(This is a little late - we're backtracking to Zion and Great Basin)
We arrived at Zion National Park following a 1,300-mile drive from Austin, a stopover in Albuquerque, and a delicious order of sopapillas. Ryan had visited Zion in September 2011, but this was my first visit. As we entered the park we were immediately welcomed by the grandest orange and red rock mountains erupting out of the earth, topped off by a deep, cerulean blue sky. We quickly set up camp at the Watchman campground (named for the three peaks which preside over the valley), and joined the community camp fire.
We only had one full day at Zion so we had to choose our activities wisely. After some uncertainty, the chatty couple we met at the campfire convinced us to hike to Angel's Landing - which also happens to be one of the most iconic hikes in the National Park system. Angel's Landing is a steep four or five-miles ascending a mountain face, winding through a narrow canyon, and up a series of switchbacks so steep it looks like a staircase for a giant! At the top, hikers have the choice of waiting at Scout Lookout, or continuing the half mile (one-way) to Angel's Landing, the latter of which is not for the faint of heart. We hiked up the first chain-guided rock slab to a very daring lookout and took our time soaking in the grandiose views. Here, we also stopped to decide if continuing to Angel's Landing was a good idea.
Ryan, being the more practical, level-headed one of us opted to stay at the first lookout while I went ahead. I felt reasonably confident that I could do the hike sans backpack, so I did. Up and away I went, over exposed rock slabs, braving gusty winds, guided by a chain and steady feed towards Angel's Landing, some 1,488 feet above the canyon floor. Feel free to debate me on this, but the view from the top was underwhelming considering what it took to get there. But, life is a journey, not a destination - and the journey was worth every step! Anyway, before long I was back with my hubby, and we were back on solid ground.
Zion was unlike any place I had ever seen, and this was only a taste of what Utah's parks have to offer. Next up is Great Basin National Park in Nevada, then back to Utah for the remaining four parks.