Monday, June 13, 2016

Hiking The Narrows Lower River Hike at Zion National Park

On our trip with all the teens last week, we were blessed to be able to go to Zion National Park. I have been through Zion before when we first moved west 21 years ago but so much has changed. Also, I never did any hikes as we had little kids and were just driving through the park.

Since our trip many years ago, it has gotten VERY crowded and is one of the favorite national parks so you can imagine how busy it is.

You used to be able to travel through a long dark tunnel with cars going in both directions. I am guessing at some point they had an accident in the tunnel as they now have people at both ends sending in groups from one direction or the other but not both so it takes much longer to get through the park.

You can no longer park at all the little different parking lots for each hike. They have one large parking lot and if you are not there very early in the morning, you won't most likely find a parking spot in the park. You can park in the town near by and get a shuttle back to the park but that eats up your hike time.

Also, you have to take shuttles to every place in the park. This takes time as you may have lines and will have to wait for several shuttle to leave before you can get onto one. The shuttles are not air conditioned so plan on getting HOT! Some of the shuttle rides are 40 minutes long if you want to do the narrows water hike, you have a 40 minute ride back and forth to the parking area.

I have never driven around waiting for a parking place for long in my life but it took me 40 minutes driving around the parking lot looking for a parking place. They did have a ranger positioned AFTER I got into the parking area and she was at the opening but I was already in the parking going around and around. One ranger told me I could park in the camp ground and take a 10 minute walk to the shuttle which is about how long it takes to get a ride back from the near by town as several in our group had to do that to find parking. There was a "back way walking that I saw several park worker walking through the day before so there is a shorter way than waiting for the shuttle ride.

There are little informational comments the shuttle drivers will put on or give about different areas of the park. However, this only works if people are NOT talking on the shuttle and once you open all the windows, roof vents trying to get some air into the bus, it is hard to hear if anyone is talking. I would suggest that if you want to hear what is being said on the "tour" shuttle, you sit near the driver. He may have a fan to keep you a bit cooler as well. We ended up standing like sardines on shuttles just to get in, then, at the next stop, everyone standing has to get off and then back on to let one or two people that are sitting off. It took a long time to get through the stops.

Depending on your entrance, you can get some great bluff views just outside the park. I didn't take any pictures of the checkerboard mountain or the canyon in general because you can get a post card with much better pictures than you can take or even get them online for free as depending on the time of day you drive through, the shadows and sun can make it hard to get good colors on the red rock.

I LOVE meeting people and met some lovely people on the shuttles and on the hikes. These cute five women hiked in their art supplies to the base of the river and were just getting started on their art when I visited with them. I filled up their water containers in the river for them. I thought I would love to be in a group like that traveling around the country painting or drawing.

I also met two young girls from New Jersey who were just going around the country by themselves seeing what they see. It made me go back to my New Zealand days when I was so outgoing and would just take off to do whatever. My dream was to travel the world until I was 26 and then get married. That dream didn't pan out but I would still love to find a partner in travel and just take off and see what we see.

Princess Five was adorable. She had several boys helping her through the river. She made some hiking sticks with the group the day before and I was so grateful they did. It is VERY helpful to have a hiking stick in the water as there are rocks and it is uneven. If the water is high, the current can pull a rock out from under your feet so I was super grateful for the real hiking stick someone lent me that helped me avoid falling in as many in our group did.

It was SUPER busy. This is just the beginning of the tourist season and there were hundreds and hundreds of people hiking this hike. It kind of made me think of Moses parting the red sea so his people could escape. You couldn't really stop much as there were people in front and behind you the entire hike. There were some times that you could walk on rocks or sand but at other times, you were in the water as there were canyons on both sides of you.

Also, sometimes we were waist high in water, depending on the time of year and run off, it can be almost dry or VERY deep in places. At one point, Princess was waist high and needed some help getting out. Back packs are good but still put everything in plastic zip bags double bagged as several in our group fell in.  One broke her camera falling in with it. I was blessed not to fall as I had one or two cameras out at all times.

