I thought my trip to Salt Creek was likely my last to the desert until the fall but I had an opportunity arise to meet some new friends and do some hiking in Zion National Park so I jumped at it. I haven’t spent much time in and around Zion, much like the other National Parks the dog restrictions have often kept me away. That and the crowds, what a mad house it can be. But there are a few things on my bucket list down there that I had been waiting for the right time to see. So when a slot opened up on Paul’s Subway permit, I was all over it.
The Subway portion of the trip was for Sunday so I decided to drive down on Friday and knock out another item on my to-do list, Kolob Canyons. I tried to round up some company but it didn’t come together so I would be doing this solo. I drove down from Salt Lake early Friday morning and arrived at the Kolob visitor center a little after 11am. I had reserved site #5 online since it was the only spot left but I was able to switch to something a little further in once I was there. After getting the usual park service chat I was off to the trailhead and on my way to my new campsite, #9.
The wild flowers were out of control, I took pictures of a handful but didn’t come close to getting all of the different types. Even the prickly pear were starting to bloom! It made for a delightful 2 hours on the 1000 foot/4.5 mile descent to La Verkin Creek.
And this is one of my favorite desert flowers, it’s called Rusby’s Globemallow. It’s not really the most interesting flower, it’s probably my favorite because of the color and the mass quantities it often comes in.
It’s amazing how much life there is when you focus on it. When I tell people I’m going camping in the desert, I get the feeling that people envision a dry, desolate place with tumble weed blowing around. It just couldn’t be further from the truth. Other things I saw along the first stretch of trail included several Yellow-bellied Marmots, tons of squirrels, birds and lizards.
It seems I see about 100 lizards per mile on a hot day like this. This guy stood out though, it’s pretty obvious that he lost a huge chunk of tail not too long ago but he didn’t learn his lesson. He stood on this rock and gave me his defensive show by pumping his chest up and down.
Just beyond that point the trail passes by the first campsite along La Verkin Creek, #4. Sites 1 and 2 are over in Timber Creek and site 3 is all the way at the top of the ridge between the two canyons. Don’t trust the National Geographic map that shows site 3 down by La Verkin Creek! It’s more than a mile away and at least a few hundred feet in elevation.
About 6.5 miles from the trailhead I reached the junction for Campsite #9. I planned to drop my overnight gear and then day hike from here. Unfortunately, camp #9 is on the other side of the river and finding a crossing with the high spring runoff was a challenge. I walked upstream a few hundred feet and found a log that crossed halfway and then I was able to hop on rocks the rest.
Once I had stopped moving, the flies moved in with force. I had applied some deet which got rid of the nasty grey biting flies but the big black/green ones were just annoying. I hurried and setup my tent for shelter and took a little siesta before heading out on my day hike. I was back on the trail around 5:00 and on my way up canyon to see Bear Trap Falls. After a little more than a half mile, the trail crosses the stream, it was really tough to avoid getting wet here.
Shortly beyond that crossing the trail branches off to Hop Valley, beyond there the trail is called the Willis Creek Trail even though it’s still following La Verkin Creek for a while longer. There are still a few more designated campsites, 15, 16 and 17, but the trail in general receives much less traffic. It is more rugged, involves a bit of bush whacking and has a lot of stream crossings. At the first one I realized it was pointless to try to keep my boots dry so I started walking through. The river was silty from the high runoff so you couldn’t see the bottom which made for an extra challenge. I really wish I had brought my trekking poles on this hike.
After what seemed like forever I finally reached campsite #17 and Bear Trap Canyon. I had it in my mind that it was only going to be 1-1.5 miles to Bear Trap but it turned out to be 2.25 from Campsite 9.
It was after 7 now so I only spent about 15 minutes at the falls before packing up and heading back down canyon. I made better time going down since I wasn’t looking for Bear Trap but it was still slow going because of the ruggedness of the canyon and the deep crossings. I was really hoping to have time to hike up to Kolob Arch on the way back but it was almost dark and I still had to pump water and get back to camp. There wasn’t much of a sunset that night but I took a few more pictures of the canyon in the evening light.
I was pretty exhausted when I got back to camp. It had been a 12 mile day and I was ready for a little rest. Usually when I’m solo I end up diving into bed soon after dark but I ended up staying up later than usual. It was a very nice experience to be out there all alone. When I’m soloing with my dog, Nikita, I think she actually puts me a little on edge because she is so hell bent on protecting me from every little sounds in the forest. But that night I just sat there in my campsite sipping on my flask, listening to music, even singing along a bit until nearly midnight. It was a really wonderful experience.
The next morning I slept in a bit. My plan for the morning was to make the quick hike up to Kolob Arch and then hike very quickly back to my truck so that I could make it into Zion by 1pm to meet some friends and go canyoneering in Keyhole Canyon.
It was a beautiful morning in the forest around my site. I took my time having breakfast and getting ready. At one point I looked over my shoulder and there was a young deer standing not more than 50 feet away from me. It stayed long enough for me to swap lenses on my camera. Another unique experience I doubt would have happened if I had had company.
Unfortunately, I kind of lost track of time and by the time I was ready to hike to Kolob Arch I realized I just didn’t have the time if I wanted to get back to Zion in time to do Keyhole Canyon. I doubt many folks hike all the way down to La Verkin Creek without a visit to Kolob Arch but I’m one of them. But at least I got to see Bear Trap Falls, that was definitely a higher priority for me.
I finally made it back to the trailhead about 40 minutes later than I had planned. I still had enough time to make it to Zion for Keyhole but I was toast. Almost 20 miles of backpacking in 24 hours coupled with the hot 1000 foot ascent had taken it out of me and I needed a bit of downtime before embarking on another hike. So with much regret I had to back out of doing Keyhole. Instead I went into Hurricane, grabbed some lunch and eventually made my way into Zion to my campsite for the night. Check out my trip report for the next days hike through The Subway here: http://backcountrypost.com/blog/?p=869.
View the full set of photos on Flickr.
See more of my trip reports to the Zion area.
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