Thursday, January 2, 2014

Zion National Park and Gooseberry Mesa, Utah - Hiking and Mountain Biking

After a busy year full of fantastic adventures, it was time to wrap up 2013 and welcome the new year with some good friends in southern Utah.  Everyone enjoyed the New Year trip to Bryce Canyon last December so we decided to do something similar and rent a home for a few days just outside of Zion National Park.  As much as I love camping, it is nice to enjoy a little luxury once in a while, especially if that luxury includes a hot tub for star gazing after a long day of hiking or biking.

Zion National Park

I've always wanted to check out the Narrows of Zion, but the popularity of this particular hike and the massive crowds herding into the narrow canyon have been a major turn-off.  When I learned that some people use dry suits to explore the Narrows during the colder months, I knew this would be my chance to explore without the crowds.  Roger and I rented dry suits from Zion Adventure Company on Sunday morning and headed up the main canyon to the Temple of Sinawava to begin our hike into The Narrows.

Starting the hike into The Narrows

Roger in The Narrows

The Narrows

The Narrows

 Solitude in The Narrows

Natural spring in The Narrows

The dry suits and neoprene socks kept us warm all day, although the temperatures were fairly mild in the Narrows compared to the frigid weather Zion experienced a few weeks ago.  We saw several groups of people in dry suits throughout the day, but the majority of our hike was peaceful and quiet.  We hiked through Wall Street and turned around near Big Springs before taking a side trip into Orderville Canyon.  Orderville was icier and darker, and contained a few small obstacles and waterfalls to enjoy.  We hiked to Veiled Falls before turning around and heading back through the Narrows to the trail head.  We didn't cover a lot of miles, but spent about seven hours in the canyons.  I was never cold, but I was happy to put on dry shoes and warm clothes after a full day in the dark, wet canyons.

Ice in Orderville Canyon

Veiled Falls

Roger above Veiled Falls

On Monday morning, Roger and I headed over to the ghost town of Grafton.  The town was first settled in 1859 by Mormons hoping to grow cotton, but the silty Virgin River, destructive floods, and the threat of Indian attacks resulted in the town being abandoned around 1921.  A few buildings and the cemetery have been preserved and are now protected by the Grafton Heritage Partnership.

The school house and Russell Home in Grafton

 John and Ellen Wood Home in Grafton

Grafton Cemetery

Later on Monday, Keith, Roger, and I headed up the steep and muddy road to Gooseberry Mesa to do some mountain biking.  We started at the Windmill trail head and worked our way west toward the point of the Mesa.  The Windmill, Bowls and Ledges, and North Rim trails offered amazing views of the surrounding desert and cliffs of Zion, but were a little more technical than the "more difficult" description they were given.  Although there was little in the way of climbing as the trails sit on top of the mesa, sections of slickrock with quick, steep ups and downs made for a challenging ride.  The trail junctions were marked with piles of rocks, but we missed a few turn offs and ending up riding a little longer than expected.  The views from the point of the mesa were spectacular and worth the effort, and we returned to the trail head just as the sun was setting.

Keith at Gooseberry Mesa

Gooseberry Mesa

The point of Gooseberry Mesa

 Roger at Gooseberry Mesa

Sunset at Gooseberry Mesa

View from Gooseberry Mesa

After watching a beautiful sunrise on Tuesday morning, Roger and I hiked to the West Rim of Zion via the West Rim Trail.  The sun was out and it was a mild day, but the middle section of the trail, aptly named Little Siberia, was full of packed snow and ice.  Microspikes would have been perfect for the hike, but we managed to make it through the snow and up on to the West Rim near Cabin Spring.  We enjoyed the great views and warm sunshine before heading back to the house to prepare for New Year's Eve.

Sunrise from Virgin, Utah

West Rim Trail

West Rim Trail

Entering Little Siberia on the West Rim Trail

With Roger on the West Rim

Welcoming the new year