We drove directly from Bryce to Zion National Park and the difference in temperature was dramatic. Zion sits about 4,000 feet lower and was at least 15 degrees warmer. It’s prominent natural features are different too. Bryce has limestone spires or hoodoos and Zion has deep canyons and the Virgin River. Zion also has interesting mounds of rock with striations running at abrupt angles to each other.
The best part of our visit to Zion was being able to sleep without a rain fly and looking straight up at the stars and moon from our sleeping bags. Actually you could have comfortably slept without a tent since nights were dry and bugless. Being able to hike and sleep outside without worrying about mosquitos or rain and being regularly greeted in the morning by blue skies and sunshine has made our life over the last few weeks delightful. We asked a friendly twenty-something local in St. George Utah if the weather was “always this great?” She paused and looked at us oddly as if to say, “Well what other kind of weather is there in the world?” then flatly said, “yes”. She obviously never spent Fall/Winter in Portland Oregon where the sun can disappear for days and the high humidity and liquid sunshine causes even the sidewalks to turn green with moss.
Hiking in deep canyons with low humidity is new to me. On the AT you were essentially never in high walled canyons and when you soaked your shirt with sweat it stayed wet even if you aired it out all night. As for canyon hiking it not only comes with flash flood risks but temperatures in the canyons can be signifcantly different from that of the trail that lead you to the canyon.
In Zion the longest hike we did was along the Taylor Creek trail which took about four hours. Initially the trail was in direct sun so by the time we arrived at the mouth of the canyon my short sleeved shirt was soaked with sweat. Then we turned right and started hiking in the shadow of the steep canyon walls and the temperature dropped significantly. As I hiked along my body temperature continued to fall, then I started to get chilled. I noticed that the hikers walking toward us were bundled in coats and gloves. It was time to take action. I stripped off my wet shirt, air and sponge dried myself for a couple of minutes then slipped on my long sleeved fleece and nylon vest. “Oh yes, that feels much better.” The chills quickly subsided and we hiked comfortably in the canyon for three more hours. It continued to be cool and shady and my hands got a little cold but it was a fine hike all the way to the double arches and back. On the return hike as soon as we popped out of the canyon and back into the sun I stripped off the cold weather gear and put my wet shirt back on. It was warm enough for hiking in the sun and bone dry by the time we arrived back at the trail head.