Migraines, Pyros, and Zion National Park

I woke up at 2:45 AM to the smell of BBQ, which is not a great thing BEFORE sunrise at a national park. I took a stroll through the campground to make sure that we weren’t on the menu for later in the morning.


Traveling by automobile is fun when you can break it into pieces. Driving from Arroyo Grande to Zion National Park isn’t something you can break up. I’m stealing from Lewis Black a bit, but from the Coastal Range to Bakersfield, there’s NOTHING. From Bakersfield through the Mojave Desert, there’s LESS.

It was a push for the kids yesterday. Drive, drive, drive. Andrew nearly lost his $#!+ when finally got to the campground. He was in cousin withdrawal, he was tired, and he had seen enough of our vehicle. He was asleep before the sun was down.

Trying to beat the heat in Zion.

Allison wasn’t so lucky with sleep. Zion is HOT. Like in-the-upper-90s hot at sundown. She tossed and turned all night, as did I. It cooled off rapidly after dusk, and there was a nice breeze. There are also several forest fires burning in the west, one of which is close to Zion. I woke up at 2:45 AM to the smell of BBQ, which is not a great thing BEFORE sunrise at a national park. I took a stroll through the campground to make sure that we weren’t on the menu for later in the morning. But sleep didn’t come easy.

While we were waiting for the shuttle bus at 7 AM to go on our hike (more about that in a bit), we ran into a large extended family from San Jose. They quite openly boasted about their charcoal fire last night (those are banned, go figure). One woman openly discussed alleviating her migraine with some Exedrin Migraine washed down with a beer. I shook my head. These jerks were trying to burn down the park with us in it, and were giving the Keith Richards headache remedy a shot while they waited. I was hoping Smokey the Bear and his firing squad had a solution for the problem. No such luck. Bad omen for us.

Starting to hike The Narrows.

This all sounds very negative. In all honesty, the Watchman Campground is now my favorite campsite, if we can find a way to ban the pyros. We were situated in a valley between two orange/red rock walls. The skyline was stunning; an explosion of golds, oranges, pinks, and purples (probably enhanced by Mr. Forest Fire). The sites were clean. It managed to cool off. We had the rain fly to our tent off, so I watched the stars come out from the comfort of my own tent. Not shabby at all.

We only had a short amount of time to hike, given imminent heat and the fact we had to make a break for our next campsite. I’m sure many of the hikes would be breathtaking, instant classics. I’d love to hike Angel’s Landing someday, but given the heights and shear drops, it might have be an adventure for me and The Boy in the future.

Hiking upstream is a struggle if you are lightweight with little legs. Downstream was a breeze.

We hiked The Narrows. So did a buttload of other people. It’s easy to see why. You hike a little over a mile along the Virgin River (keep this above board, people). Then, you just hike in the river. My pictures don’t do it justice. It’s hot, but the water is 64F. You are surrounded by 1,000+ foot red/orange cliffs to either side of you. There are small rapids, and hairpin turns that lead to canyon prettier than the one you just walked through. I prefer to have some of my experiences in nature with a small number of people. But this is a quintessential, southwestern hike. We did somewhere around 5.5 to 6 miles, but we could have easily done so much more.

Some parts were only ankle deep. Other times, one could find channels chest deep. Pictures do not give the walls justice for their imposing presence.

Camp for the next three nights is in Jacob’s Lake, AZ, 30 miles north of the north rim of the Grand Canyon. One day we will hike on the North Kaibab Trail. One day is open, but we need to try the local pie joint. And the last day, we leave for Bryce Canyon. Lots to see in very northern AZ.

Some observations from today:

The national park employees in Zion were the least chatty bunch I’ve met. I don’t know how you hire a staff that consists entirely of introverts to work with the public, but here we are.

Of all the places I’ve been, the hikers here were the least prepared I’ve seen. I chalk this to selection bias. You don’t have to be well prepared to hike The Narrows. I’m sure the other routes there that are more taxing had people that were fully equipped for their adventure. Andrew hates selfie-sticks, and I agree. Trust me, there are much more picturesque things to photograph at Zion other than yourself. Andrew may cause physical harm to the next person he sees hiking with a selfie-stick. I probably won’t stop him.

Zion is worth the trip, no matter where you live in North America. If you are staying in air conditioning (or are only staying one night), the summer works just fine. But if you want to camp for several days, think May, or wait until September.

We elected to use running shoes to hike in The Narrows. There are outfitters just outside the park that tell you that you NEED neoprene for hiking The Narrows. Maybe this is true right after the snow melts in spring. I think a decent pair of running shoes that has its tread still in tact is just fine. But a good hiking stick for when you are walking against the current is a good idea. The rocks are super slippery, and I could imagine broken ankles fairly easily. Walking downstream was much easier.

I’m getting really good at using the outdoor solar shower we have. I probably should be embarrassed, but I’m not.

Today was anniversary #17. I’m glad that our kids are with us. I’m pleased that they are witnessing the same things we are and are sharing in the experience. I know some people make it a point to take a major trip without their children. To each their own, I mean it honestly. But it wouldn’t feel right to me, especially not this trip. Maybe I’ll change my tune in the future, but I kind of doubt it.

I won’t give you the line of “I may not come home.” I’m thoroughly enjoying this adventure. But I know I’m in the final 8 days, and I’m not dreading coming home either. Maybe I am on to something with this sabbatical thing…



Author: Jason Kesselring

I am a 44 year old high school chemistry teacher (and former pediatrician), happily married, and a father of two wonderful children. I blog sporadically, and if there's a theme in here, please tell me what it is!

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