October 28 – November 3, 2019
J&J RV Park, Kanab, UT
After three weeks in the Escalante area, it was time for a change of scenery. A cold front was headed for much of the West making it the logical time to move to lower elevations. We have several friends in the Hurricane area and there is great hiking there (including Zion National Park), making that a good next stop.
On our way to Hurricane from Escalante, we decided to spend a quick night in Kanab, Utah. There are a lot of hikes I’d like to do there and I thought it would be nice to get a quick introduction to the area. We found a beautiful town surrounded by impressive red rock not far from Lake Powell. We would have loved to stay a whole week for some adventuring, but the overnight lows were just going to be too cold.
For our brief stay, we checked into J&J RV Park. Their website claims they have “the friendliest staff around” and I have to say our experience lived up to the hype. I think we dealt with the owners and they were very friendly. The park appeared to be new and everything was well kept. We had full hookups and use of laundry and shower facilities. We only had a few hours to enjoy the town and I worked most of those, but my office view was pretty darn nice that day.
Willow Wind RV Park, Hurricane, UT
For our first week in the Zion area, we booked a full hookup site at Willow Wind RV Park in Hurricane. At just 24 miles from the gates of Zion National Park and 17 miles from St. George, this bustling desert town makes a great base camp for adventure. There are more trails in this area than we know what to do with and the area features all the shopping and conveniences we’ve missed since leaving home a month and a half ago (I’m most excited about Costco).
Willow Wind RV Park is the largest park we’ve visited. With 177 sites, this place seems massive. Yet the staff are all as nice as can be, especially the manager Judy. In addition to full hookups, the park has two shower and laundry facilities, super zippy WiFi and we even have cable television! Site size varies and we are pretty close to our neighbors, but other sites are more generously sized and the entire facility is immaculate. Each site has shade trees—no doubt a huge selling point during the hot summers.
Last winter, when we first started RVing with the boys, I joined a Facebook group dedicated to RVing with cats. I met a woman there who was also starting to RV in a motorhome with her husband and two cats. Being at roughly the same stage of RV life and sharing a passion for cats and the outdoors, we had a lot in common and hit it off quickly. After months of exchanging emails, we were finally able to meet in person. She and her husband booked a few nights at the same RV park and we made plans to hike in Zion together. As soon as we settled into our site, we went over and spent the afternoon with D&L and their two beautiful fur babies. D&L are a bit shy about names and photos on the internet. I can understand that and will not be sharing their full names, identifying photos, or any personal information. But I do want to talk about them in this blog post because we had a wonderful few days together and hope to meet up with them again later this winter!
East Canyon Wanderings, Zion National Park
After a cold start to the day, we enjoyed a beautiful late October day wandering around the east side of Zion National Park. Our friends D&L had never been there and it had been years since we last visited. We started the morning with a quick one mile round-trip hike up the Canyon Overlook Trail. Jason and I had done this hike years ago, but we didn’t mind doing it again. It is a must-do hike for anyone visiting Zion!
The trail starts just east of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel and ends at a jaw-dropping viewpoint overlooking the main canyon. The trail does a little climbing and follows over some uneven ground, so it may not be suited for all. We did have one skinny stretch of trail that was ice covered, but it was smooth sailing after that.
Next we went in search of a petroglyph panel I had heard of. It is in very good condition given it’s close proximity to a major highway through one of the country’s busiest national parks. While the panel’s location isn’t exactly a secret, it does require a little research and I think that’s a good thing. I won’t be publishing directions to the panel here, but friends are welcome to email me for details.
After locating the petroglyph panel, we wandered off trail and explored some beautiful slick rock areas. The colors and textures of the rock were stunning and we saw some nice fall colors in the canyon bottom. We also saw copious amounts of bighorn scat, not surprising after the images of bighorn we had seen in the rock art.
As we made our return hike, we were fortunate enough to see a herd of about 20 bighorn just off the highway. I kept a respectable distance satisfying myself with some memory shots; however, numerous tourists were closing in on the herd, pushing them as they tried to feed and rest. Please give these magnificent animals a respectable amount of space! This is their home, we are only visitors.
