We got started on our grand expedition 2 1/2 hours later than we had planned. I always know we’re going to be late, but I always imagine that I can work more diligently and make our departure in a timely manner. I am always wrong. Max was also suffering from a bit of a fever as we left and was having a hard time keeping his milk down, but we knew that as a nursing baby he would have all the comfort and nourishment he needed wherever I was so we did not change our plans. Additionally, we got caught in traffic due to an accident in the Las Vegas area, causing us to lose another hour in addition to the one lost in the time change to Mountain Daylight Time. We were getting out of Nevada as evening was beginning to set in. Almost instantly upon leaving Nevada, the scenery changed as we entered Color Country. The placid hills and stately plateaus bear the battle scars of the planet’s eons-old struggle with itself. One can plainly read the mineral-stained pages of Earth’s history book of geologic collisions; gashes slashed by the merciless and unrelenting flow of rivers; floods, winds and tides that have built the earth up layer by layer, only to tear it down again.
The view from our campsite of the surrounding cliff walls and cottonwoods
Pulling in to Zion National Park and taking in the beauty of the area relieved us of some of the stresses of the days activity and travel. The cliffs that surround the Watchman Campground, like nature-made Gothic spires encouraging the eyes ever upward toward the heavens, securely embrace the serene cottonwood groves that shade the campsites. We were greeted by a brief rain shower as we backed into our campsite, just enough to refresh and not enough to put a damper on our camp-building. The campground, indeed the entire park, was impeccably maintained. It was probably, all things considered, the best campsite we had during our twelve day trek. Unfortunately, the ground of our campsite was so hard that we could not drive our weak tent stakes into the ground, even when a helpful camp-neighbor lent us the use of their mallet. The Watchman Campground is just a short walk away from the town of Springdale that sits on the south border of the Park. The town has a market, a movie theater, a restaurant, and some other specialty and gift shops, so we were able to purchase stronger stakes and make our camp for the night.
Unfortunately, the difficulty with setting up the tent set us back even further on time. We decided we would go eat in town at the small brew pub only to discover they were just closing as it was already 10pm! Max had fallen asleep nursing as we walked into Springdale, so it was up to Jon to make dinner in the dark on the camp fire. This trip afforded him many opportunities to learn more about camping and I am sure he feels much more knowledgeable after his nearly two-weeks of gaining new skills. Thomas and Everett enjoyed “camp pizzas”, flat bread with pizza sauce and cheese grilled over the open fire, while Jon and I had fire-roasted hot dogs in baked beans. We all turned in shortly after dinner, taking a few moments to admire the stars, which appeared to shine bigger, brighter, and in greater quantity than at home in Los Angeles.
Thomas lost a tooth! Hope the tooth fairy can find her way to Zion!
The next morning we awoke and completed our regular routine of cooking, eating, washing dishes and grooming. Thomas lost one of his front teeth while eating his breakfast sausage and I took a few minutes to do some camp laundry with our plunger washer in a collapsible bucket. We prepared for the day by packing sandwiches and snacks and headed to the Visitor Center to obtain two Junior Ranger booklets for Thomas and Everett. The Junior Ranger programs were an excellent addition to each stop we made, allowing all of us an opportunity to learn more about the natural wonders around us. Thomas and Everett were eager to engage in the activities and we never had to worry that they were too burned out by months of schoolwork to be active and interested in the programs. Because we had to reschedule our dinosaur destination due to our late arrival, we knew we needed to plan our hours exploring Zion carefully so we could get back to St. George with enough time to enjoy our visit and without wearing the kids down.
