Zion National Park guide

Escape the crowds and find the hidden beauty of southern Utah's incomparable canyons

Finding Zen Zion

Off-season, southern Utah's spectacular canyons are at their dramatic and inspirational best

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An uphill climb to enlightenment

Springdale is the main gateway to Zion. Unlike most towns on the edge of a national park, it's more than just a way station for picking up ice or gassing up.

While nearby St. George is one of the country's fastest-growing cities, in Spring-dale there are no traffic lights or fast-food franchises. But there are acupuncturists, artists, and yoga teachers. Population 650, it mixes the descendants of pioneering Mormon families with more recent arrivals, drawn here by the opportunity to live amidst Zion's glories.

Natives of England, Deb Durban and her husband, Steve Masefield, own Under the Eaves Bed & Breakfast. The 1930 house, built from local red sandstone, has its traditional elements. That said, Durban and Masefield are the antithesis of fussy innkeepers: She's an artist and he's a onetime computer security specialist with a decidedly irreverent sense of humor.

"Oh, we've had people ask, 'When are they going to turn on the waterfalls?' " says Masefield. "There are people who see Zion as a Disneyland or expect to be fed a 10-cent slot machine experience. But we love it here. This is a place that spoils you for anywhere else in the world."

At Zion, the path to enlightenment is an uphill climb: Its grandeur and scale are only truly revealed by ascending its mesas.

We head toward Angels Landing and along the West Rim Trail to Horse Pasture Plateau. Seen from the canyon, the mesas' sheer verticality makes this trek seem an unlikely prospect. Even the paved trails incised into the cliff faces can help only so much. What goes up still must go up.

Which is what we do, climbing Walter's Wiggles, the name given to the 21 switchbacks (in honor of an early park superintendent) that work their way up to Scout Overlook, one of Zion's best. Hikers coming down invariably feel compelled to rally those on their way up:

"Not too much more."

"Keep going. It's worth the view."

"Only halfway there. But you're going to love the tiki bar."

As it turns out, there is no tiki bar at the overlook, but there is Zion Canyon, and gloriously so. The Virgin River winds silently beneath monoliths. The sky is streaked by the leading edge of another storm, forecast to hit tomorrow.

We're looking forward to it, and to how the rain will transform Zion into a giant grotto, sending fog between the towers and seeps, and waterfalls down through every notch and crevice in the canyon walls. That's one kind of perfection, and today is another. So, washed not by rain but by sunshine, we push toward the high country, through sands that alternate between pink and white, and along the margin of rock and sky, passing a view from a slick-rock ledge that looks toward the Zion Narrows and 2,000 feet down into the Temple of Sinawava.



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