SLC to PHX Part 1: Experiencing Zion National Park during the shutdown

It’s been a hectic week since returning to the valley of the sun from the frigid temperatures of Utah and northern Arizona so the one-man team over here is finally getting around to what happened.

First, it was an amazing trip with Brandon (readers of the blog know who he is) and Nicole, who is an Alpha Kappa Psi brother from UofA (AKPsi is a male and female professional business fraternity for those with puzzled looks).

After they picked me up from the SLC airport, we hit a pretty gnarly snowstorm that stuck with us as we headed south down the I-15. At someplace south of Provo, Utah, we escaped the wintry weather and had smooth sailing the rest of the way to Springdale, Utah (which is ‘city’ at the west entrance of Zion National Park).

When morning hit, we saw what we all knew was coming – the forecasted storm was upon us and to put it mildly for this Arizona boy, it was colllldddddd.

After a protein-less continental breakfast offered by the hotel, we bundled up for day one in the park.  It was probably only in the 30’s but I had five layers of clothes on, plus my ski tights and pants. (Rant 1: Who doesn’t provide hard boiled eggs or peanut butter at a continental breakfast!? Cmon!)

For those who’ve already forgotten, the government was shut down at this point, giving us nearly unabated access to Zion. Normally you’re not allowed to drive your car past a certain point and must board buses, but with no government employees on shift, we had a green light.

With a slight drizzle encompassing the area, we drove to the farthest point in the lower valley to do the Riverside Walk (a one-mile flat walk). Some more familiar with the park will know this as the mouth of The Narrows. Don’t worry, we didn’t go in – we’re not that crazy.

Bundled up on a rainy day in Zion heading towards The Narrows.
At The Narrows in Zion National Park.


A waterfall near The Narrows.

After that, we hung out at the Zion Lodge – thank god for private-public partnerships in the National Parks – which gave us a chance to get out of the gloomy weather, warm up, and gnosh on some food.

Post lunch, we were planning to do a quick scamper to the Emerald Pools but the rains returned, so as any good UofA grads, we piled back into the car, found a bar, and watched the UofA – Stanford game. Arizona won, barely, and all was right in the world.

With two pitchers of beer downed between Brandon and I, Nicole was generous enough to drive the half mile back to the hotel where we promptly passed out for a solid four-plus hours (not sure how long Nicole slept considering I was zonked).

Well rested (and hydrated?  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ) we were ready for Sunday’s excursion to the top of Angels Landing.

The weather had thankfully cleared out, giving us a perfect, albeit cold day to hike.

A chilly start to the morning had us all bundled up. The top of Angels Landing is pictured in the middle.
A chilly start to the morning had us all bundled up. The top of Angels Landing is pictured in the middle.

Angels Landing is a 2.5-ish mile hike that is almost entirely uphill, save the first half to three-quarters of a mile. Known primarily for the cables one is advised to use on the spine going up to the ‘landing,’ this hike will give those with a fear of heights some pause. In my opinion, though, it’s really not that bad as there are few if any truly dangerous parts.


The first uphill of going to Angels Landing.
The first uphill going to Angels Landing.

If you do choose to hike this, block out 3-5 hours in the day to complete it. Another thing to keep in mind is that during the heavy tourist seasons, the cables will take a lot longer going up and down because you’ll be battling traffic flow.

After completing the above switchbacks, you’ll head back into the canyon where you’ll then encounter “the wiggles.” Laugh at your own expense because they will probably have you wheezing by the end.


Looking up at The Wiggles in Zion National Park.


The Wiggles on the way to Angels Landing.
Looking down on The Wiggles.

After “The Wiggles” have killed your calves you’d think you were close. Ehh, not so fast. You still have the spine and the cables to knock off. This is where those with fears of heights might have some issue (but please push through because it’s worth it).

The spine and cable section heading up to Angels Landing.
The way to the angels
The final 100 yards to the end.
The final 100 yards to the end.


Part of the cable section going up.
FYI: Never hike during storms


Once we go to the top, it was stunning. I hadn’t been up there since I was nine or ten years old so this was pretty much a new experience for me. The scenery was perfect:  cloudless blue sky, fresh air, and warm sun made it spectacular.

Brandon and I on top of Angels Landing
The view west from Angels Landing
Nicole, Brandon, and I on top.
Looking north-ish from Angels Landing.

After taking a bunch of pictures “for the ‘gram,” as the kids call it these days, and soaking it all in, we relinquished our prime photography spots and began the trek down to the valley floor 1,400 feet below.

Going down is almost harder than going up on this hike – especially on the cables section because gravity wants you to basically fall down the spine but that’s not an ideal way to go. Also, with it being later in morning, there were more people on the trail heading up, creating some unfortunate, though minor blockages.

Quick note, I’d suggest bringing some sort of cheap gloves with you when you do the cables section just in case you start to get blisters from holding on. It probably won’t happen but better safe than sorry.


The Spine
The Spine


Coming down the cables from Angels Landing.

In all, it probably took us a little over three hours to complete the hike. This included a couple breaks at the beginning to shed layers, then random photography shots, and then 20 minutes at the top for more pictures. We’re artsy and we aren’t ashamed to say it!

Overall, this was an amazing weekend amongst our public lands and national parks. I’m trying to Opt Outside (and out of metro Phoenix) at least once per month this year so I got the year off to a fantastic start.

With the meeting with Angels behind us, we quickly ate lunch and hopped in the car for the next part of the adventure – Horseshoe Bend which will be in installment two of this three-part road trip extravaganza.

Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.