Headed to the Visitor Center
To become Junior Rangers, Thomas and Everett needed to attend a ranger program. We were informed at the Visitor Center that a program would be taking place in 25 minutes at the Zion Museum of Human History. We were easily able to transport to the site using the convenient shuttle bus that runs through a portion of the canyon. For many years, the popular sites of Zion were seen by private car… thousands and thousands of private cars that caused traffic congestion and pollution of the natural environment within the Park. The shuttle now takes the place of those thousands of cars and is an easy and enjoyable way to get to the popular sites without having to get kids in and out of carseats multiple times. On the northbound shuttles, a pre-recorded audio guide gives information about the Park’s sites. We were even able to arrive at the Museum a few minutes early to learn a little bit about the humans that have inhabited the Zion area over the last several thousand years.
At a shuttle stop. The flag in the background highlighted the patriotic feelings stirred up by the beauty of our National Parks, Forests and Monuments
The layers of Zion’s geologic past are clearly seen in the stunning formations
The Ranger talk was led by a sweet young woman named Kim who had just recently come to Zion and was about the geology of the Zion area. This was a lucky turn for Thomas and Everett, because it meant there was some talk of fossils, dinosaurs and shifting landmasses. They got the opportunity to touch rocks from all the major eras of geologic development, including some dinosaur footprints. They both seemed truly engaged in the 25 minute talk and were eager to fill out their page about the talk in the Junior Ranger booklet. After a water break we hopped back on the shuttle and headed further up the canyon. At Zion Lodge, we stopped for a picnic lunch under the largest cottonwood tree in the expansive front lawn. Jon and I had our sandwiches and snacks while Thomas and Everett had cheese pizza, french fries and cookies from the cafe. Max was content to sample a bit from everyone. The lodge was a lovely spot and looked like it would be a pleasant place to stay while visiting the area.
A cave-like formation cut into the rock face along the Lower Emerald Pool trail
After filling our bellies, we started off on our hike to Lower Emerald Pool. The trail is paved and mostly level, so it made for an easy hike. In fact, the biggest challenge was simply to be repeatedly reminding the boys to share the path with all the other tourists. A short 1/2 mile hike along the Virgin River, in which we spotted a wild turkey, natural springs and many interesting rock features, brought us to the Lower Emerald Pool, so named for the brilliantly colored algae that grows in the waters. Two diminutive waterfalls sparkled over the top of the rock inlet, feeding a peaceful pool below. There was no access to the pool, but we got a pleasant shower as we passed under the falls. Geologically, the rock layer above is stronger than the layers below, so the these falls have been patiently carving out this oasis for eons. When the wind blew, the sprinkling cascades of water would bend in the breeze. As I observed the pool and the many human onlookers, I was suddenly struck with the sense that this was a sacred space. It was easy to image what it would have been to be among the first people who inhabited the area, and how it may have felt to trek to the pools and bathe, enjoying the spray from above and feeling grateful for the beauty and resources that the earth provided.
I couldn’t help but indulge in a little lens flare shot at the Lower Emerald Pool
Although the trail continued on to the Middle and Upper Emerald Pools, we turned back toward the trail head so we could enjoy some time splashing in the Virgin River before heading back in to St. George. The clear water of the river was cold at first, but soon felt refreshing and invigorating. The boys enjoyed navigating across the rocks and we spotted some horses taking drink downstream. I spotted a couple places that, with more time and more courage, would have been excellent for a full-body dip.
Despite being a little wet and muddy, we boarded the shuttle for a quiet ride back to the Visitor Center. We returned to camp, quickly changed our clothes and loaded into the car to head out of the Park. We were all excited to take in our first official dinosaur destination, and we passed the time by working on Junior Ranger booklets along the way so we were able to have them mostly completed by the time we returned back to camp in the evening.
For dinner, Jon and I enjoyed salmon and ears of corn roasted on the fire, a satisfying and delicious meal to cap off our busy and beautiful day of exploring. Thomas and Everett particularly enjoyed their frozen treats picked up at the Springdale market. After dinner, Jon got Thomas and Everett tucked into their sleeping bags and then we took a little time to enjoy some wine by the fire for our last night within the walls of Zion’s canyon.
Other posts in this series:
Dinosaur Discovery Site
Uintah-Wasatch-Cache National Forest
North American Museum of Ancient Life