“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.
The Emerald Pools hike was the perfect first outing on my national parks tour, as I was still acclimatising to the hot weather (40+ degrees Celsius) of Utah in early September. The trail climbs to three pools, which are spring-fed and present year-round despite the desert environment. They have an emerald hue, due to aquatic green algae.
The first section of the hike to the Lower Pool is graded easy and takes about an hour (1.9km return). It’s a further 1.3km (return) to the Middle Pool, and 1.6km (return) to the Upper Pool. These two sections are graded moderate, as the trail becomes a little bit steeper. We hiked the entire way (4.8km return), beginning at the trail-head near Zion Lodge and finishing at the Grotto picnic area.
At the Lower Pool we had to skirt behind a thin veil of water, flowing from a rock ledge high above. I wasn’t particularly worried about getting wet, as the spray was delightfully refreshing.
Not long after we’d left the Lower Pool, a park ranger came tearing past us, looking for someone who’d called 911. We spoke to people on the trail and they pointed out a canyoneer, who was stranded on the cliff-face of Behunin Canyon. It was very difficult to see him (as you can see in the photos below), but apparently, he was trying to descend to get help for a companion who had fallen.
The following day, we found out that his companion had, thankfully, survived. But, the rescue took until about 2.00am and he’d sustained serious injuries to his leg, hip, arm and head after falling 30 metres without rope protection. It was a sobering reminder to take care on the trails.
At the Middle Pool there is a wide balcony with incredible views. We arrived late afternoon, so the mountains were golden and reflecting in the small pool of water. At the Upper Pool, there is often a waterfall (particularly during spring run-off), but today it was dry. There was only a small pool at the foot of the cliff.
On the walk back down, the views across the mountains and down the valley were incredible. The Paiute Indians consider ‘I-u-gone’ (Zion Canyon) sacred and spiritual; a place they were too superstitious to stay in after dark. To the pioneers, the word Zion meant ‘promised land’, and it’s easy to see why they sought sanctuary here.