Well, after Day 1, we were understandably exhausted! With our newly-learned lesson to get to the park earlier to snag parking and beat crowds, we originally planned to tackle a strenuous hike like Angels Landing in the morning of Day 2.
But when we woke up in the morning we were still really tired and I could tell I wasn’t much recovered from Day 1. We decided that it probably wasn’t good to do a strenuous hike – let alone one that is scary as hell – while tired and sore, so we changed our plan and decided to take a “recovery day”: an easier hike in the morning, and staying off our feet in the afternoon by maybe checking out the nature center and going through a scenic drive in the park.
So today we opted for a much less strenuous but still classic Zion hike: the Emerald Pools Trails. The trails take hikers past a series of pools formed by streams that flow down the cliff: the Lower Pools at the bottom of the canyon, the Middle Pools 100 feet up which create a waterfall that flows back down in the the Lower Pools, and finally the Upper Pools 300 feet up in the canyon.
Normally, one accesses all the pools via the Lower Emerald Pools Trail, but it was closed due to rock erosion, so we had to go further up to the canyon to the trail head for the Kayenta Trail, a connector trail that would take us to the middle and upper pools.
The round-trip hike would be roughly 3 miles, and we were actually seeing it at a great time of year because the spring runoff would produce plenty of stream for the pools and the waterfalls (which makes it even more unfortunate we couldn’t hike the Lower Pools trail, since we’d get to hike under the waterfalls produced by the middle pools!). If we were to go in the summer, the waterfalls and streams would barely be a trickle!
From our first steps onto the Kayenta Trail, I instantly loved it. The air was still crisp and cool, the morning sun light on the canyon walls, and the red sandy trail a pretty visual contrast with the emerging greenery on the cliff side.
A “lower-middle” pool”:
Our first major stop was actually the Upper Emerald Pool. Look at that waterfall!:
If you look very closely in the photo below, toward the bottom where the waterfall turns to mist at the red rocks below, it’s very faint but there is a rainbow!:
A short hike down and we arrive at the Middle Emerald Pool:
Streams from the Middle Pools flow over the cliff side, creating a waterfall into the Lower Pools which we unfortunately weren’t able to see due to the trail closure. The cliff drop offs actually look much less severe in this photo than they are in person, and going out onto these ledges is extremely dangerous due to the deceptively slippery rock (people have died doing so). Visitors must stay on the trail behind the chains:
And here, from the view down below, is that same stream flowing 100 feet down the rock face as a waterfall!:
The Middle Pools were our last stop, and then it was time to turn around and hike back down:
With our one hike for the day done and midday approaching, we decided to eat our lunch while checking out the Zion Human History Museum. The museum had a lot of cool exhibits about the Native American tribes who once inhabited this land, the early explorers who then discovered it and lobbied to make it a national monument and then a officially a national park in 1919, and the Civilian Conservation Corps’ work in creating many of the trails here – including chiseling out that tunnel on the Zion-Mt Carmel highway!
The museum’s backyard also treated us to this stunning view of the canyon:
Did you know that the early settlers and explorers were so inspired by these and other towering peaks of Zion, that they gave them names? The high flat-looking one on the left is the West Temple; the whitish one toward the middle is The Sundial (named thus because of the way it catches the morning light); and the one in the middle-right is the Altar of Sacrifice, distinguishable by the “blood streaks” coming down it.
After the museum, we went to get our car and decided to see more of the park with a scenic drive. We took the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway out east, through the tunnel, like we did on Day 1 to get to the Canyon Overlook Trailhead. But instead of stopping there we kept following the road 11 more miles all the way out to the park’s east entrance.
This scenic drive, complete with several pull-over spots along the road for sightseeing opportunities, treated us to some stunning views of the park’s high desert. The wavy sandstone formations and weathered mesas in various reddish-gold hues were quite a contrast from the scenery down in the main canyon!
This big guy in the photo below is a landmark called the Checkerboard Mesa. You can very slightly see the horizontal and vertical lines in the sandstone. Those were created in two different ways: the horizontal lines were created by sediment being blown through the rock by very high winds; the vertical lines are cracks from years of weathering (freezing/thawing, etc).
Even with the occasional car whizzing by, it was so quiet out in the desert! Like, extreme quiet. Kevin said he loved it out in the desert because it was spiritual. I was kind of uncomfortable out there, actually: so alone and small in the vast harshness of the landscape.
But isn’t that exactly what it is to be spiritual? A deep, cosmic discomfort from feeling engulfed by something so much greater than you? I guess the desert is pretty spiritual after all.
All in all, it was a great day, and I’m glad I got to see more of Zion’s diversity and natural beauty beyond the walls of the main canyon.