Middle Fork Taylor Creek, Kolob Canyons, Zion National Park
We enjoyed our East Zion wanderings with new friends D&L so much that we decided to spend a second day in the park together. I messaged my friend Yvonne who knows the park like the back of her hand. I told her we were looking for a quiet backcountry trail where we could enjoy a few fall colors and even fewer tourists. She suggested Taylor Creek in the Kolob Canyons area of the park. I was familiar with the trail and it’s destination Double Arch Alcove. Jason and I had never been to this part of the park and readily jumped on her suggestion.
Far removed from the crowds in Zion’s main canyon, Kolob Canyons is located off I-15. The area has its own visitor center and a five-mile scenic drive with stunning view points and a couple nice maintained trails. It receives a fraction of the visitation compared to the main canyon making it our kind of place. Our first order of business was to stop in at the visitor center. While there, I once again debated purchasing a National Park Passport. I have debated this purchase for roughly 30 years. Silly, I know.
What is a National Park Passport? At most of the 419 National Park units, visitors can have their passport stamped like you would a real passport when you travel to a foreign country. Each park unit has its own stamp (some parks, like Zion, have more than one). The program began in 1986, just a year before I first visited Zion and debated purchasing a book. I’d have a lot of cancellation stamps if I had purchased a book back then! Long story not-so-short, I finally purchased a passport. Jason rolled his eyes. Friends D&L were supportive since they had just made the same purchase.
After our trip to the Kolob Canyons Visitor Center, we made the short drive to the Taylor Creek Trailhead. With only one other car there, the trail was already providing the solitude we sought. Much of this trail lies in the Zion Wilderness—124,000 acres that were set aside in 2009 ensuring that 84% of the park “will remain wild and untrammeled for generations to come”.
From the trailhead, we quickly dropped down to Taylor Creek where we were surprised to find the small stream frozen over! The area had been having night time temperatures below freezing, but we didn’t expect to see all that ice. The trail crossed the creek many times, but we were almost always able to rock hop keeping our feet dry and warm. On the rare occasion we couldn’t rock hop, we were actually able to walk across the ice.
We encountered two historical cabins along the way. The Larson and Fife cabins were both built in the 1930’s, a couple decades before the Kolob Canyons area was added to Zion National Park. Both had stunning views of towering red rock cliffs.
Above the cabins, the scenery improved significantly as we entered one of the Kolob “finger” canyons. Tucupit Point towered to our left in the warm sunlight while shaded Paria Point rose sharply on the right. We continued along in the shade of the deep canyon and made many more icy crossings of Taylor Creek.
At approximately 2.25 miles, we came to the end of the maintained trail and magnificent Double Arch Alcove. Here the sandstone is undercut and water seeps down into a shallow pool. I had seen many photos of Double Arch and none of them conveyed its massive size and incredible beauty. It is simply one of those places you have to see to believe. If you are in the Zion area, don’t miss this hike. It is a wonderful reprieve from the hordes of tourists packing the main canyon.
After our Taylor Creek hike, we drove to the end of the highly scenic Kolob Canyons Road and did the short 1.0 mile round-trip hike along the Timber Creek Overlook Trail. This short hike gave us incredible views into the Kolob finger canyons. I highly recommend driving to the trailhead and taking in the view even if you don’t do the hike. The view from the parking lot was nearly as good as the overlook.
We were sad to see our time with friends D&L come to an end so soon. We really enjoyed their company and hope that we can meet up with them later this winter!
The Subway, Zion National Park
When I messaged our friend Yvonne to let her know we’d be in the Hurricane area for a week she replied, “I have an offer for you!” She had two extra permits to hike the Subway, one of the most beautiful and popular hikes in the Zion Wilderness. Due to it’s popularity, the National Park Service limits access to 80 people per day through a permit system. Yvonne had secured a block of permits for her and some professional photographer friends. She had a couple extra permits and offered for us to join. We had never been and I knew this was rated as a difficult hike. It would be great to have our own personal guide! Joining us for the hike were Amy, Nick, and Joe. Amy and Nick had been to the Subway numerous times, but Joe was doing it for the first time just like us.
