Vegas shimmered in the rear view mirror, the afternoon heat rising in waves as we drove east. For Diana this was a bittersweet moment, the joy of a new life in Thailand beckoning but the clutches of a former existence unwilling to let go.
Many tears had been spilled in the 24 hours since I had arrived as history was packed into crates, boxes and the back of the car. The smell of wet carpet had swept out of the door as it was closed for the final time, a succession of movers and cleaners erasing any sign of life. I knew this feeling well, and felt the pain as if it were my own. Leaving sucks. It always will.
Regardless though we were on our way, her cheeks finally as dry as the desert landscape surrounding us. It was time to go to Zion.
I love the national park system in the US. Whatever other failings the country may have, the way it manages some of its most pristine areas is amongst the best in the world. Jaw-droppingly beautiful scenery is accessible without being sanitised or destroyed, education mixed with inspiration from an unfailingly enthusiastic team of rangers in silly hats.
Red rocks emerged from the dusty tundra as we neared the Terrace Brook Lodge in Springdale, an over-priced motel that aspired to mediocrity but didn’t achieve it. The brief walk to dinner in the crisp evening air had me excited for the following day, the sun setting gloriously over the towering cliffs. This was going to be something special.
And indeed it was.
After trundling along to the end of the shuttle route the following morning, we walked along the gentle Riverside walk towards the start of the Narrows. Sensible Diana decided to stay and bask in the sunshine. Silly Dave and his inappropriate footwear starting wading down the river instead.
At least I had footwear, I guess, even if it was only running shoes. The guy painfully hopping from rock to rock in bare feet – while trying to stop himself and his two daughters from falling in – seemed to be setting himself up for a spectacularly bad day.
I was having fun, loving both the sunshine and the views of the steep gorge that rose either side of me. Mind you, there would have been no way of getting out of there if the water level had risen swiftly. Probably should have checked for any flash flood warnings on the way in…
While my feet were soaked, the ankle-deep water cooled me off perfectly. I remember thinking that with any luck it wouldn’t get any deeper…
… at which point, of course, I promptly dropped down to my waist. Now, like most men, there are certain parts of my anatomy that don’t take kindly to sudden immersion in a snow-fed river. Grimacing and with my voice an octave higher, I exchanged pained glances with the other guys around me and carried on upstream.
Although I eventually turned back well before the end of the gorge (it goes for something like sixteen miles!), I loved the experience of wading up a frigid river between those towering cliffs. Yes, I may be insane, but the views were totally worth it.
After lunch back at the Zion Lodge, Diana headed back to nap work. I hadn’t had quite enough sunburn yet though, so it was time to check out the Emerald Pools.
If the Narrows were flat and wet, the trail up to the lakes was the complete opposite. A two or three hour round trip, the path climbed steeply and dustily from the trailhead.
With views like this.
Suddenly my legs didn’t hurt so much.
There were three different lakes, at different heights along the trail. Surprisingly they were called the Lower, Middle and Upper Emerald Pools. Yes, I too was shocked.
The roar of chainsaws did more to put me off visiting the lower pool than the hastily-erected ‘trail closed’ signs, but the other two still lay in wait. On I climbed, until I finally came across … this.
Resting at the top and adding another thousand photos to my collection, I was in no hurry to get moving again. The lengthening shadows suggested, though, that perhaps it was time to start heading back.
Trudging back towards the motel, footsore and glowing red, I grinned like a kid on Christmas Day. It had been far too long since I had spent a day hiking, and I’d totally forgotten just how much I enjoyed it.
I had to do this again. Soon.
This would not be the last national park I would visit on this trip…