by Gabrielle Antonette and Carrie Nusbaum
Generally speaking, the scale of the natural world is hard to grasp. Of course the infinite universe is impossible to fathom, but even the size and variation of the earth is sometimes elusive. It's easy, and in fact, probably advantageous to get used to the landscape of your home, where you live and act every day. That's part of why traveling, even to nearby places, is so compelling--it reminds us of the world we live in, how varied it is, and how small we are by comparison. The thing about canyons is that they are a landscape that is so different from the usual (at least for us), in scale and color and visibility, that just the act of perceiving them is sublime. Driving into Zion canyon for the first time was exhilarating--literally breathtaking, and we were lucky enough to do it with a couple of our good friends, Jorge and Marisa. The combination of its very steep walls, and relative narrowness make the grandeur of Zion canyon especially perceptible (sort of unlike the Grand Canyon, which is so huge that it's almost hard to imagine even as you stand there looking at it). It's one of our favorite national parks, and it's actually surprising how few people know about it. It's about a 6 hour drive from LA, which is a little on the long side for a weekend trip, but absolutely worth it, if you ask us.
Zion is an especially great place for a weekend trip since there are a few "must-sees", and all of them can be seen via a couple of moderately intense day hikes:
Angel's Landing is a 5-mile hike, straight up the side of the canyon wall. The first couple of miles are along a paved, but extremely steep, path. The last half mile is a harrowing walk along and up the very narrow ridge out to the lookout where even the bravest generally cling to the chains that mark the path as if their lives depend on it (because...they pretty much do). It's a popular hike, and is generally pretty busy, so remember to keep a safe distance and exercise common trail courtesy. People seemed to be pretty good about it when we were there. Also: get started early! From experience we can say that it's much more pleasant to hike it in the morning when it's relatively cool.
The Narrows is as iconic and awesome as it generally looks in pictures. Probably more. Like most people do, we simply hiked up the river (starting at the Temple of Sinawava shuttle stop) for several hours until we got tired, and then turned around and came back. Before we started, though, we did rent the water shoes and hiking poles from a local outfitter ($20/day), and I don't think any of us regretted it. By the end of many hours in cold water, all of us had soggy and aching feet, but it would've been much worse without the proper gear, and we probably wouldn't have made it as far.
All of the camp sites in the park were occupied when we arrived (as should be expected--it's a popular place), but the ranger at the entrance kindly gave us a print out of local private campgrounds and their contact information. We ended up at the Ponderosa Ranch Campground/Resort, which is about 10-15 minutes outside of the park on the east side. It wasn't too busy when we were there, the campgrounds were reasonably sized and reasonably priced, they had everything we needed, and actually quite a lot more. Since it doubles as a resort, there are all sorts of features and services (a pool, go carts), that we didn't take advantage of. If it were busy, we could potentially see these things being annoying for anyone seeking a bare-bones wilderness experience, but for us, it was really no problem.