A beautiful sunny and hot day at Zion National Park. Our destination today is Mystery Canyon. Hiking in from Weeping Rock, a convenient shuttle stop, we approached Mystery via Observation Point. Obviously a nice day trek in itself, we only lingered a few minutes to take in this immense view of Zion Canyon. We have three miles of canyon fun to get on with. Here’s the view from Observation Point, well worth it!
This is a popular tourist trail, very well groomed and highly recommended as the views from the top are stunning! Shortly before you reach the Observation Point lookout, there is a turnoff to another trail. This is the one that leads in the direction of Mystery Canyon. When you leave the tourist route and head into the backcountry, believe me, you notice the difference. When we arrive at our first woodsy rappel, the excitement of the day begins. The commitment begins here. The defining nature of canyoneering is evident the moment you make that first descent and pull the rope from behind you. You’re in it, and the only logical way out of it, is to go forward. It’s a series of rappels that lead you down and down into the depths of these side canyons, until you transport yourself out of them into relative safety again. It’s a dangerous adventure, in that if you don’t have your wits about you, a fun day of hanging off ropes could go bad very quickly. I won’t belabor the dangers of canyoneering, as most of them are self-evident. This site is not a guide, but an editorial by an artist about her inspirations. I’ve included a few helpful links at the end of this post if you want to know more about canyoneering.
I am always amazed by the shapes water can create in stone. A masterful sculptor, it comes up with forms of unimaginable beauty. This canyon obviously sees quite a bit of water. You can tell by the greenish hues on the rock surfaces. Black stains also show clues of water having made its way in large amounts on a regular basis. On this day, after a relatively dry winter, the canyon is pretty dry.
Continuing into the slot the world around you is suddenly transformed and you are amazed by the spectacle. This is the reason we are here. It’s a secret world not everyone gets the priviledge of being a witness to. For me, as an abstract artist, I have found my candy store. My eyes and mind are in a constant whorl, and I’m seeing a new subject of study every few steps.
The way the light plays in these canyons, it has a truly mysterious nature. Sometimes it shows the canyon for its true depth, and other times the light creates a flattening effect that makes you realize how light and shadow can play tricks on your eyes. What looks like a turn is really a drop, and a wall full of ripples may actually be wide and flat. Photography is a tricky undertaking in such a place as the camera interprets what it can, using the light it is given. It’s always a mystery how your photos will develop, or look once up on the computer screen.
Unfortunately, these are long days of trekking and you have to keep on your way. Lingering too long to pull out a sketch book could turn into a safety issue. You generally want to get out of the canyons before you lose the light of day, unless you are prepared for a cold desert night. There are canyons here in Zion that require an overnight stay and the appropriate permits I might add. I haven’t attempted this, not yet, anyway.
Here you can see how a photo can distort the scale of things down here in the slot canyons. It’s just this sort of abstraction that I especially find fascinating. I have to be careful I don’t wander too far into my thoughts while I’m in it, I might accidentally step off a ledge!
Here’s a perfect example of a photographic image I might study for a painting. Look for follow-up posts for more on this.
Here the canyon seem to open up to reveal all sorts of sky and vistas. But don’t let it fool you, there’s still only one real way out. A lot of canyoneers are also proficient rock climbers. But generally you wouldn’t lug all that protection around with you on a canyoneering trip.
Again, another astonishing look at how water can transform a rock surface. The second image is looking directly overhead. Feel like a fish in a barrel? Yeah, you try not to think about that too much. One of the most frightening things that could potentially occur would be a flash flood. The deserts are notorious for flash flooding, and it’s extremely dangerous. In fact your chances of surviving it would not be good. There are warnings, though, so you never overlook the weather reports. I watched a bunch of videos on uTube showing flash floods and close calls in canyons. Those images are always present in the corners of my mind.
Here we encountered a large terrace with a safety line attached. This takes you out to another long rappel. I don’t have photos of it, but it was at the bottom of this one that our rope got stuck. We had all rappelled down safely, but when the rope was pulled from behind us, it fell back into a crack and got caught around a rock. Accidental anchors can be some of the strongest! Luckily, my group leader was prepared with patience and ascendors, and the problem was resolved. Another reason to be wary of time, and save your extra lingering time for useful projects like self-rescue.
The walls here at this section are high and dry!
At this last rappel you get to really “wow” the tourists marching through the Narrows. You get to launch yourself off this cool cliff and glide through a beautiful (on this day) trickling waterfall. Try not to do anything too embarrassing, you now have to walk out with your former spectators and catch a shuttle back to home base. This waterfall can make a greenish slippery surface for placing your toes on. Balance carefully and try to preserve the natural beauty as well as your own dignity!
Look for follow up postings showing drawings and artwork generated by the memory of this adventure.
Learn more about canyoneering in Zion National Park from these websites: