There is no better way to start a day of hiking at Zion National Park than with a Wildcat Willies breakfast in Springdale, Utah. As a part of our stay at the Bumbleberry Inn, we get a free breakfast at Willies. For the second day in a row we have Anahi, the $10 waitress from yesterday, who is just so upbeat and attentive, serving Hannah chicken fried steak with home fries, eggs and wheat toast and me bumbleberry pancakes. Married for a hundred amazing years (actually nearly 44) Hannah and I split the breakfasts and we won’t need much lunch on the trail today.
Having brought five copies of my book, Sweet Dreams, Robyn, to give away to people who we connect with on our hiking vacation to Utah and Arizona, we give the first one to Anahi. When Hannah delivers it to her later as we head to Zion, she taps her chest and smiles thankfully.
Driving down the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive the last week in February, we pull into Weeping Rocks, which is the trailhead for both the Hidden Canyon and Observation Point Trails. In the past I have been spooked by hikes that required holding on to chains above this canyon floor like we will have today at Hidden Canyon. That all changed now that I am Daniel, Le Conquerant of Angel’s Landing.
Today’s combination Hidden Canyon/Observation Point Trails rises steeply on switchbacks and we are soon well above the parking lot where our no frills rented Nissan Versa sits. Highly motivated to climb both these “strenuous rated” hikes on this red sandstone paved trail today, we step purposefully on a mid-50s late February morning that is going to 70F. Fifteen minutes on the trail, we see the sign to the left to Observation Point, while we go right on the Hidden Canyon Trail.
Soon the first of the chains attached to the mountain wall appear. The chains are useful, but in no way does the canyon fall off 1500 feet as it does at Angel’s Landing across the valley. Immediately I think this is the perfect “pilot trail” if one wonders whether they may be up for the Angel’s Landing hike.
Three to four times we grab stretches of chains but never does it feel scary or intimidating. This trail goes into the interior and ends at a sandy, shallow mountain pool. There, a sign notes that the park service no longer maintains the trail after this point; we head back to the main trail since we have no interest in bushwhacking this fine morning.
In fifteen minutes we are back on the trail to Observation Point. Once at the top, we will have the Virgin River Valley to our west and even look down on Angel’s Landing across the valley floor. On this north side of the valley we run into snow on the trail. Much of it has been covered by sand and we step easily through and around it.
Finally hiking into the sunlight, we climb and climb some more. Last year we hiked this same trail (see to the left of this blog under Utah for the blog describing last year’s initial assent of Observation Point). The climb is steady and relentless with 2100′ of elevation gain as we hike on the exposed cliffs of the mountainside facing the Virgin River Valley. Last year I hugged the mountainside in fear, leaning into the mountain at a 75 degree angle for reassurance.
Today I wonder what the big deal was. These trails at Zion are for folks who have a respectful fear of heights not the “severely debilitating fearful” kind. And always, as the sign at Zion says, Your safety is your responsibility.
The final half mile to Observation Point is basically a level walk on the high plateau. For the third day in a row in southern Utah, the sky is bright blue without a cloud within 500 miles. At the summit, ten others, mostly couples are lunching and enjoying the view and the sunshine.
Unfortunately, sunshine is no friend for mid-day picture taking, especially looking down the Virgin River Valley into the afternoon sun. We ask Joan, who we will learn is a farmer with her husband Russell in Pocatello, Idaho, to snap our picture.
Talking for twenty minutes about potato farming, travels, and children with her, I feel the connection that makes me want to make them the second recipients of a copy of Sweet Dreams, Robyn. Alas, we have not packed a copy for the trail and the ones we do have are in our rental car four miles down below at the trailhead.
Packing up to leave, we don’t see Joan and Russell and guess that they must have left five to ten minutes before us. On a mission to get them a copy of Sweet Dreams, Robyn, we rocket down the trail and know we will easily catch them. Cruising along at three miles per hour down the mountainside, we don’t see them after 20 minutes or even 30 or 40. What the hey? They must be some super hikers. And then it hits me – they never left the summit and are still exploring above us.
So we on to Plan B – we’ll just look for the car with the Idaho plates and leave a book on their windshield. Easy Peezy.
Once at the trailhead parking area, we begin to scour the lot with a mere 25 cars, which should make it easy pickens to find their Idaho car. Returning with news, that unbelievably, there are three vehicles with Idaho plates, Hannah is not dismayed. We’ll do some sleuthing to figure which is their vehicle. The first Idaho vehicle is a Subaru Outback that has a rear sticker indicating it was bought in Florida. Not likely theirs, though farmers might like its all-wheel capability.
The second is a Lexus with a Go Irish Notre Dame vanity plate. Dubious. The third is a pickup truck. Nothing says farming like a double cab pickup truck. Checking the license plate holder it says Hirning but nothing about Pocatello, Idaho.
Figuring I’ll just google Hirning on my iPhone to see if Hirning is a Pocatello car dealer, I am quickly aware that deep in Zion with mountains 2000’ above us, I have no cell service. Giving it our best shot, we guess that theirs is the pickup and leave a note and a business card with a copy of Sweet Dreams, Robyn under their windshield wiper. Once back in town within cell phone range, I’ll google Hirning to confirm our suspicion.
At the Zion Visitor Center, Hannah looks for animal post cards for our grandsons Owen and Max while I google Hirning. Immediately our dear friends at Google come up with the electronic information that Hirning is indeed a Buick dealership in Pocatello. Bingo!
Post script Anahi, the Wildcat Waitress. One month later she met our daughter Molly and her hubby Tip who had come to Utah to hike Angel’s Landing. Molly mentioned her parents and Anahi beamed with a reminder of our visit.
Post script Joan and Russell, the Idaho farmers. It was their car. Joan emailed two days later that she had read parts of Sweet Dreams, Robyn to Russell while they were driving. It seems they themselves have a daughter who beat childhood cancer and next year is off to college.
Son of a gun, small world! Now just three more copies of Sweet Dreams, Robyn to give away! Who’s next?