I LOVE Zion National Park, as a young man growing up in Southern Utah I have fond memories of Zion over the years that range from being able to park in the long tunnel window to waiting for siblings to emerge from the narrows after an overnight hike. But mostly I remember the solitude of this spectacular national park. As most know and I try not to complain that solitude is disappearing from all but the most backcountry of locations and/or timing of the tourist season.
I certainly don’t begrudge somebody from enjoying something I have had the opportunity to enjoy my entire life, but after looking at pictures from Memorial Day 2019 with hours-long lines and queues set up to help avoid congestion and provide additional safety we are indeed loving our national parks to death.
Still, I need my Zion fix as much as the next guy. Perhaps even more. As someone who has been blessed to have Zion in my life on a regular basis, having crawled through many of its canyons and scrambled to the top of many peaks most people don’t even know exist, I can’t go very long before the pull of the red and white slickrock has me drifting south in spite of crowded conditions. Today was no different.
I drove east on Utah Hwy-14, up and over Cedar Mountain, turning right onto Hwy-89, approaching Zion National Park from the east gate. For today’s hike, I don’t even have to enter the park, I turn right heading toward Zion Ponderosa Ranch and follow the twisting, turning road to the high plateau resort. My favorite sign sits on one of the side roads as someone got creative by naming the street “End of The” with “road” appearing underneath. I won’t attempt to give directions to Stave Springs, but bring a map or use GPS because there are a large number of roads on this plateau and you could drive around for hours without finding anything.
Stave Springs is a horrible trailhead, little parking and none of it is maintained. A large drainage ditch is before the main trailhead but is rutted and difficult to cross even with high clearance vehicles. On the other side of the ditch are parking spots here and there and are also in poor condition. I suspect it is because the trailhead is not in park boundaries and therefore receive no funding to be maintained. It’s early morning when I arrive, but I am the 5th vehicle in the lot.
I take a quick picture of the trail map although I have taken this route a few times before. It’s cool and pleasant as I walk among the tall ponderosa pine trees. The first half mile is in the shade of these mammoth trees and I marvel at how tall the grass is along the trail. Spring lasted a long time this year and we had a very wet winter and so it doesn’t surprise me as I step over the first trickle of water coming from the spring.
Stave Spring is not located at the Stave Springs Trailhead. It is about a mile down the trail then up the East Rim Trail. I have visited this spring during a dry summer and barely located a trickle at the source, but today it is running freely and the water moves along the trail. It is joined by another stream coming from the south. I have never seen water is this stream before, but today it is beautiful.
I finally run into the first group of the day, returning from Cable Mountain. They must have got an early start to be returning so soon. I stop and visit briefly with 2 more groups before passing the cable mountain trail and walking alone toward Deertrap Mountain.
Deertrap Mountain trail is generally flat. There are a couple of ridgelines that the trail moves up and over, but it is predominately a flat hike. The sky is the color of bluebirds with just enough wisp of clouds to give dimension to the beauty surrounding me. The plateau is unremarkable to a certain extent, but nothing can compare with the views that await the patient hiker.
The national park service has rerouted the trail up and along one of the high ridgelines giving the hiker earlier and better views than the previous route. I take advantage of this high point to stop and take a break. It is a good taste of things to come and I marvel at the clear sky and lack of haze in my field of view.
My break soon ends and I hike up and over the final ridgeline to the westernmost edge of Deertrap Mountain. This is one of my favorite views in all of Zion.
When the main Zion canyon shuttle service stops at the Court of the Patriarchs and recommend hiking the 100 feet or so to the viewpoint, they fail to mention the spectacular view from 1500’ feet higher up.
I sit and eat lunch while my eyes move from peak to peak. I’ve summited Lady Mountain several times and strain to visualize the trail up that rugged, steep rockface. It’s getting later than I planned, but the day is cool and I have lots of water remaining so I move south along the plateau. The summit of Deertrap Mountain is a pile of sand and stone, but I make an effort to stand on the GPS location for a minute to claim another ascent of this iconic mountain.
Finally, I reach the southernmost tip of the plateau. It is breathtaking to look out and down the face of this southernmost end. I’ve climbed this southern face before and I learn now that it doesn’t matter the route one takes to the peak or how hard the effort, the view is spellbinding in its majestic beauty under any circumstances.
I pick out points of interest to me personally and notice the line of cars backed up across pine creek. It’s probably been a long day in the main section of the park, but the quiet solitude of my hike today has left me refreshed and excited to return again crowds or no crowds.