There are a handful of ways to reach the Subway, a stunning stretch of the Left Fork of North Creek where the canyon walls constrict to form a passageway resembling a subway tunnel. Most routes are technical requiring rappelling and swimming in ice cold water. Fortunately, one non-technical route begins and ends at the Left Fork Trailhead off the Kolob Terrace Road. This is referred to as the “bottom-up” route. Although it doesn’t require technical skills, this is still rated as a strenuous hike over rugged terrain, including descending a steep slope, hiking through an ice cold obstacle-filled river, nearly continual navigation over boulders and sections of extremely slippery creek bottom. One guide I read rated this as an 8.0 mile hike. As with most hikes in Utah where you make continual river crossing, our mileage was higher. We totaled about 9.0 miles for the day. Yvonne was closer to 10.0 in her unofficial guide duties.
We departed the Left Fork Trailhead at 7:00 a.m. As we took our first steps Yvonne warned us, “this is going to be a full body workout!” She wasn’t kidding! It was still dark requiring us to negotiate a gradual descent over lava boulders with flashlights. As dawn broke, we had a 400′ descent over boulders and a recent rock slide to the bottom of the Left Fork of North Creek. The descent was never dangerous provided you kept an eye on your footing, but it required the use of hands at times and our knees took a pounding.
Once on the bank of the Left Fork, it was simply a matter of making our way up the creek. The primitive trail made countless stream crossings and required nearly constant boulder-hopping. Some boulders were large enough that a helping hand up from Joe, who was hiking in front of me, was much appreciated. There is no way to keep your feet dry on this hike. A couple members of our party had special water shoes and neoprene socks to help keep their feet warm. Accustomed to cold, wet feet with fly fishing, Jason and I were in our regular hiking boots and socks. Despite ice in the stream, we did fine but we did have some numb toes when the group made stops for photos.
After a couple hours of intense hiking up the canyon bottom, we came to several lovely cascades and two waterfalls. Our photographer friends got out their tripods and camera gear and set up shop for a lengthy photo shoot of both. The canyon bottom was still in full shade which made for great light. Before the hike, I decided not to take my good camera gear. I’d be just another camera and tripod jockeying for the perfect position and I didn’t want to get in the way of the professionals who are counting on these photos to make a living. Also, not knowing Amy, Joe, or Nick, I wasn’t sure how they would feel about an amateur in their way. In the end, all three were wonderful people and I know they wouldn’t have minded my presence. Still, I have no regrets that I just snapped some memory shots with my iPhone. It was enjoyable to sit on the shore and watch true professionals work their craft.
Above the waterfalls, we rounded a bend and found ourselves staring at the dramatic entrance to the Subway where the canyon walls come very close together and a large tunnel has been cut out by the flowing stream. We dropped our gear at the entrance and made our way up the tunnel. The moss covered stream bottom was very slick here and Jason and I both took minor tumbles into the ice cold water. The stream was not deep, but with icicles hanging on the Subway walls, it was cold! The tunnel portion was beautiful, but I was most fascinated by the deep emerald pools in the stream bottom. I had seen many photos of these, but none adequately showed the depth, color, and stunning beauty of the water.
While our hike to the Subway had been shady and cold, our hike out was gloriously warm in the afternoon sun. We stripped our wet layers and enjoyed a long break on a sunny beach in shorts and t-shirts before beginning the hike out. We ended the day with pizza and beer at River Rock Roasting Company in La Verkin with Yvonne, Joe, and Nick. We celebrated a successful day of hiking, photography, and the company of new friends. The following day, I was sore from the shoulders down. My quads screamed with every movement for two days. Jason and I agreed it was the most physically demanding day hike we had ever done, yet one of the most rewarding. Despite the pain, we are both ready to return. Perhaps we’ll go back during this visit…or perhaps it will be on another trip.
Where to Next?
We haven’t even scratched the surface of what Zion and the surrounding area have to offer for hiking. And we still have friends to see here. We won’t be leaving the area anytime soon. We’ll find a place to settle our home for a few more weeks and we’ll continue to explore until the weather pushes us further south. Stay tuned next week for more Zion area adventures!