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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Saving The Best For The Last Hurrah In Zion

After a balmy November that zipped by like a chetah in hot pursuit of gazelles, The Subway was to be our final hike in Zion. Co-Campers Maikel and Susan were "all in," even after our disclaimer that this hike can test ones mettle, and it's not as easy as the length in miles might suggest. If you are looking for an all day adventure into Zion's backcountry, the rewards along the way and at the end of the Subway hike are well worth the effort.

Bobbie and I have hiked to the lower Subway only once, six (or was it seven) years ago... back when we were in better "condition." Those were the days, my friends... two long distance runners of mountain trails at altitudes that now make our heads swim. I had a healthy spine with all discs in proper alignment, and full use of both legs. No aches, no pains... no problem. If it's true that one is as young as they feel, I was 29

That said, my ass was dragging by the end of our first hike. The coup de grace was at the end... getting up and out of the access canyon on one of the steepest trails this side of the Rockies. To say I had reservations about a second attempt in my new, less-abled body would be an understatement. Someday I will have to sit this one out, but not yet, not today.

Recall last year when Bobbie and I attempted to reprise the Subway trek, only to be ticketed and turned back by Mr Ranger for lack of proper permit. Look, I "get" and appreciate the logic behind permits during peak season; it keeps numbers down and makes for a more enjoyable and natural experience. But Arrrgggg, we were the only hikers in the canyon on that late November day. Where is the common sense in a rigid one way, blanket policy like that? It reminds me of the Soup Nazi episode in Seinfeld, "No Pepsi... COKE!" 

I relived the lividity of that experience as Susan and I made our way up a most colorful bouldered creek, where crystal clear water fell and pooled behind an unending series of natural dams. Speckled green trout darted for cover at first sight. The aroma of a spent Autumn hung heavy in the air; decaying, damp leaves. Evidently, my "policy" rant was "polluting" Susan's "atmosphere." She finally interrupted and said, "Mark, it's time to let it gooo... get over it!" She was right, of course. Is it any wonder women live longer than men; they don't sweat the small stuff... especially women who've had cancer. It kinda resets priorities.  

Maikel and I were nursing sore legs left over from a Flying Monkey Mesa mountain bike ride the previous day and a precipitous climb to worship at the altar of the East Temple the day before that. Hey, we were trying to squeeze as much Zen from Zion as possible before departing Her Majesty's magic. To be honest, I wasn't ready to return to Colorado yet. A long-lived high pressure weather system had a stranglehold on southwest Utah; temperatures were still mild and we had the company of wonderful RV "playmates" in Susan and Maikel (sniff).

Look at 'em, who couldn't love these guy? :))

From the parking lot, a pleasant trail gradually meandered downhill through rocky terrain, gullies, and a dense stand of aromatic pinion and cedar. After a half mile or so, a seemingly bottomless and endless red canyon slowly unveiled before us, curving to and fro like a lazy snake, fading into the hinterlands. The distance and depth alone was enough to give pause. But Zion's canyons are compelling. We tightened laces and resolve, for the "meander" was about to get serious. 

Subway's friendly trail had an abrupt personality change, it turned angry and daunting, dropping like a rock in free fall. At times it almost felt like we were hiking down a waterfall, without the water. This portion of the trail gets "rode hard and put up wet" due to use and weather. It must be a nightmare to maintain, and I use the word "maintain" loosely. Hikers with long legs and strong quads will fare better, as some of the "steps" are in three foot increments. Fear not. Proceed with caution. If you forgot to bring a hiking pole, scrounge up a stick. You are going to need a third leg in order to stay upright... many, many times.

A mile and a half later and nearly a thousand feet lower, we were hiking creekside through a maze of boulders... every shape, size and color imaginable. Breathtaking! It felt like we were hiking through some sort of natural art gallery. From here on there was no trail. Right off the bat we had to pick our way... criss-crossing North Creek... hopping rock to boulder to rock.  The water at our feet ran clear, deep and cold. Speckled Trout, some fifteen inches or more, scurried for cover, trying to hide from four jolly giants interloping through their wilderness.

