Last night we crashed in Page, AZ after a full day in Zion. We loaded up the car, went to breakfast, and made it onto the trail by 8:30 a.m. For the next six and a half hours, I experienced some of the most breathtaking scenery I’ve ever seen.
The hike to Observation Point—eight strenuous miles, estimated to take five hours—kept us awe-struck at every turn. We were definitely among the first people on the trail, and the hike was tranquil and serene the entire way. Most of the canyon was still dark, as the sun wouldn’t hit this east side of the canyon wall until afternoon, and we watched the sun creep over the giant wall next to us and bathe the western canyon wall in sunlight and bright colors.
We turned deeper into the massive stone cliffs and found Echo Canyon, which certainly lived up to its name. The light hadn’t reached here yet either, but this space captivated us both. Icy puddles crowded the trail, and when we walked under one of the canyon’s covered archways we could see the narrow, curving crevasses below us. As with most trails in Zion, there were no guards or barriers preventing us from toppling over the edge and into the dark abyss, where we heard the gentle trickle of melting ice far below.
The accessibility of Zion is what makes it so entrancing and captivating. Sure, it’s a pretty massive canyon, and far larger than any rock formations we have in the midwest, but every inch of it can be felt, explored, hiked, and navigated. Perhaps that’s a gross over-exaggeration, but it feels that way. In our short time there, we experienced so many different vistas and terrains in the park that it felt like it was wholly ours to enjoy. Maybe that’s because the crowds were so minimal. Maybe it’s because, unlike the Grand Canyon (where we are now), I can take in the whole span of the canyon at one time. It is all right there at my fingertips, yearning to be explored and yet standing solitary with little or no regard for the minuscule humans wandering about. Zion is truly peaceful and absolute.
As we climbed higher and higher to Observation Point, I had a few nervous moments along a set of steep switchbacks carve into the side of a rock face, but generally speaking I fared better emotionally this time. The sunshine was soaking into our skin now, both of us in short-sleeves and sweating considerable, but we didn’t care. Mentally, physically, and deep in our souls, we were in a state of pure exhilaration. Even though my legs hurt and the heights were freaking me out a bit, I found that my most prominent feeling was bliss.
At last we reached the snow-dusted top of the canyon, and I literally mean the TOP. Sam speculated about where Observation Point was located, but each time he pointed it out, I thought, There’s no way we still have to go that far. But he was right. When we stomped through some red mud to the edge of the cliff, the entire breadth of the canyon lay out in front of us. I was, naturally, a little dizzied by the steep drop-off on three sides of us (did I mention no safety barriers?) my mind and heart were too entranced by the beauty and serenity of Zion to be frightened. I know people say this all the time, but if I took my last breath at the top of Observation Point, I would’ve died a truly happy, grateful, and inspired person.
The hike down was a lot faster and easier, mostly because it was all downhill and we took so many photos on the way up, but I was still amazed by how much more of the trail was saturated in sunlight now. The changing faces of Zion’s walls keep its spirit alive and its allure unending. Many people were heading up as we hiked down, and I was proud of us for getting up early so we could have so much privacy and intimate time with this place without anyone else around.
We drove to Page after another quick hike or two in Zion—Hidden Canyon and the river walk to the Narrows—and proceeded to essentially crash. One hot tub, one jacuzzi, a takeout pizza, and quick stop for groceries took the last of my energy and I was asleep before 10:30 p.m. After a solid night’s sleep and uneventful breakfast, we meandered into the building for Ken’s Lower Antelope Canyon Tours a mere five minutes before the next tour departed.
There really isn’t a way to describe Lower Antelope Canyon other than sacred. The Navajo Indians recognized this centuries ago, but it wasn’t until I stepped foot inside the cavernous abyss for myself that I knew why. Gorgeous curving sandstone walls engulfed our tiny tour group, in some spaces only allowing room for one foot to step between its two sides as we wiggled thru single-file. An ethereal orange glow flooded the space, filtering down in exquisite sunbeams in a few spots, creating a sense of warmth in the cool cavern. Every turn, every crook, every moment felt like magic. I tried to keep myself from taking so many photos and videos, but I couldn’t contain my awe. Even though photos don’t do this place justice, it’s impossible to fight the urge encouraging me to capture its beauty. I never want to forget what it felt like to be cradled in its sandstone embrace, surrounding me with its tranquil, wave-like walls. We were nervous about spending so much money for such a short tour, but it was well worth the price and I hope to see this remarkable place again someday.
Compared with everything that’s happened in the last 36 hours, the last six or seven hours have been pretty dull. Sam was a champ and drove the three hours to the Grand Canyon (with a few random pit stops and scenic overlooks). This landscape is so far removed from my comfort zone and sense of familiarity. Even though we’ve done a lot of driving thru Arizona and Utah the past few days I still find myself marveling at how diverse this planet is, even just a few hundred miles from my home. It’s nice to still be entranced and captivated by the sweeping expanses of desert. Wide, clear skies and thistle-dotted, arid, rocky lands don’t seem lifeless or abandoned, but rather infinite and undisturbed, persevering through thousands of years as its done for so long.
The earth I know feels young. Cities, lakes, and even the tallest trees I saw growing up in northern Michigan feel like children compared to these deep canyons and unforgiving cliffs of ancient sandstone and limestone. Being in the presence of something that’s two million years old humbles my youthful vigor but also makes me appreciate the energetic spring in my step and hungry, watchful eyes. I am a naïve explorer, learning from the wisdom and age of this remarkable place, and I will never stop absorbing all the wonders this place can share.