Zion National Park: Angels Landing

“The mountains are calling and I must go.” John Muir

Angels Landing hike is in Zion National Park, Utah. It’s billed as one of the top two attractions in the park – and I’m not arguing, because it was the most spectacular hike that I did on my recent trip to the US.

The trail begins at the Grotto, meandering alongside the Virgin River in lower Zion Canyon. But it doesn’t stay flat for long, gradually getting steeper and steeper. This is a strenuous hike (5m/8km return) and, in summer, it’s likely to be hot. We were lucky to get started by 9am, which meant the trail was partially shaded on the way up. But, by the time we headed back down, the trail was completely exposed to the sun (and the 40-degrees-Celsius heat).

After about half an hour of walking, the cliffs loomed above us, seemingly impassable, but we could see people dotted along the trail. It’s truly remarkable that the National Parks Service were able to build a trail on these cliffs.

We followed a series of steep switchbacks and it was equally incredible looking up at the trail ahead or back down along the path we’d followed. Vertigo anyone! The view into lower Zion Canyon was also worth pausing for, and a chance to catch a breath.

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Zion National Park: Emerald Pools

“All this is the music of waters.” John Wesley Powell, 1895

Zion National Park is stunning. Towering mountains rise majestically to the sky. The sculptured cliffs are multi-coloured; formed over many thousands of years by layers of mud, lime, sand and ash. It’s a desert landscape, but the canyon has been shaped by the Virgin River that winds its way through the valley. Of all the national parks I’ve visited in the US, this is my favourite. I was awestruck, just like the Morman pioneers and an early Methodist minister who gave some of the peaks biblical names – Angels Landing, the Great White Throne and The Three Patriarchs.

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Antelope Canyon: a work of art

“The Navajo name for Upper Antelope Canyon means ‘the place where the water takes a picture of itself.'” Antelope Canyon Navajo Tours

Antelope Canyon is on Navajo land near Page, Arizona, and is one of the most-photographed slot canyons in the American Southwest. It was formed over hundreds of years; the narrow fissures carved into sandstone by wind and water erosion. The only way to visit is by guided tour, largely because it’s part of the Navajo Tribal Park, but also because the area is prone to flash floods (as recently as three weeks prior to my visit).

What can I say about Antelope Canyon? It’s a natural work of art – the shapes in the canyon walls; the palette of colour and texture on the rocks; the narrow winding passageways; and the light streaming through the gaps from above. It truly was a wonderful experience descending into this stunning slot canyon and spending an hour with our young brimming-with-enthusiasm Navajo guide.

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The Grouse Grind: dangerous hike or Sunday afternoon stroll?

“Personally, I’ve never been attracted to danger. It’s not my sort of thing. I am more attracted to pubs and cafes. The known, safe and comfortable world.” Bill Bryson

One of the first things I wanted to do when I arrived in Vancouver this year was hike the Grouse Grind. But my brother, Ross, who I was visiting, cautioned me. Apparently, Outside magazine had named it as one of the world’s most dangerous hikes. Did I really want to risk it?

Of course, Ross was joking. He handed me an article from The Vancouver Sun, which basically labelled the Outside article as ludicrous and included some humorous comments from locals:

“In response to the Grind being called dangerous, Gary Ross tweeted “Blindfolded maybe”. And on Facebook, Eric Tran wrote: “There’s an effing chalet at the top with cold beer, and a gondola ride down.” Comedian and blogger Torben Rolfsen, writing on The Province website, joked that “dangers include spilling one’s latte, not bringing enough money for beer at the top, and having to call the North Shore Rescue helicopter if the gondola breaks down.”

To read the full article click here.

The truth is the hike is somewhere in between. It’s definitely a challenge. In less than three kilometres, the trail climbs more than 850 metres, and its nickname is “mother nature’s stairmaster”. You also don’t see many people chatting and laughing near the top; because it is a grind to get to the finish. But dangerous? I think not.

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San Francisco: a bike ride and a little yacht race!

“You wouldn’t think such a place as San Francisco could exist. The wonderful sunlight there, the hills, the great bridges, the Pacific at your shoes. Beautiful Chinatown. Every race in the world. The sardine fleets sailing out. The little cable cars whizzing down the city hills… And all the people are open and friendly.” Dylan Thomas, Poet

Who doesn’t love San Francisco? My first visit was in 1985, when I did all the touristy things – riding the cable cars, driving down the crookedest street in the world, hanging out at the charming Fisherman’s Wharf and, of course, seeing the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. I loved this town.

So, it’s somewhat surprising that my next visit didn’t happen until 28 years later (or two weeks ago), when my hiking tour of US National Parks finished here (hiking blogs to follow in the next few weeks).

At first I took a trip down memory lane, revisiting some of my favourite places.

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