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Visiting Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks

How do we encourage everyone to value the beautiful lands of our Earth? Maybe a shift in the words we use could begin to change the way we think about the dirt, rock, water, and air around us.

Living in the suburbs or the city without regular access to the best Mother Nature has to offer, it’s easy to forget the beauty, magnitude, and richness or some of the Earth’s greatest marvels. 

A couple of weeks ago, M and I visited Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon in southern Utah with his family and left the boys home with my parents. I’d never visited this part of the United States. Before we even arrived at our hotel, the majestic grandeur of the mountains left me in awe. 

We drove through the Virgin River Gorge (in construction traffic, giving me extra time to ogle out the window at the massive rock formations surrounding us) on our way to the National Parks. While impressed, I would eventually find out that these were nothing compared to the marvels of Bryce and Zion Canyons. 

As we spent the week hiking and admiring the land, I couldn’t help but think, again and again, how enormous and incredible something as simple as rocks could feel! How do these develop? What could I remember from middle school sciences classes about the origin of rock formations (spoiler alert: not much).

How We Spent Our Days

We spent the better part of two days hiking through Zion and Bryce Canyons. We could have spent many more days meandering through the parks, but “real life” and our two little guys awaited us back home. 

Without question, hiking The Narrows was the highlight for me. The Narrows, as the name implies, is the narrowest part of Zion Canyon and sits between walls of gorgeous red rock towering 1,000 feet in the air. Although you can see part of it without getting wet, the majority of the hike is in water, through the Virgin River. 

We rented special shoes and hiking sticks to aid in our adventure, and I highly recommend these. One of my sisters asked with a bit of sarcasm… “are the sticks really necessary or are they just for show?”, and they were undoubtedly the most useful piece of equipment we had all day. 

Always with my camera in tow, I used this lens and purchased a DiCaPac waterproof bag so I could carry my camera through The Narrows without risking water damage. I’m glad I had it because, at times, my camera floated along next to me while I trudged through waist-deep water. 

Conditions in The Narrows fluctuate a lot due to flash floods and cold water coming down the canyon from rain and snowmelt. The Narrows were closed until about 48 hours before our arrival due to high water levels, so we were a bit nervous that it would be a treacherous hike. Despite water that was waist-deep at times and only 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the hike was surprisingly comfortable. I never got cold (and I’m always cold… so that’s saying something). 

We saw a few young children hiking The Narrows, though I’m not sure our boys would have enjoyed it. I think the water was a bit too high for them. If you make a trip out to Zion National Park, however, this is a must-see if The Narrows are open when you visit. 

Our second day of hiking took us to Bryce Canyon where we first hiked around the rim and then delved into the canyon to hike through the famous hoodoos. A product of primarily frost-wedging and wind erosion, the rocks have morphed into unique pillars over millions of year. 

To be expected for a national park, Bryce Canyon is like nothing I’ve ever seen (an understatement, for sure). I loved admiring the crazy structures and thinking about how they formed. Once or twice, as I peered down into the canyon, I almost got swept away by the wind into the depths of the canyon. My heart was racing for a hot second, and I opted to steer clear of the edges after that. 

On our last full day in Utah, the girls saddled up for horseback riding while the boys hiked through Kolob Canyon. I think I rode a horse once when I was about five years old. I nervously mounted the horse and tried not to send it running, but my nerves cooled after a few minutes and I maintained my composure enough to enjoy the ride. I’m not sure how horseback riders endure the sore butts from all the bouncing, but I survived and lived to tell about it. 

Caring For the Land Through Language and Lifestyle

Throughout our trip, I appreciated the beauty and wealth of the natural world that so often is forgotten in the grind of everyday comings and goings. Being so close to the mountains reminded me, however, of the pressing need to address climate change issues. We must be advocates for and examples of the work required to protect our planet and all its amazing wonders.

On the trip, we learned a bit about the influences of the Native American Paiute tribe who have lived in the area for thousands of years. They call Zion “Straight Up Land”, and this name really stuck with me. Names can say a lot about the people bestowing them. 

All too often, we name important lands and landmarks after people, highlighting the importance of the person whose namesake the land holds and leaving the landmark itself as an afterthought. The Paiute tribe, however, named the land in such a way to highlight the beauty and magnificence of the land itself. No particular member of their tribe gets “credit” for discovering the beauty; instead, the land itself becomes the focal point. 

While it might just be a name, it reflects the larger value of the tribe prioritizing the land and all it offers. As humans wear down the Earth and exhaust its resources, maybe a shift in the words we use to describe our lands could shift how we value and respect them.

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