photography from the ground up

Zion Found, Paradise Lost

I was awakened this morning by the sound of thunder–not a good sign. The rain started yesterday, and has been pretty much continuous since then. I had spent the day exploring Zion, and had even made a drive up to the trailhead where the hike to the Subway begins, but I was growing doubtful that I would be able to make it due to the weather. The Subway is situated in a five hundred foot deep canyon on the western edge of the park. In order to reach it you must hike about a mile along the wooded rim, and then drop into the canyon on a steep switchback trail which brings you to the left fork of North Creek. From that point on you must make your way three miles upstream, boulder hopping and wading the creek most of the way. If you are down in a narrow canyon such as this, and rain is falling in the high country above you, there is a high potential for a flash flood. Many people have lost their lives in flash floods, and I was not too keen on the idea of becoming one of them.

So, this morning I headed out at about six thirty to weigh my options. As I drove up the Kolob Terrace road toward the trailhead, I caught a glimpse of North Creek. It was running at least six times higher than it was yesterday, and the water was a thick soup of reddish brown mud and debris which told me all I needed to know: the Subway was inaccessible. The hike was off.

Being the philosophical sort, I decided not to dwell on something I had no control over, so I headed to park headquarters to obtain a rain check so I would be able to return on some future date. I then took the park shuttle into the upper reaches of Zion to see what I could see.

The first trail I hiked was at The Temple Of SInawava. Named for a Piaute prince, this is the area of the park where the canyon begins to get narrower. The trail follows the edge of the Virgin River for a little over a mile before it dead ends. It was here that I found these cairns, but I prefer to think of them as river offerings.

By the time I reached the end of the trail and turned around, it was raining hard. I took the time to put my camera and lenses into ziplock bags and fit the all weather cover over my backpack before heading back.

My next stop was the Zion Lodge and the trailhead for the Emerald Pools hike. These three pools are located in Heaps Canyon which is a side canyon off Zion Canyon. The trail is about four miles round trip, and, once again, it began to rain. The first pool is situated below a one hundred foot high shelf of sandstone which was shedding a large amount of run-off in the form of two waterfalls. I made this image after passing under the falls to continue up to the second, or middle pool.

From here, the trail ascends steeply to the top of the shelf where the next pool is located. It is a truly beautiful place. The water runs calmly over the slickrock at a depth of no more than an inch in most places. This photo shows the stream which feeds one of the waterfalls just before it plunges over the edge.

There is another small flow much like this one further along the trail where it heads back down to the lodge. About half way between the two watercourses, the trail forks off to the third and highest of the three pools. This part of the hike is quite a bit more strenuous than the lower section, and the footing is tricky in places. At this point, the ever-present rain became a downpour, and the trail was now getting slick with mud. But, I really needed to see that last pool. I just knew it would be a great photo. Unfortunately, the combination of the now heavy rain, and the blowing mist at the bottom of the falls above the pool made it impossible to even set up a shot. I lingered hopefully for about twenty minutes, but the rain began to come down even harder, so I finally gave up and started down.

When I got back to the middle pool, there were about ten people there, and the rain had let up. I began to set up a shot about ten feet from the edge of the shelf. I was having a conversation with a young woman from Michigan when I noticed that my pack, which I had set down beside me on dry ground, was now sitting in about a half inch of water. I looked around, temporarily confused, and then it hit me: this peaceful little flow, swollen by the heavy rain, was about to flash. I told the woman to get moving, and we both grabbed her young daughter. By now the water was about six inches deep, and rising. We reached higher ground just as the debris came roaring down the stream bed. We had made it to safety, but we were now between the two flows, and both of them were, suddenly, raging torrents. There was no way out. We were stranded, at least for a while. As it turned out, there were about twenty people stuck on that wedge of (relatively) dry land between the two streams. We spent about two hours there, and I think we all developed a bond. We passed the time by talking and joking. I made one more image, not one of my best, but certainly one of my most memorable!

Then the water levels slowly returned to normal, and we all went about our lives.

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