Friday, October 5, 2018

Observation Point, Zion National Park, Utah, September 8, 2018

Hiked Saturday, September 8. Heavy rains in mid-July caused severe erosion on several roads and trails in Zion National Park. When I visited, the trail to Angel's Landing was closed. I hiked that trail last year, and also about 20 years previous, so I wasn't planning to do that one, anyway. However, what that meant was that anyone seeking a seriously long hike out of Zion Canyon was going to have to go up Observation Point. Additionally, the detour to Hidden Canyon was also closed. I'm pretty sure that meant much more people than usual heading up to Observation Point.
Not long after that long-ago trip up Angel's Landing, I had previously been up to Observation Point. But that was long before I had a digital camera. Not sure where my photos from that trip are, now. Nonetheless, having gotten up this morning and feeling up for a serious hike, I opted for Observation Point.

This was on a Saturday. I unexpectedly managed to get a campsite at Watchman just a few days in advanced, so it was somewhat spur of the moment. BTW, this stay was in the C-loop. Tents only. What I discovered there is that seemingly everyone in the tent area wants to burn a campfire so I was annoyingly over-smoked the night before. Also, everyone in a tent needs to use the restrooms, so those are almost always occupied. On my previous stay, I was in the A-loop, which permits both tents and campers/rvs. For an extra ten dollars, you get an electrical outlet (which I didn't really need, but which you might want to use to charge your phone or laptop) and a restroom that was little-used, because all the camper and RV people use their own restroom. I've decided it's probably worth the extra ten bucks to camp there.
So I woke up, ate breakfast, packed up the tent, and drove from my campsite to the day-parking area (because I was leaving after my hike). Then I took the mandatory shuttle bus from the visitor center to the Weeping Rock shuttle stop. From there, there are two trailheads. One is for the short trail to Weeping Rock, while the other is for the longer trail, to Observation Point. I took the latter.

This trail starts out steep, because you need to climb out of Zion Canyon. It's basically one switchback after another. You look up and seek these sheer red-washed rock cliffs, above you. I.'d estimate a mile or so of that, before you level off into a side slot canyon. Because you're heading up the east side of the Canyon, you'll be in shade in the morning, the whole way up.
The relatively level section seems way to short, but the slot canyon you're walking along is quite impressive. The views down into the Canyon are similarly impressive. There were scattered wildflowers along most of the trail so far, even in early September.
More climbing follows the slot canyon, but now you're walking over exposed granite. Then more switchbacks. This last slog is tougher, because now you're somewhat exposed to the south, and the sun's catching you. Later, you'll discover why you're so exposed: The trail is just blasted into the rock. No shade.

Finally, you level off, and it's a largely-flat, 3/4 of a mile or so. Again, outstanding, wide open views over the main Canyon, and also to the East, in spots. If you didn't already know, you'll discover yourself way above Angel's Landing, further down canyon.
The Park Service lists this trail as four miles long, with 2148 net feet of altitude gained. By contrast, Angel's Landing is said to be 5.4 miles and 1488 feet of altitude gained. Estimated hiking time is given as six hours for Observation Point, versus 4 hours for Angel's Landing.
Since I am not hiking as much as I have in the past, I found this hike more difficult than I remembered it, and I'm pretty sure the last time, we included a detour into Hidden Canyon, which was not possible, this time. Then again, I'm 20 years older!

I had semi-forgotten the slot canyons along the way to Observation Point, and that shaded section can be a welcome break, especially if you started late, or it's midsummer.

Made it back fine, and drove on down to the Las Vegas area. Easy 2 1/2 hours or so. Still, I'm looking forward to the scheduled opening of a couple of more truck stops between Saint George and the Mesquite area. As it is, if I take a restroom break in St. George, it's still a little long to drive all the way to Las Vegas without another stop. So I usually stop either at one of the casinos or at the kind-of-rundown-looking gas station near one of the easily-accessible casinos. I prefer the regular truck stops (Pilot and Flying J, in particular).

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