Rodeo, New Mexico
December 7, 2005
Between trailhead and parking area, a small crowd had gathered to observe and photograph bighorn sheep on either side of the road. The solitary bighorn silhouetted in afternoon light seemed to be taking pleasure in posing for us humans, if such a thing were possible. Two others across the road were on the move, foraging. While Bob remained below admiring the bighorns and chatting with tourists, the short hike to the much-touted overlook proved too tempting for me.
This hike is described in the Zion trail guide as moderate, yet the sign at the trailhead says it’s easy. Most of the dropoffs adjacent to the trail, which are incredibly far down and long, are fenced, but some are not; obviously, especially when the trail surface is wet, one must take extreme caution traversing the unrailed sections. Today, sunny, somewhat hazy, and dry-as-a-bone, those open severe dropoffs, one wrong step to oblivion, still took my breath away.
Climbing up stone steps, a good view is afforded of the east entrance of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel. Continuing up the trail into a side canyon, the trail is lined with box elder, piñon pine, shrub liveoak, and Utah serviceberry. Around a bend, railing begins along with a great view downwards of Pine Creek Narrows, a slot canyon and tributary of the Virgin River.
Railed boardwalk scaffolding is a bit of a surprise, but nothing compared to what is just beyond it, a cave-like overhang containing a line of seeps with flourishing maidenhair ferns. This peaceful place has been formed over the centuries by the water gradually seeping out at a shale layer, causing disintegration of the sandstone above and below it. Just beyond this overhang you’ll find one of the steep unrailed sections before a small switchback leads to some wonderful rock formations and a sandy area in which grow smooth red-barked manzanita shrubs.
Past the sandy section, slickrock begins, very secure walking when dry, slippery when wet. Good examples of desert varnish can be observed coating some of the rocks here. The “varnish” is caused by a complex interplay between clay, manganese, iron oxide, and bacteria. Bacteria capture windblown clay particles on the rock, making a film. Water, manganese and iron cement the clay into a glossy dark coating.
Canyon Overlook is the end of this trail, providing wide, far, and deep views of Pine Creek Canyon, Mt. Carmel Highway switchbacks, and beyond, Zion Canyon. In spite of some late afternoon haze, views were spectacular. At the viewpoint, a metal semi-circular plaque on a stone pedestal indicates many of Zion’s landmark mountains etched and named, so you can identify them as you look out. From Bridge Mountain on the left, to East Temple on the far right, in between you can see West Temple, Sundial, Altar of Sacrifice, the Streaked Wall, and the Beehives.
From journal Mukuntuweap – Splendors of Zion