On Zion's Edge

Hiking Zion National Park
By John R. Soares
  |  Gorp.com
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Hiking Zion
Zion's sandstone

Freshly fed and flush with the noon sun, we crossed the North Fork Virgin River on a footbridge, then followed the path toward the rust- and coral-colored cliffs that stretch 1,500 feet up to the top of Angel's Landing. Blood pumped and sweat seeped as our thighs pushed us up the steep but steady ascent, the flows slowing only when we stopped briefly for oxygen and inspiration. Then the level tread and damp stillness of the narrow confines of Refrigerator Canyon cooled our brows and bodies for the climb up to Scout Lookout.

Once there, Noelle sat at the rim of Zion Canyon, her feet dangling over the cliff edge as she silently absorbed the sun, the slight breeze, and the view of Angel's Landing, The Great White Throne, and the rest of the celestial peaks towering 2,000 feet-plus above the lazy, snaking river.

When I first reach a wild-land destination, I seek out a power spot to practice Tai Chi. A level area ten feet from the rim was perfect. As I went slowly through the movements, I opened my body, mind, and spirit to the flow of the river far below, to the sculpted cliffs, domes, and terraces of sandstone surrounding me, to the great emptiness and vast energy of Zion Canyon.

Like many twentieth century travelers, we had come to hike Zion National Park—to clamber through her canyons, to wash in her waterfalls, to celebrate the union of stone and sky from her vistas.

First on the Scene
But the Anasazi Indians preceded us to this paradise by 1,500 years. Arriving around 500 A.D., they hunted the region's abundant game, gathered wild edible plants, and cultivated squash, corn, and beans in the fertile bottom lands. Then, around 1200 A.D., they disappeared. Afterward, occasional bands of Paiutes lived seasonally downstream.

In 1850, Mormon pioneers discovered Zion country. Isaac Behunin, the first Mormon to farm in Zion Canyon, felt the steep walls and narrow side canyons afforded good protection from religious persecution. Thus he named the place Zion, a "peaceful resting place."

The spiritual aspect of the landscape struck a strong chord with the Mormons; prominent features of Zion Canyon environs bear names such as the East Temple, Cathedral Mountain, and the Pulpit.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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