Pure Zion

On December 6, 2009, in Adventure, Running, by Meghan

As my beloved readers know, I work in and live next to a national park. A Yosemite National Park visitor recently asked me this great question, “When you’re from a national park, where do you go on vacation?” I could have given her lots of answers because almost nothing is off limits to my vacationing, but I instead told her about my last trip. I said, “I just went on a 2-week vacation and spent time in 3 national parks, 1 national monument, and several national forests.”

During these 2 weeks, we visited Zion National Park for a few days of running and cycling. Zion Canyon greeted early November with peak fall color; the weather was mild both day and night; and, few tourists were exploring Zion during our visit. That is, the figurative stars aligned for a perfect Zion National Park visit.

Day 1, Chillin’ in Zion Canyon

Red sandstone in Zion National Park is nature's fireworks.

After a long drive from northern New Mexico, we arrived the night before to one of Zion Canyon’s campgrounds in the dark. When we woke up and looked out of the tent, this was our view. The cottonwood trees appeared to be competing with the red rocks for the attention of one’s eye. Good thing we were on vacation and had ample time to enjoy both!

Bryon runs along a ledge on the Watchman Trail.

That day, we had a nice, short run on a trail that climbed just a few hundred feet above the valley floor. I also spent some of the afternoon cycling the road of Zion Canyon. Spinning through Zion’s canyon walls on a quiet afternoon was surreal, a special experience I will try hard to remember.

Day 2, Pure Zion begins!

On our second day, we joined a group trail running weekend organized by the Wilderness Running Company‘s Stacy and Lisa Young. This weekend, called Pure Zion, conglomerated a small group of able and passionate trail runners from far and wide for 2 days of running.

Left to right: Jamie Frink, myself, Bryon Powell, Gretchen Brugman, and Jenny Capel

Also on board for part of this run were local runners Bob and Mary Jo (They weren’t in this picture because they took off down the trail too fast! Also, I don’t know their last names, so I’ve got no links for them.).

We started on the west side of Zion Canyon after Stacy’s trailhead shuttle, and 27-ish miles later we’d passed through the canyon and out its east side.

Pure Zion descends into Potato Hollow on the West Rim Trail.

The route was docile to start, with several miles of rolling, downhill terrain. We stopped approximately every 1.2 seconds for photos, each time someone in the group said, “Ohmygoshlookitlookit!” It was a great way to greet the day and get to know some new trail friends.

Bryon and Gretchen are smile happy in front of Zion's famous red and white sandstone.

Eventually, the gaping hole in the ground began to present itself, and the viewpoint stopping frequency increased to pretty much all the time. Bryon and Gretchen are really happy to be here!

Left to right: Bob, Mary Jo, Jamie, and Jenny manage one of the dozens of switchbacks into Zion Canyon.

Soon we were trail-diving into the canyons on trails literally cut from rock faces.

Gazing at the view from Angels Landing

We made extra time to climb out onto Angel’s Landing, the place were rock and sky meet and you feel like you’re simultaneously being lifted into heaven and about to fall a thousand or so vertical feet back to solid earth. In this photo, from left to right, some strange dude, Mary Jo, Jenny, and Gretchen get a firm grip on solid ground to take in the view.

A California Condor soars below Angels Landing.

On Angel’s Landing, we had special visitors, two California Condors. Big, beautiful, and so freaking rare, I couldn’t help but watch with mouth agape. I finally woke up and pulled out my camera to photograph the miracle bird just 100 meters or so away. Indeed, it was an angel’s landing!

We gorged ourself at Pure Zion's aid station, thanks to Stacy and Lisa!

When we hit the valley floor a short time later at about mile 17 of our journey, Stacy and Lisa greeted us with a beautiful picnic lunch/re-fueling station. Look in the back of this photo to see how excited Gretchen was about lunch. I can’t blame her, Stacy and Lisa (pictured in the center of this photo) brought a small grocery store to our picnic lunch, and we feasted in gratitude.

Jamie and Jenny ascend the East Rim Trail.

After lunch, we began the second half of our run, a climb out of Zion Canyon and up its East Rim. The views were varied on this ascent, highlighted in part by a passage through this slot canyon.

The long shadows and late-afternoon light light up the East Rim Trail.

The day ended well, just a half hour or so before dark. Stacy met us at the trailhead with more food and recovery drinks, a welcome treat after another 10 miles on trail. I think we all went to bed this night happy and sated, especially with the knowledge that we would wake and do it all again tomorrow.

Day 3, Pure Zion, again

Gretchen says good morning!