Even though North Creek's gradient is mild, hiking it's bouldered and rock-strewn bottom was moderately difficult. Every step had to be measured and calculated... Is that rock going to be loose or slippery? Can I trust wet soles to hold my scramble up and over that boulder? How deep is the water should I lose balance? Is there a better way around this obstacle. Needless to say, it is slow going. 

At one dicy crossing Susan chose what she thought was a better route around a deep pool of water. Suddenly, there was this "yelp" followed by laughter. I turned around to find her wading out of a waist deep hole, soaked to the bone. The only "fatality" was the camera on her waist-belt that got submerged in the ordeal. Fortunately she had a pair of dry socks in her pack; hiking in wet shoes over such uneven terrain is a gilded invitation to blisters. Everything else wet she was stuck with. Sorry Susan, no fires in wilderness areas to dry you out and possibly save your life!!! (I know, I need to "let it go").

Susan did some internet research before our hike and learned that somewhere in the maze of North Creek were dinosaur tracks. She was hellbent on finding them. I figured that finding those dino tracks would be like looking for the proverbial "needle in a haystack," a long-shot at best in the chaos of boulders and fallen leaves. About the halfway mark, Bobbie and Susan stopped and waited for Maikel and I to catch up. Susan, being the group's eternal optimist and having been successful at Finding Alphonzo, stopped a lone hiker coming out to ask him if he knew the whereabouts of dinosaur tracks. Insert Twilight Zone music here!

Two things: One, this lone hiker guy in jeans and tee shirt just happens to be the Zion National Park Paleontologist! Two, It turns out that Susan and Bobbie were leaning on THE very rock that held the tracks! So Paleo-Man smiles and says, "Yeah, they're right behind you." Whadaya know, some three-toed T Rex type was tromping around Zion a mere one hundred million years ago... give or take a day. 

There were quite a few tracks in this goo-turned-rock!

The walls of our heretofore broad canyon began to close in around us; dark clouds built overhead. Why does the weather always get sketchy when we are hiking narrows? I looked up through tree branches. Some fifteen feet overhead were the tangled remnants of previous flash floods. I tried to imagine the sight and sound of it... deafening thunder... devastating force... a torrent of water ripping trees from the ground like they were twigs, and repositioning boulders as big as a house. 

Finally, walls squeezing down around us, we reached The Subway's stepped entry... series after series of wide, shallow, and extremely slippery ripples that must be negotiated for a quarter mile in order to reach the "grand prize." No step could be trusted. We relied heavily on our hiking poles to stay upright. 

The canyon began to curve overhead, closing in and forming a tube with only a slot of light at the top. Tired and slipping, we gingerly waded the final bend standing between us and our long sought, hard earned destination... submerged in The Subway... swallowed up like Jonah in the belly of a great whale.
To be continued...

Due to photo load, stay tuned for part two of The Last Hurrah In Zion, and pictures of The Subway. Please Share on Facebook or by link... and help spread the BCB adventures.
Thanks, have a great weekend...
Back home in Lovely Ouray for Christmas.  :)  :(


  1. Beautiful photo! Wishing I could still hike, or even walk a long distance, but I will enjoy your blog :)

  2. COOL TRACKS! I'm gonna enjoy your photos awhile, because what you did I ain't doing.

  3. All I can say is "WOW"; what a hike!
    Can't wait for the rest of the photo's....give Lovely Ouray a hug from me! We've been in the 80's here in Austin...bah humbug!


  4. Awesome hike, thanks for taking us along, wonderful pics

  5. Gorgeous! What luck you met the paleontologist. Geologists are the best to hike with - they can see what you can't and are so willing to share their knowledge.

    Ya know, you are hiking in a National Park in treacherous and difficult terrain. Even in off season with light traffic, the rangers need to know who is in the back country so if you don't return, they can mount an intelligent search. If you had torn a ligament or broken a leg or gotten trapped by a boulder, you would be very glad you signed in. Permits restrict the impact during high season and keep track of the bodies in the hills during off season. Rangers have to clean out the litter, including foolish humans. They need to keep the park as pristine as possible while having it accessible to visitors. Step back a bit and see the whole picture instead of griping. You might have little trouble and respect the wildness and take care, but lots of people think they have the right to shit everywhere and destroy whatever they can. Rangers can't tell which one you are by looking at you. Yes, you have the right to be stupid but not in a National Park. Those belong to all of us.

