible for people on a wheelchair. We start walking along the river, another friend and I stay behind talking until I start thinking that a hike is never this easy. I mean, we aren’t even hiking, we are just walking. At some point, in order to continue the “hike”, we have to cross the river. Wait, what? Isn’t this supposed to be wheelchair accessible? Sure, but we have to cross the river without dry suits and no equipment whatsoever. No and no, there’s no way I’m going to get into that cold water barefoot.
Too late! My friends are about to take off their socks, and one of them was already in the water close to the other side. I can’t believe what I am about to do. But I do it. Stiffen up, just put the damn feet in the water and walk. Stop being such a baby! So I did. The rocks really hurt under my feet and all I need is to fall and get my clothes soaked in cold water. I lose my balance once or twice but never (almost) fall. At some point, I couldn’t feel my feet anymore and it just felt like walking with no feet at all. When I get to the margin, I sat down and put my socks on as soon as possible. Soon, I start to feel warmer. When we all got together, we thought it was over but…no way.
More river! I mean, more river to cross. Unlike the map suggested, we start thinking the Narrows is a trail not ALONG the river but ON the river. I can only think about where the accessibility to wheelchairs has gone. Unless they were expecting us to use wheelchairs to go on the river like rafting or something, I don’t think people on wheelchairs could’ve gone this far. Soon, these two women wearing dry suits approached us and confirmed that the trail was ON the river. As we were stuck on a platform between the river and the mainland, guess what? We have to cross the river again in order to go back. I took precisely 5 minutes to cross to the other side because this time the stream is stronger. When we are back on our feet, we go back to the parking lot and choose a trail that took us to a completely different part of the Park. This time we are making sure the path would walk us ALONG the river. Some parts even look like the desert, very dry and with a lot of cactus. We also get to see some deers and turkeys in the wild.
The last day at Zion, it is going to be the day. After walking 17 miles in the past two days, my dead self is about to complete the challenge of her lifetime by accomplishing another 15 miles in a day. This would be the most strenuous hike. The first part is easy. We just walk down the hill, stopping halfway through to contemplate the view and take some pictures – you could see a lot of pine trees covering most part of the summits around us. Also, there is an excellent chance of spotting mountain lions. Which would be cool, but I’m not going to lie, not a great fan of the idea of coming face to face with one. So, we keep walking down, easy peasy until I realise that at the end of the day when we’d all be tired and dying, we would have to walk back up again that 2 miles we just walked down.
I don’t want to think about it right now, so I’m just going to keep walking and taking the view in. For the most part, the trail is covered in snow. Somehow, I manage to slip on the ice and fall on my butt a couple of times. Actually, you have to be really careful when crossing the river so you wouldn’t break the ice and get your shoes in the water – we always try to go from rock to rock, pebble to pebble until we reached the other side. After crossing 6 ponds, we got to the most refreshing part of the trail, along the river. The sound of the river, my exhaustion and the silence make me relax and fill my mind with positive thoughts. There’s something about hiking that makes you feel present in the moment. You don’t really think about anything else other than the now.
We have completed most of the trail by now. I am feeling exhausted and kind of worrying that I can’t walk the way back. We keep walking along the river, and for the very last bit of our journey, we literally climb the mountains and have to use the force of our arms to jump and go across rocks and logs that were standing in the way. When we get to the end, I can’t feel my legs anymore and my knees are hurting a lot. We have lunch on the top of a big rock but it isn’t long before we start walking our way back. We have about 4 hours to get back to the car before twilight. On our way back, I can’t walk as fast as my friends anymore so I decide to take my own pace. The snow has now melted which makes the hike slower and harder because now, most part of the trail is either covered in ice or deep slippery blocks of mud. Our shoes are all covered in mud. At some point, we stop for a while and I can’t stop myself from laughing for 15 minutes, as I get stuck in the mud and every time I regain my balance I feel like slipping again into the dirt. The thought of watching myself, actually falling in the mud was what keeps us laughing – although, I believe my friends would’ve found it most amusing if it happened. At the end of the day, I can’t feel my body nor my legs, have a messed up knee but I feel proud of myself for surviving the day.
On Monday, we packed everything and left. We stop in Las Vegas and have a stroll around the city for a while. We walk past Venice and, since my friends are all French, we decide to go to Paris. A quick note about Las Vegas or Vegas, as they say. I don’t know if you ever heard of KidZania – a place where children pretend they’re active and participating in the real world. There is an imitation of real-life cafes, supermarkets, restaurants, hospitals, etc. Children can play the role of a judge at a court or a doctor at a clinic. This is Vegas but for adults. Except, instead of being a reproduction of the real world, it’s, in fact, a reproduction of Europe, where you can even go to the Coliseum! Everything is oversized and inside the different hotels and monuments you have the casinos and a dozen restaurants – for example, inside the Eiffel Tower, on the bottom level, you have the casino, a lot of shops and then these Parisian-style streets with restaurants on either side. Why should you go to Europe when you go to Vegas, right?
Then, on the streets outside, there are girls dressed as playboy bunnies asking if you want to take a picture with them. Just don’t, because as soon as you do, they’ll make you pay for the photo. So Las Vegas is the typical American place for superfluous minds who love capitalism and consumerism. There’s nothing else to do other than eating and drinking, gambling and spending money at the different restaurants and shops. Well okay, what else do you need, right?
After walking for an hour around Vegas, we have lunch at Dennis – an American dinner like Fridays in London, and then, we said goodbye and drove away.
Back to Santa Barbara.
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