Today would be our first actual day visiting Zion National Park. And what better way to start off our National Park journey than with a canyon trail ride on horseback? I’d been on horses a bunch of times, but this would be Daniel’s first horse experience. Don’t worry, he did a little research beforehand to make sure he’d be okay.
We woke up around 7 and got ready, grabbing a quick granola bar breakfast in our hotel room. Our hotel’s coffee maker wasn’t working right, so we headed to our parking destination, the Zion Lodge, to see if they had a cafe where we could grab some caffeine. We were in luck, and we were each able to grab an iced coffee before our horseback adventure began.
After checking in, we were each assigned a horse. Daniel was given Navajo, who was one of their “beginner level” horses. Funny enough, it was Navajo’s first time on this trail ride as well. They got to be amateurs together. And it worked out, cuz Navajo, overall, was very sweet.
I got one of their more intermediate horses, Shadow. Shadow’s nickname was apparently the “grouchy dwarf,” because he’s small and angry all the time, which was something that resonated with me a lot. Overall he was well-behaved as well, but spent a lot of the ride taking his sweet time and ignoring me when I tried to get him to trot to catch up to the other horses.
Our guides went over their safety briefing: stay calm, stay close together, make sure all your hats and loose items are tied down. Apparently the horses spook easy if hats or jackets or any articles go flying off.
Within five minutes of our ride, one of the other riders’ sunglasses slipped off his hat. This sent his horse, his girlfriend’s horse, Navajo, and Shadow, all into a tizzy. They went kicking and braying and bucking all freaked out by these loose sunglasses. It only lasted about a minute, but of course it’s a little unnerving to have the half-ton hooved creature carrying you have a mental breakdown about some flying eyewear.
So anyway, at that point, we were five minutes down, and two hours and fifty-five minutes to go.
I was just worried that Daniel was going to say, “that’s enough horse time for me!” and want to be done. But he was a trooper, and carried on despite the drama.
Honestly, it was all downhill from there in terms of anxiety. In terms of elevation, it was mostly uphill. This was a great way to see lots of Zion at the beginning of our trip. The horses did the hiking so we didn’t have to.
We followed the “Sand Bench Trail,” which was a loop trail in the middle of the canyon. From the trail we got to see some of the cool cliffs and the valleys they formed. Probably the most famous was the the Court of the Patriarchs, which are the sandstone peaks named for Isaac, Jacob, and Abraham of Bible fame. Later in history they named a neighboring peak Mount Moroni, which was an angel from the Mormon faith. We are in Utah, after all.
Our guides also pointed out the prickly pear cacti, of which we have seen many bushes. They also hinted that the bulbs of these cacti make a really sweet nectar, which is used to make sweet syrup, and of course, prickly pear margaritas, for which I will now be searching for the duration of this trip. I’ve always enjoyed a prickly pear marg, but now that I have imagery of drinking a cactus, I’d like one sooner rather than later.
It was a beautiful ride, very relaxing and scenic. Daniel did very well on his first horseback jaunt. I’d hear him giving his horse pats and saying “Good boy, Navajo” as they rode along like a cowboy and his trusty steed.
Meanwhile I’m kicking Shadow in the butt a thousand times, because we kept lagging behind. He kept getting all chuffy with me for trying to get him to speed up. But Shadow, y’know, we wouldn’t have had this problem if you weren’t walking at the speed of a tortoise stuck in tar.
If there was one unique trait these horses all seemed to share, it was their gassiness. As someone who’s been around horses a fair amount, I have limited experience witnessing horse flatulence. I don’t know what they’re feeding these trail horses over at Canyon Trail Rides, but my god. No wonder why Shadow was taking a wide berth between himself and the horse in front of us. Not that he wasn’t a culprit as well…
After we returned to the corral, we dismounted and tipped our guides. They were both really nice. The one who spent most of his time near us was pretty chill, the kind of guy that would poke fun at us instead of outwardly judging our poor horse handling. That was the kind of energy we needed.
Overall it was great! There’s something charming about seeing some of the American southwest atop a horse. It makes you feel like a cowboy. But also, it’s no joke. My whole body hurts. If anyone ever says, “Horseback riding isn’t a workout,” I’d like them to consult my Apple Watch exercise circles.
Tired, knees hurting, and slightly sunburnt, Daniel and I returned to our hotel room for an afternoon siesta. We made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in our room and watched some tv while we pondered our next move. Eventually we decided to hike one of the more easily accessible trails, the Canyon Overlook. This trail had minimal elevation gain, and was only a mile long, which sounded perfect for our mostly-broken bodies post-horseback ride.
This trail was through the Zion Mount-Carmel tunnel, which was carved right out of the canyon wall back in the 1920s and 30s. We took a series of switchbacks to climb up to the tunnel, which gave us really cool views of the canyon. I didn’t take pictures cuz I was too busy staring in awe.
We scored a really good parking spot right next to the trail (YES that is blog-worthy) and made our way to the trail. It was a little after 2pm and the hottest point of the day, so we were taking it nice and slowly. It was a pretty cool trail along sandstone cliffs that were vividly striped with the evidence of wind and water erosion. It was a really cool texture.
Of course, the views were amazing. The trail was mostly along a cliff inlet that didn’t give us an immediate view of the main canyon of the park, but we did see plenty of views of this side canyon. And, as we made it to the end of the trail, we got sweeping views of the main canyon. I mean, considering it was called the “Canyon Overlook Trail,” we should have been prepared for that. But it was still somehow a surprise. A good one, of course.
Daniel got WAY better pictures with his fancy camera, but due to some technical difficulties, he was unable to share them with me. So you’ll have to settle for what I could manage with my phone. These certainly don’t do it justice.
We returned to the room for yet another siesta before dinner to watch some Olympics and enjoy some air conditioning. We also bathed, cuz we needed to if we were going to be found in the presence of other people.
Dinner tonight was at the Whiptail Grill, which, according to Tripadvisor, was one of the top restaurants in Springdale. It also was built in the former location of an old Texaco gas station. Who’d have known in 1965 that the little roadside stop where you topped off your Ford would someday sling burritos at tourists?
Whiptail didn’t disappoint. We each got another local beer–my choice being the Rooster’s Brewing Co Blood Orange IPA–and some Mexican fare. I went for the pulled pork tacos, and Daniel got a burrito smothered with sauce and cheese. He was pretty excited about it.
We thought we might go out and walk around some shops after dinner, but frankly we were way too tired and just wanted to put our pajamas back on. This vacation might be the end of us. Or at least our ability to stay up later than 7pm.