  6. Maikel here. So we got a camera upgrade. A new Canon with 20x Optical Zoom. Sweet. Great pictures Mark.

  7. We enjoyed these photos, Mark.
    Now it's time to declare: "Hurray for Ouray!!!!" Bring on the snowy photos. -scamp

  8. Looks like a nice summer hike, except I bet that's when it's packed.

    As for the dino tracks, a paleontologist friend always comments when he sees tracks that they're probably just some more stupid sauropods (common herbivores). I think he's seen lots of tracks, but I'm always eager to see more. If you guys get back down that way, go visit the Johnson Farm Trackway in St. George, very cool.

    And have a nice holiday in Ouray, perfect for Christmas.

  9. Wow! Pretty stuff. My fishy senses told me there were trout in those waters. Places that look like that put smile on my face. Thanks for posting.

  10. Editor's Note:
    Whew! It's been a busy time. As readers may have figured out, Bobbie and I are back home in Lovely Ouray. It was snow-less and mild, but things have "changed" recently. I'll do a post...

    We'll take you "walking" through photos. Thanks for coming along and commenting.

    You bring up an interesting point that I would like to comment on.

    It has become one of main purposes of the Box Canyon Blog, to take people along with us through "postcards." I do it for those who are, for what ever reason, unable... due to illness, age, amputation, job or location. It's the least I can do, and I really appreciate that there are a few people out there who "use" it for vicarious adventure.
    thanks Sunny.

    Good Luck Duck,
    There you go... I have found my purpose :)) Thanks!!!

    Lovely Laverne,
    You need a second home in Lovely Ouray. You know you do! Get the Dotter to go in with you on it... I have two for sale, you know :)) Call me :))

    Geo and Suzie,
    You are most welcome... Thought you could use a few mountains in Florida :))

    Thank you...
    I have a couple of Geologists in the family, but they are too busy and seldom accompany us :(( Children and work, you know...

    As for your take on my "griping," first of all I prefer "Rant." It is, and always has been, and always will be, a part of the BCB... and readers are encouraged to disagree... so thank you :))

    We had a long conversation with said Ranger... he knew that we were a couple of nature loving seniors, just out for a walk in the wilderness, trying to get a little exercise, because I told him. We had no ropes or serious gear... he knew we weren't going to mount a climbing expedition into the actual Narrows of the Subway. Like the cop who pulls you over for a tail light problem... he had the choice to give us a warning and let it slide "this time." When it became apparent he wasn't going to do that, I got a little peeved. We were the only ones in there... and we were not being "stupid," I assure you :))
    I enjoyed your dissenting opinions. thanks

    I saw that on your Facebook page! The color hurt my eyes :)) See ya soon.

    Snow pics are on the way... stay tuned.

    Spotted Dog,
    The water would feel good in the summertime, that's for sure.
    And as for your unappreciative paleontologist friends comment... we feel and say the same thing about Does :)) Tourists block traffic to take photos of Doe deers? They are a plague... :))

    Never heard of Farm Trackway... thanks, we'll check it out next year. Thanks, enjoy your fabulous Utah!

    Fly Fish Nevada,
    You are welcome... now you know where the fish are in Utah :)) Catch and release, please...

  11. Are you saying the ranger gave you a ticket?

    Did you remind him that YOU own that place, as part of John Q. Public and that he works for YOU? Is he aware that his job is paid by YOUR taxes?

    What ever happened to the intent of the law as opposed to the letter?

  12. Spotted Dog,
    To make matters worse, the signs at the trailhead are confusing "Permit required to hike narrow canyons."
    We weren't in the "narrow" part yet. Give me a number or make a better sign.
    Intent of the law is to keep numbers down. The "letter" of the law was applied at a time when it wasn't called for... in my humble opinion.
    Thanks S. D.


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