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Standing tall in America's 'promised land'

Standing tall in America's 'promised land'

When I finally step foot in Zion National Park, I’m already late to the game. Although this is my first visit to this unique Utah park with its signature red cliffs, Zion is actually the fourth most visited park in the United States. It’s March, 2020, and I have chosen one of the rainiest weekends to visit, which means normally long lines are non-existent. News of the virus has just started circulating, which has also halted visitors.  
Ironically, though, I’m spending only one day in the park.
That might sound crazy considering that many plan entire trips around Zion, but when I talk with a park ranger, she encourages me to step out of the park, saying it’s only a small part of what the area encompasses.
It winds up being good advice, even though the day I spend in Zion, albeit rainy and snowy, is thrilling. I ride the shuttle along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive which follows the Virgin River.
I keep a window down to see how the waterfalls have come to life, jumping out at different stops for better views. But it’s the last stop at the Temple of Sinawava that moves me the most.
A massive waterfall is cascading down the red rock walls of this natural amphitheater, dumping into the pool below it.
One day in Zion may not be long enough for some, but it is for me. They call it Greater Zion for a reason, after all.

Karenwadingthroughwa...  karen1 

Above: Karen wades through a canyon of water, left, and the rests with some friends among the boulders.

 Stuck between a rock — and a rock
I’ve never had a panic attack. But now that I’m in a slot canyon, sandwiched between two rocks, I’m close. My butt is my only anchor — my feet keep sliding out on the rock in front of me —  and I’m using deep breathing to stay calm.  
Ironically, I’m not even that high above ground. It’s just over a metre away, but this crevice is so tight that a fall would entail a painful slide.
I am literally stuck.
Finally, my guide loops a rope around my waist and pulls me through.
This, my friends, is canyoneering, something this part of Utah specializes in with its plethora of canyons, and it’s a painfully exhilarating experience. I’ve booked a trip through Paragon Outfitters, and I’m whisked to an exclusive spot that takes an hour from my base in St. George to reach.  
For over two hours, I alternate between hiking (fortunately, it’s easy), rappelling down steep cliffs (the two guides set up a belay system to ensure safety, and I’m wearing safety gear), scrambling over rocks, tromping through knee-deep water in caves, and shimmying through more narrow crevices in the canyon.
My guides call it an adult obstacle course, but I have other names for it. While I am an athlete, I haven’t moved like this in decades — if at all — and by the time I emerge from the canyon, my muscles and mental fortitude are shot.

TempleofSinawava  Virginriver-GreaterZ...

Above: Zion is blessed with massive waterfalls, a rushing river and a landscape that is simply breathtaking.

The allure of state parks
I have never seen petrified dunes until I set foot in — and on —  Snow Canyon in Ivins.
Although this is a state park, it deserves to be elevated to national level to protect what looks like scalloped potatoes.
There are literally hundreds of layers swirled out across a broad expanse, almost as if somebody has taken a brush to sculpt the smooth edges of the Navajo sandstone.
Not only are the dunes beautiful, sandstone cliffs soaring all around them, they’re also fun to run, leap and bound over.
This is more akin to my definition of an adult obstacle course, and as I run up and over the layers, the rolling surface leads to different views.
Snow Canyon also has dozens of trailheads, and I take Jenny’s Trail. It’s a short jaunt to the end of the trail where a slot canyon is waiting. I quickly turn around and hit another trail, Johnson’s Canyon Trail, which leads to another waterfall with a pool you can swim in.
There is one park not to miss when the water is running, and that’s Gunlock State Park.
The falls are indeed on full display, crashing over the rock formations in its downhill path, and people are clambering over the rocks to get better views.
I venture out on the rocks just far enough that I can feel the spray on my face.
I stand there soaking it in, simply being in the moment — and blissfully unaware of what the upcoming months will bring.


Greater Zion encompasses over 3,800 square kilometres of adventure, and if you want to maximize your trip, split your stay between Springdale and St. George.
Stay:  Book a room at Cliffrose Springdale, and you’ll be within walking distance of Zion. In St. George, a stay at the upscale but ultra-cozy (and pet-friendly) Advenire is a must.   
Eat:  When in Springdale, have dinner on the patio at King’s Landing Bistro; the views are stunning. Cliffrose’s Anthera is another worthy dinner spot. In St. George, FeelLove Coffee is where you’ll find unique creations like the FeelLove Muscovado and Goddess Latte. FeelLove also serves breakfast and lunch and offers fantastic options for vegans. Another lunch spot with a charming patio is Xetava Gardens Café in Kayenta. At night, enjoy dinner at the Advenire’s Wood Restaurant. After, walk across the street to Zion Brewery Station II and sip a craft brew on one of its many outdoor patios.  
Play:  Make plans to catch a Broadway-style musical or concert at Tuacahn, an outdoor amphitheatre in St. George situated in front of a 457m-high red rock cliff.






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