Blown away

SA Guide: Observation Point, Timber Creek Overlook

Setting up the tent in a gale was enough to encourage our departure from the campground for a while.

We'd just arrived in Springdale, the quirky, fun little town outside Zion's main canyon, shortly after midday, and the wind was up. Although there was time to get in a hike, for once we decided to avail ourselves of some of the more touristy, National Parkish activities. So we hopped on the shuttle bus - which rambles a continuous circuit along the north-south breadth of Zion Canyon - for a lengthy 90 second ride to the first stop: the Human History Museum. Here we found some good exhibits, a fine looped movie, and a nice little gift shop. It's well done, not given to excess. But like so many experiences in Zion, this apparent restraint merely sets one up for the jaw-dropper: in this case when you walk out the back door of the museum to be presented with what the park calls the Temples of the Virgin.

Things seem to start out small here, then they get really big. Zion National Park manages its ample sensations like a cagey master chef: leading you through a satisfying, if unremarkable, repast...only to completely blow you away with the Baked Alaska.

After the museum, we returned to our campsite to once again be literally windswept.

The focal point of Zion National Park is its beautiful, steep-sided main red rock canyon which, like Yosemite Valley, is almost preternaturally scenic. And as most outdoors types know canyons can be quite the wind tunnels. There were points during each evening when it became something of a chore just to put together food, or even a hot drink, without losing various items and implements to the whims of Aeolus. But, being the troopers that we are, we soldiered through this hardship. Spectacular evening views helped a bit.

To begin our second day in the park we hopped on the shuttle bus early and rode it to stop number 7, the destination for those going to Weeping Rock, Hidden Canyon, Observation Point, and more distant points along the East Rim Trail. We headed up the path toward Observation Point, a scenic and challenging hike that climbs out of the main canyon to a promontory on the east rim. The views from along the switchbacks on the way up are typically excellent, after which you enter Echo Canyon. It's still picturesque here, but "views" is the wrong word. You're essentially in a wide slot, and it's cool (likely even on warm days) so be prepared to layer. Just before climbing out of the canyon along the left wall, another smaller slot branches off and appears, from what we could see, to continue on a fairly level trajectory. It had little pools that I had to imagine would be additionally inviting during a hot spell. A spot for future investigation.

If you're lucky enough, as we were, to be here in spring, then be sure to take the time to look down and around you. As impressive as this red-rock wonder may be, there is also beauty to be found in the small things. There were plenty of flowers blooming on this day, enough even to content Laura. And while we saw very little in the way of fauna - mostly a lizard here or there (in season means plenty of people, which also mean less wildlife) - indulging a protracted look at some moving color that catches your eye may just reveal an interesting natural encounter. Because of the flowers the pollinators were abundantly out and about, and the pair in the picture to the left couldn't have been less interested in whether their privacy was being invaded.

As you finally gain the ridge over two thousand feet above the trailhead portions of the main canyon open up to the south and west. Then, after circling around onto East Mesa you shuffle through some low brush on soft sandy trail, catching glimpses of vistas here and there, before suddenly arriving at a breathtaking 270° spectacle of Zion Canyon to the south. Were it not for all the company, in front of whom it becomes necessary to look cool, one might even gasp. 

We rode the shuttle back from the Observation Point hike feeling a bit battered, and so treated ourselves to a dinner in town, then returned to our campsite to enjoy the evening and batten down the hatches. As our rhythms had adjusted somewhat to the hour difference (from Pacific time), and the group campground next to us, which had been a source of elevated decibel levels the night before, appeared to have emptied out, we hit the sack at a relatively reasonable hour. Unfortunately we woke the next morning at a relatively unreasonable hour and had to pack up quickly in order to get to Kolob Canyons before heading home.

Although the Kolob Canyons section of the park is easily accessible from Interstate 15, it is somewhat remote from Zion's main canyon. It took us about three quarters of an hour to drive there. We had wanted to get in a good hike in this new (to us) place prior to the six or seven hour drive back to southern California, but our late start thwarted these plans. So we resorted to bookending our leisurely first day with a leisurely last day by taking the five mile scenic drive up to Timber Creek Overlook, doing that short but pretty hike, and stopping along the road for lunch and an art break.

As you gain altitude along Kolob's scenic drive the extent of this amazing canyon topography is gradually revealed. And the views from near the top are both grand and inviting. We sat in our camp chairs on the side of the red road, Laura drawing while I ate. I mentally began doing some drawing of my own, dreaming up plans for exploration of the spectacular clefts and mesas laid out in front of us.

And then the wind came up again. 


Info: Observation Point: Distance - 7.7 miles, Elevation range - 2224', Rating - Difficult

Timber Creek Overlook: Distance - 1.2 miles, Elevation range - 146', Rating - Easy

More photos:

  • 01 Watchman and car
  • 02 Mirabilis multiflora or Giant Four OClock
  • 03 Magnificent Zion Canyon
  • 04 Oenothera or Evening Primrose
  • 05 Echo Canyon
  • 06 Amorous wasps
  • 07 Observation Point panorama
  • 08 Paintbrush wall art
  • 09 The path down
  • 10 Sego Lily
  • 11 Nagunt Mesa
  • 12 The red road out
Even more photos: Watchman campground, Observation Point, Kolob Canyons



All photos and video by Laura or Bob Camp unless otherwise indicated. Use without permission is not cool.