Travel Tales from The Hub
Zion National Park: I Find Myself In a Familiar Place Once Again.
By Ken Hubbard
I believe everyone has a place they find themselves returning to again and again, driven by a desire to always go back. Sometimes you question why you return so often, but always rewarded with a wave of peace of mind and warmth in your heart once there. For some, the hard part may be recognizing this special place that can either be just around the block from their home or 2000 miles across the country.
I was fortunate enough to find my “place” early on. While still in our early and mid 20’s, my cousin and I decided to leave our jobs and take a road trip through the southwest of America. Starting in Phoenix, traveling north through Sedona, then to the Grand Canyon, Page Arizona, Bryce Canyon, Monument Valley and all the side roads in between. I think we stopped at every single viewpoint to gaze in awe and photograph all the buttes, mesas and red rock formations. There was one place that stood out among all them, the small town of Springdale Utah and Zion National Park, and it has called me back dozens of times since that first trip. I never get tired of walking the many trails and staring up at its steep valley walls, it is a magical place for me.
West Rim Trail: Tamron 28-300mm Di VC USD 1/50 Sec, F/11, ISO 160 @ 42mm
It Rarely Rains When I’m Here…
But when it does, it pours! On my most recent trip to Zion it did just that, poured and poured. So much so that The Virgin River swelled higher on its banks than I had ever seen and waterfalls cascaded over many ledges that I had only known to be dry. Even with all the rain, the park was still an amazingly beautiful place to visit. With so many “new” waterfalls flowing and low clouds snaking their way through the enormous rock formations of The Court of the Patriarchs and Towers of the Virgin.
Usually the multi-colored walls along with amazing sunrises and sunsets are the spectacular features that help me create my landscape images. Unfortunately, with the stormy weather I was not going to have that on my first day in the park. I wasn’t deterred, what I saw was an opportunity to capture the dramatic range of tones in the whites of the low lying clouds to the blacks in the rain soaked tree bark. All of these elements ended up lending themselves well for creating some pleasing black and white images. For my black and white photographs I first capture my images in color then convert them over to black and white in Photoshop. As far as gear goes, I usually carry a pretty large backpack loaded with everything I may need, but when hiking in a park like Zion that can get a little overbearing. So in this case I bring a small backpack with only what is needed for that specific hike; 1 camera body and 1 lens, Tamron’s all-in-one, the 28-300mm Di VC PZD.
Zion Valley: Tamron 28-300mm Di VC USD 1/125 Sec, F/18, ISO 100 @ 220mm
Court Of The Patriarchs: Tamron 28-300mm Di VC USD 1/30 Sec, F/11, ISO 160 @ 28mm
When The Sun Comes Out, It’s Time to Hit The Trails.
Zion National Park is part of The Grand Staircase, a set of sedimentary layers in which three of the most stunning national parks reside. The most northern park in the sequence is Bryce Canyon NP, with Zion NP in the middle and then the Grand Canyon to the south. What makes Zion National Park unique, setting it apart from the other two canyons, is how you access the Park. You actually drive into the valley of the canyon and then hike upward to its rim, where as for Bryce and Grand Canyon’s you drive along the rim and then descend into them. The ability to drive into the valley allows for a completely different visual experience for its visitors, and the chance to hike some of the most spectacular trails imaginable.
While the valley makes for some of the most iconic photographs of Zion, such as The Watchman from The Junction Bridge, I prefer to either hike further into the canyon or up its steep walls. There are hikes for almost anyone’s ability within Zion, from the flat and paved 2 mile (RT) Riverside Walk Trail to the strenuous and somewhat dangerous 5 mile (RT) Angels Landing. Three of my favorite hikes for photography within the park are Canyon Overlook, Observation Point and The Narrows. Canyon overlook is the shortest of the three and is a relatively easy 1 ½ mile (RT) hike that takes you out to the edge of the canyon overlooking the valley and Hwy. 9 snaking its way up to the famous Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. This location is great for sunrise as the light slowly hits the peaks along the far side of the valley.
Canyon Overlook:: Tamron 28-300mm Di VC USD 1/125 Sec, F/11, ISO 1250 @ 28mm
The next hike is a bit more strenuous both in length and ascent upward. The hike to Observation Point starts at Weeping Rock and is approximately 8 miles (RT) and gains 2,000 feet in elevation. It may be one of the most demanding hikes in the park with its never ending switchbacks and openness to the sun, but if you give yourself enough time and take a slow pace, you will be rewarded with what I consider the most spectacular view in Zion NP. Sitting atop Mt. Baldy you will see the Big Bend and Angels Landing in the foreground, and then the valley will lead you to the town of Springdale far in the distance.
Observation Point: Tamron SP15-30mm Di VC USD 1/250 Sec, F/16, ISO 400 @ 15mm
The last spectacular photo location in Zion is The Narrows, the wettest yet the most hiked trail within Zion National Park. The trail starts at The Temple Of Sinawava which is actually the bottom portion of the Narrows and the best place for novice river hikers to start. This trail literally takes you upstream wading through the Virgin River and will take you into some of the narrowest portions of Zion Canyon. Monitoring weather conditions is extremely important when deciding to take this hike, flash floods can happen in this part of the canyon even if it looks like good weather overhead. One of the best places to get gear to hike in and monitor river and weather conditions is Zion Adventures in Springdale (www.zionadventures.com). You will want to hike at least a few miles into The Narrows, past what is known as Wall Street to experience the most spectacular portions of this part of the canyon. The further you go the narrower and higher the walls become, upwards of 1000 feet high and down to 30 or 40 feet wide. All of this while hiking through the Virgin River that can end up being chest deep.
The Narrows: Tamron 28-300mm Di VC USD 1/8 Sec, F/11, ISO 400 @ 28mm
A Quaint Town To Go Along With a Spectacular Park
National parks towns can sometimes be pretty sparse with only a few hotel options and a couple of restaurants to choose from. There are a few exceptions to this, one of them being, Springdale, Utah, located at the western entrance to Zion National Park. With a significant rise in visitors to the park, Springdale has seen a lot of growth since I first stayed at the Pioneer Lodge (www.zionpioneerlodge.com) many years ago.
There are many more lodging options to choose from, like the budget friendly Bumbleberry Inn (www.bumbleberry.com) to the more elaborate Cliffrose Inn and Gardens (www.cliffroselodge.com) . When it comes to food and restaurant options Springdale does not disappoint in that department either. Some of my favorites are The Whiptail Grill (www.whiptailgrillzion.com), which is in a converted gas station in the middle of town and making an amazing Goat Cheese Chili Relleno. With an outdoor patio, Oscar’s Cafe (www.oscarscafe.com) makes the perfect place for a lunch break on a sunny afternoon.
Finally, back to the theme of the article, and the places we always return to. When it comes to restaurants in Springdale, that place would be the Bit and Spur (www.bitandspur.com). I ate there the very first night I ever spent in town and never stopped returning, enjoying their food and talking with their friendly staff. I can truly say I have enjoyed everything I have ordered there, with some of the standouts being the Pork & Sweet Potato Tamale’s, Carne Asada Taco’s and Jalapeño Poppers. The minute I step into the Bit and Spur, I know I have truly arrived to my second home.
Hathaway’s Famous Goat Cheese Chili Relleno w/Grilled Shrimp From The Whiptail Grill