Tuesday, April 3, 2018

How to get the most Zen out of Zion (plus Horseshoe Bend for the side trippers)

Mid-March I had the opportunity to entertain a group of amazing women in the desert. In September of 2018 I was nudged to put together a retreat in Zion even though I’d never thought of hosting there. After doing some research, I found a house right outside the park and booked it in hopes that I’d have enough interest to fill the space. As it turns out I had so much interest I had to rent a second house next door to accommodate my waitlist. I was officially heading back to Zion.

I had the itch to visit Horseshoe Bend on my way to the retreat so I talked my assistant Kelsie and friend (and fellow attendee) Amanda into joining me. It’s about a 9 hour and 54 mile minute drive from Colorado and almost a two-hour drive out of the way from Zion so it was a bit of a side trip. However, I figured if I’m driving 10 hours what’s another 2? We decided to leave on Monday before the retreat started since the lady I was renting from was going to let me in the house early Tuesday. Kelsie had been to Horseshoe Bend before so I relied on her expertise in booking us a spot in Page, Arizona. Much of the land surrounding the area is Indian Reservation so there’s not really opportunities to camp nearby. So Kelsie booked us a hotel in the downtown area that had access to plenty of restaurants and gas stations. I believe the hotel cost us $18 each so you can imagine the quality of the sheets and the rooms but it was better than a tent and that was all that mattered.

From Denver you drive through Moab on your way to Page so we stopped to stretch our legs at Wilson Arch:

I had read online that Horseshoe Bend was better seen at sunrise than sunset due to how the light hit the canyon walls as the sun rose. We left the hotel about 6am and traveled down the road to US Highway 89 where signs off the highway easily point you to right trail head (it’s between milepost 544 and 545). The parking lot was already starting to fill up and at this point the sun was starting to rise so we grabbed our cameras and headed for the overlook. The hike is about 1.3 miles RT and is currently like hiking up a sand pile but that will change come summer of this year as they are paving a way to the overlook. Currently you can see construction along the path as well as the beginnings of a railing they are putting up at the main overlook. There was already quite a set-up of people along the rim, people hopping over rocks, photographers with tripods everywhere and families with coffee and young kids all jockeying for the best spot. We should have arrived earlier but luckily we were there on a random week day in March. We rock hopped away from the crowds, avoiding the most obvious overlook spot and found a little solitude if you can call it that. After the sun rose it started to wash out the canyon walls so we packed it up and headed back to our hotel.
If traveling to Page you can always tack on a trip to Antelope Canyon but you need a permit for this attraction so make sure to secure yours ahead of time. I’ve never been, but personally if you want to see slot canyons without being in a tour group I’d hit up Escalante instead. There’s also the Glen Canyon Dam which you’ll pass on the way to Horseshoe Bend so you could easily combine all three activities into one trip. Rainbow Bridges National Monument and Vermillion Cliffs National Monument are also within the area and, from what I’ve seen in photos, look well worth the trip as well.

On we continued to Zion where we prepped the house and got ready for the retreat that was like no other. I knew going in to this retreat that there would be some challenges of coordinating a large group and having to drive in and out of the park to enjoy the sites. I was not, however, prepared for the snow and the rain that we had which made for a moody few days exploring. We weren’t able to do the Narrows since it was closed both days we went into the park due to flash flooding. We were, however, able to hike to Observation Point, Angel’s Landing (which some of us did twice because the first time we were turned around due to snow and ice), make a day trip to Bryce Canyon, and some of the  girls hiked Emerald Pools as well. Kelsie, Amanda and I did Hidden Canyon on Wednesday before the rest of the retreat group arrived and it was even more magical and less scary than I remembered it from last May.

Our retreat was book-ended by daily yoga sessions, a Japanese Princess beer tasting courtesy of Denver Beer Co, breakfast cooked by my assistants Kelsie and Aaron and grab-and-go lunch which my lovely assistants also helped coordinate. The accommodations were gorgeous and I will certainly be renting there again and bringing another retreat group back next April!

I don’t want to give away all my secrets for my schedule and planning of the retreat so I thought this video I made would speak for itself. If you like what you see I hope you’ll join me next year. I can only say that with this retreat one needs to be especially flexible. Hiking such a varied terrain as what you’ll find in Zion and Bryce and being at the mercy of a shuttle system and slow driving in the parks presents its own set of challenges in addition to varied weather. I will say, every attendee this year was absolutely amazing and I’m so thankful for this willingness of them to trust me with their much needed time to unwind.

Pro tips for Horseshoe Bend:
Arrive early
Bring water if going in the middle of summer
Wear Sturdy Shoes
Bring a Tripod if you want those epic “Looking down on you and the canyon” photos

Pro tips for Zion:
The four main hikes you’ll encounter are Angel’s Landing, Emerald Pools, Observation Point and the Narrows
Rent from Zion Outfitter for your Narrows Gear. If the Narrows is closed you’ll get to use it on a different day and if you don’t get to use it before you leave you’ll get a refund. As a bonus it’s just across the bridge from the parking lot in the park.
Do Angel’s Landing either very early or very late in the day to avoid crowds. You can drive to the trailhead and park if you drive in the park when the shuttle isn’t running. Otherwise the last shuttle pick up is somewhere around 8:25pm for that trailhead so make sure you’re down in time accordingly
Observation View Point, in my opinion, has one of the best views in the park and, at 8-miles, isn’t nearly as crowded.
Hidden Canyon is a great warm-up to Angel’s Landing.

All photos below from my assistant Aaron. Check out his instagram: @aaron_tuleja_

Have fun and enjoy and hopefully I'll see you in 2019!