We ate along the banks at a low area and I think several of our group didn't drink enough. I know I didn't but my fear was needing to use the bathroom so I didn't drink as it is a five mile hike so I knew I couldn't just run to the bathroom so know that there is no place to squat either. I did smell something not so pleasant in one of the only places where there were trees so I think someone may have gone there but there are lots of children hiking and there isn't a place for them to go if the need arises so plan accordingly. Five miles doesn't seem like much but the trail is very slow going as mossy rocks and currents make your footing slow so you don't fall.

Princess Five borrowed some water shoes which was NOT a good idea. They are usually not well fitted and then rocks and sand get in them and you spend time taking them off to get it out. I wore sneakers with socks and had to take out a few rocks that got in but one of the laces kept coming undone despite several ties. I think tivas or sneakers made for water would be best. I did well with the sneakers and most people had on hiking sandals / water shoes / or sneakers. Some people had on wet suits but it is HOT and then when the sun went down, it is COLD. The water is cold and numbing but after being out of it for a few minutes it was hot again.

There are mossy, water dropping areas. There are cute holes in the sides, there are columbine flowers coming out of the walls in many spots. There were many people hiking with no sticks and they hung to the edges of the walls to hold on. I would suggest at least one stick, sometimes people had two sticks. I found out later that the couple you can see in this picture with two sticks were both National Park workers from two different states. The man was originally from Boston and I picked up his accent quickly. He reminded me of my good friend Russ Gibson who played for the Boston Redsocks in the 1957 world series. Several times I commented on his accent and his manner as he really reminded me of Russ.

I made friends with them as we walked and enjoyed hearing about how they met and have been married now for five years. They love Zions most of the national parks as he has worked several I asked him about it. They were such a cute couple that it made me have hope that at some point, I can meet someone who loves to travel, hike and family as those are things I haven't gotten to enjoy with a partner.

Many in our group made it the five miles. I was with a group that had boys that liked to "show off" their rock climbing skills and we stopped at every rock for them to climb and show off to the girls. One of these adventures ended badly when the boys were helping a girl up on the rock and hurt his knee. That ended my hike but I don't think we were far from the top as it was still a long time back and those that finished the hike were back just about the time we were so I am figuring that we were almost there.

It could be very easy to sprain or break a leg or even arms in falling if you aren't careful. Those that hurried were either very confident like they had done it many times or ended up in the river. It was funny to see some of the girls start to fall and the boys would pull them up to steady them by their back packs making the girls look like rag dolls at times.

As you can see, it was VERY busy. I have no idea how much worse it gets in the summer months but I was shocked at the amount of people on the trails. It wouldn't surprise me if in the near future, you need a permit to even do the first and lower portion of this narrows hike. It was crazy to me how many people were on the river. Even when we were leaving the river, the trail or people just starting the hike late in the afternoon was still streaming. 

I would LOVE to take my kids there and do this hike. I realize that I wasn't really adventurous with my kids as they were so spread out in age and funds were so tight. The last major trip we did for fun was when Princess One graduated high school and we went to Disney but Princess Five was about four and doesn't remember any of it. It was hard to find things for everyone to do having girls at so many different ages. I had girls in five different schools several times in raising them from preschool to college as they split up our elementary here. It isn't from K-6 like most areas.

So, I highly recommend the lower narrows hike if you are prepared. Sun screen, light hats that let your head breathe, hiking sticks at least one, maybe two for older folks not so steady on your feet. Good shoes with rubber treads for grip in water. Food, water, and bathing suits. Several in our group wore jeans and got rashes and rubbing sores along with blue dye on their skin. I wish they would have told us to wear bathing suits or shorter cotton shorts as we were wet for awhile wearing regular clothes. I was grateful that I didn't get any rashes but we did have to stop and get some cream and powder for several adults and teens.

Well worth the trip and time if you can do it! We were so grateful that the youth group paid for our trip so we could go and enjoy wonderful things we didn't even know existed!

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