Zion National Park is only a 3-hour drive from Las Vegas, Nevada, and provides stunning landscape views of deeply layered pink and red sandstone, carved over 150 millions of years by the Virgin River. Zion forms a vertical desert, with blankets of vegetation tracing up the edges of sun-exposed cliffs.
"I woke to a deer in our camp this morning."
-- Trip Diary, Zion.
Perhaps the most stunning views of the canyon can be found at the summit of Angel’s Landing, a 5.4 mile, 4-hour round trip nearly straight up and along the narrow ridge of a sandstone cliff that provides views straight through the canyon without any significant obstructions.
Obtuse mounds of striped red,
a vertical desert looms.
After aleady visiting the Emerald Pools, and taking our lunch in The Grotto, we set our sights high above us on Angel’s Landing, also known as the Temple of Aeolus, an enormous rock formation that towered over us while we finished our sandwiches and questioned our sanity. We had been hearing how strenuous this trail was, especially the last half mile, which requires careful footing and a strong grasp on the single chain that provides some support to keep you from falling thousands of feet to the canyon floor.
Needless to say, we were determined to do and see as much as possible. We embarked on the trail, rising higher above the canyon floor and alongside the western cliffs.
The trail stretches up 1,488 feet over 2+ miles, briefly offering some shade between cliffs before reaching Walter’s Wiggles, a set of steep switchbacks that climb to Scout Lookout.
Scout Lookout is the last point of relaxation before the trail gets too risky to pause. Here, you can sit and take lunch, take photos of either side of Angel's Landing, and chat with other hikers.
We found several hikers too afraid of heights to continue to the summit, and for a moment, we considered our options. Sunset was closing in, and this was the final of several trails we had already hiked that day. We were concerned the wind might pick up, and that we would lose light too quickly to find safe footing on the way down the path.
Instead of playing it safe, however, we scooped our guts off the trail and placed one foot in front of— or above— the other, as we moved forward with extreme care.
Over the next half mile, one hand crossed over the other, each with a tight death grip on the metal chain that provided guidance and support up the cliff’s ridge. Looking down on either side of your feet meant looking down thousands of feet below to the shuttle buses, each carrying dozens of people, looking like tiny ants crawling along the edges of the Virgin River.
Moving past Scout Lookout replaced the paved and compact dirt trails we had been hiking on with layers of sandstone slab. These layers— porous, soft-edged and rounded by time— formed the stepping stones to our destination at Angel’s Landing.
The mental challenge of climbing Angel’s Landing is much more difficult than the physical one. The steep edges and narrowness of the path activate your primal instincts as you solve the riddle of moving forward on this terrain that, by all logic, seems too risky.
At some points, continuing on the trail requires the ability to physically climb (using all 4 limbs) up a scramble of rocks and trees, and it is absolutely necessary to retain Total Awareness while climbing this section of the trail. A careless move, or a twisted ankle, could have devastating results.
Thankfully, my endurance and physically abilities weren’t at all in question: I am an experienced recreational hiker, and in peak shape!
Instead, my adrenaline was pumping from having to remain constantly alert to my footing, my grip of the chain, and my deep respect for the landscape, both in its danger, and in its beauty.
I often found myself alternating between holding my breath, and taking long, slow, deep breaths— releasing the build up of stress with every exhale. Climbing this incredible trail inspired within me an impromptu Tadasana (Mountain Pose), and when we finally summited the ridge, I took a few moments to sit, gaze, and breath in the depths of these mountains.
It took 150 million years to scar the mesa into Mukuntuweap, meaning “Straight Canyon” in Paiute. I was going to appreciate it as best as I could.
As we reached Angel’s Landing, the setting sun was casting a brilliant pink glow on the eastern edges of the canyon, and the zig-zagging shadows caused a deep contrast on the rest of the park.
Eventually, it was time for us to head back down the trail, hoping to beat the sun from leaving the top of the ridge.
Going down what we had just climbed up was tedious at best, but once our feet touched Scout Lookout we were ready to coast down the trail back to The Grotto.
Looking up at Angel's Landing from The Grotto.
Once back on the canyon floor, we looked up to where we had just been, now in twilight’s shadow. Angel’s Landing, a strenuous but exhilarating hike, is a true monument of Zion, and a testament to the infallibility of the human spirit to explore every corner of this planet.
We spent the next hour or so taking photos in the falling light, taking the shuttle back to camp, and snuggling into the 2nd night of our honeymoon in our roof top tent!
Zion is part of the Colorado Plateau Dark Skies Cooperative, aiming to preserve the starry nights for everyone's enjoyment.
Thanks to a skylight in the tent, we were able to spend our evening gazing at the stars while lying inside, comfortably searching for shooting stars until we couldn't keep our eyes open any longer.
There is nothing quite like the stars in the desert sky!
This brief stay in Zion offered us a glimpse into the beauty this National Park has to offer! I am anxious to return and spend more time exploring the canyons and The Narrows, absorbing the landscape into my memory to inspire more works of art.