Virgin River Narrows - Zion National Park
We slam the sliding door shut with a thump and head off early in the 50 degree air. The sun is low in the sky and its direct rays do not reach us here on the valley floor. It seems odd to be dressed so rigorously, when many around us on the shuttle bus ride are dressed so casually in flip flops and floppy hats, womem in halter tops and babies in arms. We are dressed in full-on dry pants - sealed soft rubber cuffs clinging tightly to our lower shins. Thick neoprene booties cover our feet, and they in turn are sheathed in the latest 5.10 rubber soled canyoneering boots protecting our feet we hope from the torment that lies ahead. Under the dry pants are thick pile pants. Our upper halvss are a bit less protected, with two laters of quck dry fabric. In our hands are stout wooden staffs, 5 feet long. Hopefully Diane will not be beating me with one of these by the end of the day.
We get off the shuttle bus at it's last stop, at the mouth of the canyon at Sinawava, and begin our walk into the ever narrowing slot canyon of the Virgin River. We are carrying heavy staffs to help balance our weight when crossing the current, but for the first mile we stolll easily along the river's edge - growing more anxious by the step, what might lie ahead. Soon enough, the trail terminates at the river's edge, and there is nothing but sheer sandstone cliffs closing in on each side of the river. We tentatively step into the 50 degree water in the shallows and discover ......comfort. The water pressure presses in like a firm embrace as the shallows deepen to thigh deep, and except for some trickles of water into our by now very hot feet, no water seeps in at my ankles or legs. Nothing at all like a wet suit. Hurray! We lean heavily on the staff, stepping carefully on the invisible rounded river stones below the surface. Unlike wwarmer water streams I am more familiar with, there is little or no moss on the stones and the amazing shoes offer unexpected stability. Looking ahead and reading the river - backwards from usual, we look for the shalllow areas, where the flow may be a bit diminished. The light is playing brightly 500 feet overhead on the canyons top, but deep here by the river, we get just reflected light after t has bounced from side to side a million times before reaching us and boucing off the translucent green pools that form in the river's eddies and quiet spots.
We wind around large corners, marvel at the river's rounded undercut curves, and are astounded at each bend in the river with the sceanary which is unfolding. In some sections we can get out of the water and hike on the sandy banks, but mostly we trudge right up the stream, or at it's very edge. The water depth varies from ankle to waist, and the flow rate varies from almost calm to very strong, but no one in our party falls and we work our way up to "Wall Street", the fabled upper reaches of the lower canyon. When , after lunch break, another 20 minutes of hiking brings us to the most remarkable site. The river here stretchs wall to wall, waist deep, and the walls rise vertically at least 700 feet overhead. Here, the Navajo Sandstone walls are covered with a deep desert varnish, but the sun is almost directly overhead and with almost no reflection on the walls plunges directly into the water illuminating it as if from below. We want to continue up stream, and to explore more, but our water supplies are dwindling along with our food, and the way home is no easier than the way here. We snap a few pictures and follow the water back home.
Eats: Check out the Whiptail Cafe, Springdale - amazing fusion tex-mex - fresh food, casual outdoor dining, fatastically friendly service. Don't let the converted gas station building diswade you. Go for the food!
Outfitters: Checkout Zion Adventure Company - great davice - super high quality equipment - don't let anyone tell you otherwise - you need a dry suit and special shoes to hike all day long in 50 degree moving water! Bring or rent a big staff. Standard hiking poles will most likely be crushed