A few months prior to our trip, we were able to reserve a good riverfront campsite in the Watchman Campground. With a good mix of shade and sun, and the river a few feet away it was ideal.
When we made the backcountry reservation, the water level was very high, and the ranger expected it to continue that way for a couple of months due to high winter snowfall in the mountains. You can see from the picture that it's flowing pretty strong, and is a couple of feet higher than usual for the time of year. It makes for a nice backdrop of sight and sound to the campsite though!
Our plan for Zion was to get going up and out of the valley early in the day, and enjoy the higher altitudes of the West Rim trail. We would follow the Angel's Landing trail up to Scout Lookout, and then branch off for the rim.Our backcountry permit had us staying that night at campsite 4 which we had read was a pretty good one. Camping there, we could get a good view of the west canyons, and then do a clockwise circle north and then along Telephone Canyon to get back to Scout Lookout. Then we could do a hike to Angel's Landing on the return leg down into the valley.
Going up Walter's Wiggles on the way to Scout Lookout and Angel's Landing
The Campsite Reservation Story
When the window for online reservations opens up, after a second by second countdown, it's a matter of moments to know success or failure whether you've got your reservation, so it's always a good idea to have two people separately on-line booking two alternatives. Jackie and I both logged on, each gunning for a different site in case one was booked. It turned out we were successful for both, so I called in to the backcountry office to cancel the reservation for site number 2. From the short comments I'd seen, people thought that site 4 was great, and site 2 mediocre.
Well, camp 4 is a big site, and you do get a vista, so it's pretty good. Just make damn sure that nothing comes loose and gets blown away. I can just imagine watching sweaters or tents wafting up into the breeze and jettting a way. When we finaslly got there, the wind was pretty brisk, and no second chances running to catch something!
Newly arrived at Scout Lookout. Straight ahead for Angel's Landing. The West Rim Trail starts just behind us.
Getting started on the West Rim Trail out of Scout Lookout, we met an ardent hiking couple who had come in from the northern end and were heading down into the valley to finish off their hike. Carmen had hiked here before, being from Utah, while it was Ying's first time, coming from Pennsylvania!
The trail takes us over slickrock and then slowly descends, going left of the falls and then starting to climb on hard-won switchbacks cut into the rockface. Can you see me slowly coming up the trail?
Halfway up the switchbacks to the top of the west rim, there's this little picture frame pocket of greenery set into the rockface.
Glad to be at the top amidst perfect weather and clear views.
Taking a first look around, it's pretty obvious that whole top section has been sculptured by lighting countless times. Everywhere there are blackened masts still standing, and sections on the ground with black charcoal all down one side and none on the other.
In many places there are burned out stumps still anchored in the dirt, sitting in the middle of a small crater. All around are broken chunks of rock. At first we thought the rock bits were exposed when the trees toppled and the roots pulled up out of the soil. But no...
Lots of stumps are still standing upright, and there are pieces of fractured rock everywhere. Probably, the lightning bolts coming down the tree trunk vaporized the water in the rock and exploded them...kind of like what happens when you put a wet rock in a campfire ring...
A Great Grey Owl watching over the Land
A couple more switchbacks and we're at the top, and into grasses and dusty trails instead of rock and gravel.
After a few minutes, we're at the fork in the road, but wait, Telephone Canyon off to the right is closed due to treefall. The guy and gal we met earlier tried bushwacking through it anyway, and it sounded not-too-good. Not being able to do a loop and come back that way meant we could spend more time at camp the next morning, and just take our time retracing our trail steps along the West Rim. It would give us more time in the morning as well.
Very near the trail junction is the pathway to Jail Spring. It's the only easy source of water from here on out, so time to pump water.
Right now it's basically a mud puddle with 4 inches of water AND a resident Frog and Butterfy.
Thank goodness we had a good filter, and then Chlorine Dioxide 2-part solution for Crypto and Giardia. For the added insurance of purified water and not just filtered water, 30 minutes waiting time before drinking is an easy decision!
Rodent Winter Earthworks
After a cool and windy night, the morning broke with sun and beautiful views
After a great breakfast and coffee, we headed down the trail, under warm temperatures and a light breeze. It's easy doing trail miles early in the day going downhill.