Our third morning in Zion National Park greeted us like this! We picked up coffee and breakfast from a small cafe just outside of the park and began a 1 hour or so drive to the little visited northwest area of Zion. Our run today would be about 15 miles out and back to Kolob Arch. On this day, Stacy joined us on the trail to play local expert and tour guide!

I called this "Butt Crack Rock." Can you see why?

Kolob Arch

Here’s Kolob Arch in all her glory, glowing red as this red sandstone does best. The power of water and wind is best exemplified by arches like this one. I knew my lack of fitness would show today, a second day in a row of running in my running comeback. I enjoyed my energy while I had it, which was for about 10 of these 15 miles. After that, I just enjoyed my running company and the scenery. I apparently didn’t have the energy to take any more pictures, though.

Bryon indulges in a post-run dessert.

That is, until we returned to the trailhead and Bryon made a special kind of sandwich, jam encompassed by two frosting-dressed sugar cookies. We had an hour ride back to the main part of the park, during which I’m certain Bryon lapsed into a sugar coma.

At the end of this third day in Zion National Park, we said good-bye to the kind organizers of Pure Zion, as well as our new trail running friends. Pure Zion, Stacy and Lisa’s first organized trail run in Zion, was superb, and I’m hoping that they will do more of these weekends in the future. Oh yeah, and I hope they invite me back to them as well! Thank you to Stacy and Lisa for this amazing experience, and thank you to those of you who shared the trail, Bob, Mary Jo, Gretchen, Jenny, Jamie, and Bryon!

13 Responses to “Pure Zion”

  1. Paige says:

    Great post, Meghan! I love Wilderness Running Company, and Stacy is a super awesome dude. Love the pictures!

  2. Danni says:

    That looks like so much fun — I love Zion. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Bryon Powell says:

    The final picture features bumbleberry jam. It was delicious!

  4. Leslie's Keith says:

    Leslie and I are seriously addicted to National Park visits! Good thing you live next to one! (and we live in one)…

    Let's visit one together soon!

    (Hi Bryon…)


    PS…I'm having a hard time understanding your pictures as you never point at anything!

  5. Stacy (WRC) says:

    Loved your account — words and pics! Couldn't have imagined we'd have such a cool group drop in for the weekend. MUST happen again. After seeing the picture, I think I'll award Bryon the first (annual?) Bumbleberry Award for his sandwich cookie invention.

    Our get-together was on my mind a lot on Sunday — got out to the park for one last run on the high trails before the snow arrived late Sunday night. Cold, gorgeous day! Didn't see a condor, but still had great luck with the wildlife spotting: a pair of bald eagles, a herd of elk, and a majestic buck mulie.

    Take care.

  6. Gretchen says:

    Beautiful account, Meghan! Thanks so much for sharing your view of a weekend that was nothing less than superb. It was such a pleasure to share the trails with you.
    I can't wait to do it again! 🙂

  7. Gretchen says:

    …and, do I always act as goofy as your photos would imply? I'm sure it's just because I was on fire with happiness that weekend.


  8. olga says:

    Beautiful!!! And Goat in a circle of gorgeous girls? I bet he was dreaming:)

  9. olga says:

    Beautiful!!! And Goat in a circle of gorgeous girls? I bet he was dreaming:)

  10. JeffO says:

    Maybe THAT'S where I'll go for my birthday week?

  11. Sunshine Girl says:

    How does it feel to be running in pretty places again?!? Bryce and Zion are on The List….maybe next year?

  12. Meghan says:

    Paige- Thank you! I agree, the Wilderness Running Company peeps are great and I expect big things of them!

    Danni- Sooooo fun, wish you were there!

    Bryon- I almost mentioned that it was bumbleberry jam, but then I would have to describe what exactly it is, and that was too hard because I don't really know! 😉

    Keith- National park vacations are the best! Ok, let's visit one soon! And, yes, I'm sure glad that we all live in one!

    Stacy- Thanks again for an amazing time. I'm really glad you got another shot at the high country. After these storms, though, it's probably socked in, yes? Thanks so much!

    Gretchen- Thank you to you as well, and, yes, m'dear, you are that goofy. And more! I'm so glad to have spent time with you and to discover the coolness that is Gretchen!

    Olga- I do think Bryon had a great day of gazing at runner ladies' legs. How can you blame him, though?! 🙂

    JeffO- Please put it on the to-do list, for sure. My next post will be about Canyonlands National Park, which was also just stunning!

    Leslie- The Utah parks are calling yours and your husband's names. They sure caught my heartstrings again after an absence. You wouldn't have to twist my arm to get me back there again soon! Hugs!

  13. saschasdad says:

    You had me at "jam encompassed by two frosting-dressed sugar cookies". Damn, that boy is a good cookie maker!

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