Grrrls in Zion

27 09 2014

emerald pools hike trio

About a year ago, Bethany & I were returning from our annual trip to Utah, where we had another whirlwind hiking tour with her dad. I was sharing photos of our 10 mile hikes with my mom and brothers, as we excitedly shared stories of the beauty we saw, and how we stopped in 4 national parks in 3 days. My mom said, “Well next time you girls go out west, I want to go.” I smiled, and said, “Sure!”


I was excited at the prospect of taking a ‘girls vacation’ with my mom and my wife. Our relationship has come a long way since I came out 5 years ago, and I loved the idea of bonding over a week of hard hikes and amazing scenery. Mom’s xmas gift was a plane ticket to join us for a fall trip out west, and we asked her what she wanted to see. We determined that we would fly into Vegas, then rent a car and drive a massive loop around the Grand Canyon, through Utah, Arizona, and Nevada. The hikes were going to be strenuous, and my mom took her training seriously over the summer, getting out walking 4-5 days a week to build up her stamina. She even started taking my brother with her and pushing him in his wheelchair for 3 miles. She was focused on her goal to get in shape and keep up with us ‘girls.’


observation cliff lumber

When we arrived, we drove to Zion National Park in southern Utah, then Page, AZ to see Antelope Canyon, do a drive by on the Grand Canyon at sunset (cuz, when you’re that close, how can you NOT stop by to see it??).Our trip culminated in a little known, hard to reach place called Havasu Falls (more on that later).


We arrived at Zion National Park mid-afternoon on a Sunday. It was Labor Day weekend, the last big hurrah before the kids all go back to school and summer is officially over. We weren’t sure how busy the park would be, considering, but hoped that it would taper off sharply on Monday.


We checked into our motel, then promptly headed in to the park. We emerald pools reflectionwanted to get my mom oriented, and discuss our plan for the next couple of days there. We also needed to check on the forecast for flash floods, to be sure that it was possible to hike the Narrows. All looked good, so we decided to get on the park shuttle and ride out to do an easy acclimation hike. But first, we bought my mom a pair of hiking poles at the park gift shop. Bethany and I had bought ours here a few years ago, and they were such a great buy, we waited to get my mom some here too. I adjusted the height on her collapsible poles to fit (which is easy, since we’re the same height), and off we went to test them out!emerald pools b mom


The first time I was here, we did Emerald Pools, but I only got to see the lower pool, as the trail to the upper was blocked off due to damage. I thought this would be a great hike for my mom to test her poles. Much like my first visit, the trickle of water was pretty small, and it was late enough in the day that the low volume of water in the pool appeared more murky than emerald colored, but it was still an enjoyable hike. We were able to keep going to the upper pools, and by the time we got to the top, my mom was starting to question how much further we had to slog uphill in the loose sand. I gave Bethany a look that said, “Uh-oh. I hope she can handle tomorrow!”emerald pools2


As we continued on, Bethany & I discussed strategy for our next hikes. I had never done Observation Point, which is the greatest ascent in the park. By the time you get to the top, you’ve climbed 2,000 feet, and risen to a point overlooking Angel’s Landing (which, by the way, is THE best hike I have ever done!). The other hike on our to-do list was the Narrows, a lovely hike up the river, in and out of the water. We decided that the Narrows was likely to be much more crowded with tourists, so we opted to save that as a recovery hike for the day after the holiday, and confirmed our decision to hike to Observation Point the next morning. My mom agreed with our logic, though she really had no clue what she was in for.


observation trailObservation Point starts out alongside the Weeping Rock and Hidden Canyon trailheads. It ascends pretty quickly on a zig-zag trail, winding up the cliff with numerous points to look back at the open canyon. My mom did pretty well, though there were points where she paused to catch her breath, and could only rest if her back was against the cliff, for fear of the path crumbling away at the edge. Her fear of heights meant that this was a much harder hike for her than us. She could not help but grip her hiking poles with tight fingers, while her shoulders tensed up beneath her backpack. Being scared means your muscles are tight, and she exerted more energy with every step.


observation water 1The trail got better, diving into a slot canyon, where we were safely between two cliffs, before starting up another cliffside. It was hot- 97 degrees by the end- though still pretty good for that time of year. We stopped often on the way up, but it was difficult to find a spot comfortable enough for my mom to actually rest. We hiked up for 3 hours, covering 4 miles to the top. Bethany and I both had to stop at various points to scout out a decent spot to get rid of the water we had been drinking (a good sign we were staying hydrated). My mom looked at us like we were ‘wild’ because we peed in the brush on a side of a cliff. We did pack TP for her, just in case.


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By the time we got to the top, we were all ready for a break, and lunch! Bethany and I sat in the prairie with my mom to eat, out of sight of the breathtaking views, so she could relax. Then we left my mom on her rock in the brush and ventured out to enjoy the reason we were there. I sat down on the edge of the cliff, my legs dangling  above soaring birds below. It was AMAZING. I could see the entire canyon of Zion- the winding river, the tiny specks that were shuttle buses below. I relished in using my new camera lenses to capture it all. The telephoto lens let me see the tiny people clinging to the chains along Angel’s Landing, while my new wide angle lense allowed me to photograph the entire vista in one fell swoop. I felt like I was in heaven.


I could have sat there for hours, just listening to the high desert winds, watching the utter stillness of the valley. Bethany and I share this appreciation for nature. Of course, much like when we hike with her dad, hiking with my mom meant that we had to keep moving. We said goodbye to our view, and turned around to head back down. Another two hours and 4 miles later, we had safely returned my mom’s feet to the canyon floor, and she breathed a big sigh of relief. “I could never have done that hike 20 years ago,” she shared, and I think she was glad she did it (though she was more glad to be done).



10646804_709296359152991_5079882996933369753_nMy mom’s reward for doing Observation Point with us was up next. Well, after we drank wine by the motel pool that evening. Tuesday morning we tried to sleep in, knowing that the water in the river would be cold and unpleasant if we headed out too early in the morning. My mom and I left Bethany sleeping and went across the road to a little coffee shop to buy coffee, chai, and homemade blueberry scones. The chai was real chai, and I could taste the individual spices carefully blended together with rich almond milk. Such simple pleasures!


Back at the room, we carefully selected what was coming with us on the river hike. Layers of clothing to be peeled off, waterproof bags for my nice camera gear. Last time I had hiked the narrows, I didn’t know what to expect, so I only brought Bethany’s iphone in its brand new waterproof case. I saw others with their SLR cameras, realized how low the water levels were, and regretted not getting better photographs. This time, I was prepared for anything!10593187_709756639106963_3842958024810662791_n


The Narrows hike did not disappoint. My mom had a smile on her face the instant we started hiking in the water, when 80% of the other hikers turned back. Water was even lower because it was September, which was just fine by me. Inside the narrow walls of the canyon, it is shady most of the time. While hiking in and out of the water constantly, it’s surprisingly easy to get a chill at 10am, despite the fact that the high still reached 98 degrees later that day! “Yesterday’s hike was nice, “ my mom politely shared, “but THIS is perfect! This is why I came here.”

My favorite part was when my mom saw a little niche carved out of the the rock wall, and started to hike through the water to climb up in it. As soon as she realized how deep the water was getting, she called out to me, “Hey Kelly, go climb in that carve-out so I can take your picture.” She thought she was being smart! As walking became wading, waist-deep in the cold waters, I took a deep breathe. I got to the wall, and started to climb up. I couldn’t. It was above my shoulders and I had nothing to step on to climb up out of the water. “I can’t get up there,” I called back, “you’ll have to come give me a leg up!” So, she waded out with me, and together we laughed and splashed until I finally managed to get up to her photo op, and then I jumped back down into the water to return. My mom and I were laughing and smiling ear to ear, while Bethany just stood in ankle deep water documenting everything.


What a great last day in Zion! Next up? Antelope Canyon and Havasu Falls! (More to come next time)

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