There's a long section at the top where it's thick scrub both sides of the trail for a couple of miles. We get a visit from a deer hoping to use the trail as well. Then we come across a mystery: a set of old 45 gallon drums off in the bushes, some of them full of old ropes. Probably they were left here long time ago by the trail builders who cut trees for steps and winched trees and some large rocks out of the way...
After a lengthy chat it was off down the switchbacks. Once again, lots of work was done years ago by the trailbuilders.
After a leisurely hour or two we've descended out of the switchbacks, passed the waterfall down to the lowest part of the trail, and begin climbing back up toward Scout Lookout on the Canyon rim.
The trails are pretty smooth here. They've also been here along time: take a look at the tree roots that have snaked along the wall...
The trail is pretty well marked, but always having a map is always essential in the backcountry...
A spectacular view from our campsite
Back near the trail junction with Telephone Canyon, we've just pumped water at the spring for the hike down, and we meet two very active hikers. John and Karin Vendervelde from Jackson Mississippi had come in at the northern end and stayed at Camp 2 last night. We had a good chat about how our reservations worked out, and here we are meeting the people who were able to use the site we didn't need!
Near the switchback bottom, we meet up with two more active hikers. Fred and Ashley are out west celebrating her graduation from business school in Boston, and are having a great time.
A trip up to Angel's Landing
Now we can go up the chains. Good weather and lots of time.
It's a also a chance to test out my GoPro 3D camera on steep trails. Maybe the 3D effect will work, but maybe it'll be a bit too wobbly as I move side to side walking and grabbing at handholds...
The hikers stop in a convenient shady cave for lunch and a drink before finishing their trek back to Scout Lookout.
For more pictures and trip report on an earlier Angel's Landing hike, go to
Where there are chains, they are there for good reason. Other places don't need chains because you're a foot or two from the edge...
Can you see the road and the parking lot down below?
Now we're back down at the bottom and ready for good food,wine and beer. The place to go is the Flying Money in Springdale.... just outside the park gate. They make excellent vegetarian pizza and it even has fresh fennel shoots to spice it up.
Even though it's June, the water level in the Narrows is high, and no chance of hiking there for weeks at best. It makes a nice walk to the entrance though, so we take a stroll.
A local poses for handouts at the perfect spot.
Meanwhile Ranger Sonja Hartmann draws people in with photos and stories about the local birds, animals and shrubs during a Riverwalk Talk.
The National Park Service Rangers like to get out there meeting and engaging people. Young kids stare at the rangers with big eyes and listen to every word.
Many times you hear them saying "I wanna be a Ranger when I grow up Dad!"
Through the summer season, Zion National Park runs an Evening Program, and they have the ideal little outdoor theatre to do it. Sometimes it's movies but this time it's with slides and stories about storms, lightning and mainly forest fires.
At the beginning, fires were seem as something to be put out immediately, but later it was learned that they often provide a critical function - they clear out scrub and deadwood, leaving larger trees to continue growing. If the scrub builds up too much, then when a fire occurs, it's big and hot enough to burn all the trees.
Actually, in the case of Giant Sequoias, they need the heat of a fire to open the cones for the next generation. With bark full of tannin and up to two feet thick, they usually survive huge fires.
The Ranger talks about manmade causes of fire, and opens a story about the Park Service's most successful advertising campaign EVER.
It started with a small animal badly injured in a forest fire, and thereby became an icon of awareness.
It's main character has been known for decades by millions of people worldwide, especially children : the story is about Smokey the Bear.
Sometimes you just know that something is working well. This time, it's the presentation. Nobdoy gets up and wanders off as the clock hands spin. At the end, around 10 p.m it's pretty obvious people were glad they came.
When it's finally time to pull up stakes and move on towards the Grand Canyon, we get going early. On the way out of the park, a squirrel is having a morning breakfast, thanks to a lazy camper. Meanwhile, a biker from Alberta is taking a break from his bike parked near the Visitor Center.
Our last stop in the park proper is to visit a Sun Dagger Petroglyph, as hort walk off the road.
While having a short rest at Scout Lookout, we met Richard Grossen, an avid hiker himself, out hiking with family members. We had a great chat, as photography is also a common interest. Notice the 3D GoPro camera he's wearing. It's just like the one we're using on this trip.
In fact, Richard has posted some of his movies on youtube, and here they are: