Monday, July 16, 2012

Emerald Pools of Zion

     It seems I have been cursed to never  get enough time at Zion National Park.  The first time I visited was in July 2010 and my timeline only allowed me to spend the better part of a morning there.  This time around, on May 18th, 2012, I only got to spend the better part of an afternoon and evening.  I figured since I didn’t have that much time, I would rather spend all of it at one place than try and rush through a few.  So I chose the Emerald Pools.  Unfortunately, while we were visiting, the Middle Emerald Pool was closed due to a landslide, so we were only able to explore the Lower and Upper.
     The full trail is about 3 miles round trip, and is one of the most popular in the entire park due to its easy access and ethereal green pools.  There is just something undeniably irresistible about water in the middle of a desert; people flock there as though under some divine quest.  I think it's only natural, but interesting to note just the same.

     At Zion National Park, everyone must take the shuttle if you are visiting between April 1st and October 31st.  At first it might seem like a hassle but you will quickly get used to it and even learn to appreciate it.  The park would be devastatingly congested with cars if it wasn’t for the Shuttle.  

     Zion is one of the most easily recognized places in the United States.  Nothing quite compares to the serene oasis of lush green trees and crystal clear water, the dark contrasting mountains surrounding it like a fortress against the harsh Mojave Desert.

     Zion National Park is located approximately 120 miles north of The Grand Canyon and is a part of what is known as The Grand Staircase.  The Grand Staircase is more of a state of mind than an exact place.  It is essentially what makes up the riveting beauty of the Southwest, generally spanning the land between Zion and Bryce National Parks, stretching as far South as The Grand Canyon.  It is made up of thousands of rock and sediment layers, each one representing a different place in time.  Erosion made possible by wind, water, and countless days is what has created the unique shapes of mountains and spires and cliff sides while simultaneously exposing the beauty of the earth’s life.  Whereas The Grand Canyon exposes rocks that are 2 billion years old, Zion’s show closer to 150 million.  Interestingly enough, that bottom layer of rock at Zion is the top layer of  The Grand Canyon.

     In the early Spring as the Winter snow melts, the Lower Emerald Pool can be a full fledged waterfall on a good year.  The day we were there, this is what we got:

     Though it wasn’t much, there is still something incredibly enchanting about falling water, even if it is just one small feather’s worth:

     The waterfall at Lower Emerald pool falls about 100 feet or so onto the rocks below.

     The hike to the lower pool is short and easy, a perfect family hike or the perfect hike to do if you are on a time-budget.  But if you have the time and energy, it’s more than worth it to continue to the Upper Emerald Pool and do the complete loop.  Hopefully when you visit, the Middle will be open once more.  
     As you continue up the trail, you get a fine view of the lower pool's waterfall from a distance:

     The trail onward consists of many stone stairways such as these:

     Your heart rate will no doubt increase as you climb the steps and maneuver over boulders and through sand, but it's relatively short and we saw people of all ages on the hike, including young kids.

     My favorite part of the trail is when the canyon narrows and yet there are trees like this managing to grow and thrive in such an intricate environment:

     Not much more than a mile later and you will arrive at Upper Emerald Pool:

     Emerald pool is the perfect name for this place, as the water is the most alluring shade of green due to algae and helped along by the reflections of hovering trees.  In it you will see reflections accurate and still as a mirror:

     This is Zion National Park at its finest.  The colors, the secret recesses of water that give life to the oasis and abundance of trees, the contrasting layers of rock:

     Once the sun headed over the top of the canyon for the night, the crowds began to clear out and for a little while we had this pool to ourselves.  There is an immense stillness that lays upon you heavily, like a lid over the top of some smaller world.  
     It was heavy dusk when we emerged from the trailhead and stepped back on the footbridge that takes you across the Virgin River.  We stayed there until it got dark, enjoying the sights and sounds of nightfall while exploring a shallow section of the riverbed.

     By using my polarizing filter and the impending darkness, I got an unnaturally long exposure on the water which gives it a silky sort of look.  It allowed me capture the precise emotions I felt in that moment, as though I could stand in that spot unchanged forever while the beauty of everything else would continue on around me in a fluid ribbon; the trees, the water, the mountains, the night.
     Here is a view of the footbridge that you will cross to get to the Pools trailhead.  The chasmic cliffs and green trees make Zion emblematic, but it is the Virgin River which made it all possible to begin with.

     I could never get enough time at this park.  The Emerald Pools are barely glancing the surface of all that this desert oasis has to offer.  Angel’s Landing, Weeping Rock, Kolob Arch, and The Narrows are just a few spots to visit and explore, each offering their own unique gifts and sights.  

     Fall appears to be the best time of year to visit, as Summer temperatures regularly exceed 100 degrees.  I've looked at many photographs of Zion in the Fall and the Aspens change into the loveliest golden color, adding even more depth to the already dazzling scenery.  The weather is also the kindest and crowds are fewer.  It bears repeating that another trip to Zion is in store in my hopeful future.

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