On my second day in Zion National Park, I warmed up to it. Not that it isn’t beautiful, but I wasn’t prepared for the crowds. I’m used to crowded national parks, but the crowds usually cluster around a central feature — say the Logan’s Pass Visitor’s Center at Glacier, Curry Village at Yosemite or Old Faithful at Yellowstone. Get yourself to a trailhead and you lose the crowds. Not so at Zion, which is quite a small park and is mostly one long narrow canyon. The park is accessible only by shuttle bus, so that lends it a bit of a Disneyland feel. In addition, nearly all the trails are flat, short and good for a whole family including little kids and Grandma. That means all of it is teaming with people. And who are these people? I thought school was in session and I’d be enjoying the solitude of the off-season. Turns out most of Europe seems to be on their Fall break and they’ve all decided to come here. Especially the Germans.

Still, the spectacular cliffs and formations make Zion a must-see. To experience it beyond the shuttle bus stops, I decided to get myself on what was billed as one of the more challenging hikes, the Angels Landing Trail. It’s not long — 5.4 miles — but it’s straight up through a series of steep switchbacks. I think you rise 1500 feet in less than 2 miles. Now it’s as challenging as you want it to be. If you go slowly and stop to take pictures at every switchback, it’s doable for most anyone. So I didn’t lose the crowds, but I was grateful for that. I generally don’t hike alone and I was glad there were so many coming and going in case a rock fell on my head and I needed someone to carry me off the trail. I was feeling pretty good about my progress and speed until a couple ran by pumping rocks in their hands and dropping down to do plank push-ups at every switchback — all while smirking contemptuously at those of us just plodding along. I resisted the temptation to kick red sand down on them and soldiered on.

Besides, I'm pretty sure I could have paced them. But I prefer to stop and smell the flowers.

Besides, I’m pretty sure I could have paced them. But I prefer to stop and smell the flowers.

Did I mention that this trail gains 1500 feet in about two miles?

Did I mention that this trail gains 1500 feet in about two miles?

switchback

Switchback after switchback with no end in sight.

Until I reached the infamous "Walter's Wiggles", which are switchbacks so steep they are really terraces.

Until I reached the infamous “Walter’s Wiggles”, which are switchbacks so steep they are really terraces.

But the reward was a view of the canyon that really showed the geology and the beauty of it.

But the reward was a view of the canyon that really showed the geology and the beauty of it.

Until I reached the very top, a large flat stone platform on the cap of the mesa.

Until I reached the very top, a large flat stone platform on the cap of the mesa.

Now I could, if I'd wanted to, scramble half a mile up and over this boulder, which required crawling on hands and knees while holding on to a chain fence.

Now I could, if I’d wanted to, scramble half a mile up and over this boulder, which required crawling on hands and knees while holding on to a chain fence.

I had this view where I was, so why bother.

I had this view where I was, so why bother.

So I ate my lunch of trail mix with the very aggressive chipmunks and pondered how the Virgin River could have carved this canyon.

So I ate my lunch of trail mix with the very aggressive chipmunks and pondered how the Virgin River could have carved this canyon.

Then I headed down. Did I mention that the whole trail is paved? Which makes hiking poles useless and is very hard on the knees.

Then I headed down. Did I mention that the whole trail is paved? Which makes hiking poles useless and is very hard on the knees.

Far in the distance, I could see intrepid rock climbers scaling the rock faces.

Then I remembered how at the Visitors Center, I'd learned that Paiutes used the natural pits in the cliff for granaries.

Then I remembered how at the Visitors Center, I’d learned that Paiutes used the natural pits in the cliff for granaries.

And they did it with baskets of grain on their backs and without fancy climbing equipment. They say the hand and footholds they chiseled out of the cliff are still visible in places.

Feeling humbled, and not as awesome as a Paiute, I ended the day with some easy riverside strolls.

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