A word of advice: skip Zion if you have neck problems. This is vertical country, and experiencing it is like viewing fireworks in the sky for several hours at a time. One day hiking here rewarded me with incredibly sore, exhausted neck muscles. It would be a full week before I recovered and could actually raise my head off the pillow without using an arm for leverage.
That problem aside, Zion is awesome country and we chose an awesome time to explore it.
Summer was a bit late this year, so the desert plants were still in their full spring glory, a contrasting carpet of green leaves and bright wildflowers against the jumbled white, pink, and red of the looming cliffsides.
We got an early start for our first day exploring the park, arriving at the gate around 8 a.m., where we purchased my America the Beautiful pass for $10. Yes, according to the National Park Service, I am officially a geezer.
Oh, I keed, I keed -- this is an incredible bargain available to seniors 62 and older; it will get us into any national park for the rest of my life. We plan to take full advantage of it just in this one spot, avoiding the daily $25 entry fee (or the $80 annual pass).
We received one more thing on entry to the park -- a little "No Tunnel" sign to put on our windshield. Each time we enter the park, it will tell the guard that no, we're not going to take our big dually through the Zion-Mount Carmel tunnel (for which there is a fee -- more about that later). I can't wait to see the "Yes Tunnel" sign.
The parking lot inside Zion usually fills by 10 a.m., but at 8 a.m.it was easy to stash our monster truck and catch the Zion shuttle, a fleet of propane-powered buses that make a 90-minute loop on the canyon road, dropping visitors at eight different stops within the park. On the way down-canyon, a recorded narration describes the sights and trails at each stop. During the day, shuttles run about ten minutes apart, so it's easy to hop on and off at the various stops on your own schedule.
Our hope in getting to Zion in May was to avoid the 100+ degree temperatures that are common here in the summer. Based on this morning's temperatures, we succeeded. I was happy I'd chosen multiple light-but-warm layers, as it was quite cool in the early morning shadows.
Zion is a hiking park; there really isn't much else to do here unless you just want to ride the shuttle to every stop and work on your neckache. And very little of the hiking is flat, so you better be in shape. For our initial foray, I chose a moderate loop starting with the Kayenta Trail, leading to the Lower, Middle, and Upper Emerald Pools, thinking that the three or four miles of not-too-steep ascent would prepare us for bigger and better hikes without putting us in the hospital our first day. We were on the Kayenta Trail by 8:30 a.m. and for the first hour or so, we had it blissfully to ourselves. Alas, this would prove to be an exception case.
I soon learned one problem for a photographer in Zion: if you start early to beat the crowds, the light sucks. The canyon is so deep and narrow that on many of the cliff faces, the only decent lighting for photography is from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. *Sigh*. Oh well. We do what we can.