Zion’s Secret Season

After forty-five yers of marriage, I’ve come to realize I’m married to an adventurer. It all started in 1981 when Herb went sky-diving. I was eight months pregnant with our first child at the time. I remember staring into the cloudless sky when he dropped out of the plane. A tidal wave of fear rose within me and I wondered, “What if he doesn’t make it?”

Our responsibilities as parents put a damper on Herb’s adventures. After all, raising kids was enough of an adventure. But now that we’ve retired, we have more time to travel. Last summer, Herb discovered Zion National Park was offering a Christmas in July sale. The drawback to the deal: you had to visit the park in winter. The ad referred to winter as “The Secret Season,” a time when the park is less crowded. Since our other trips to Zion occurred in summer, we thought a February trip would be fun.

About a week before our departure, I checked the weather forecasts for the area. Highs in the fifties and lows in the thirties were predicted. Since we live in Florida, we don’t own a huge amount of winter clothes, but we packed several layers of long sleeve tops and thermal underwear, just in case.

We drove a rental car from Las Vegas to Zion and encountered our first surprise: snow covered everything. After we checked into the lodge, we picked up the key to our cabin. Surprise #2: The lock on the door was frozen. Since it was after five, and the maintenance crew was going home for the night, the management moved us to a different cabin. Breathing a sigh of relief, we hauled our luggage inside, lit the gas fireplace, and discussed our plans for tomorrow. We planned to hike every day for the next four days.

I knew I was in for trouble when we attempted our first hike along the Virgin River. The trail was snow-covered and icy. Herb had borrowed a pair of crampons (ice cleats) from my brother in anticipation of this condition. I had not thought ahead. Instead, I used my hiking poles to stabilize myself on the trail and my hands became very sore. The beautiful scenery along the river helped me forget my pain.

Later that afternoon, we drove to the Zion Adventure Company and bought a pair of crampons I could wear. More snow was forecasted during the overnight hours.

That night, I lay in bed, tossing and turning, all the while dreading tomorrow’s hike up the West Rim Trail to Angel’s Landing. We had hiked this trail in summer, but winter would be different. I imagined what it might be like to lose the trail under all of that snow. What if I stepped off the trail into thin air? The hike has an elevation gain of 1,000 feet and is so dangerous, people have to get a permit. Our permit was for February 26. I looked over at Herb, who was sleeping peacefully. “He doesn’t seem concerned, why am I?” I took comfort seeing him so relaxed, and finally dozed off.

The next morning we awakened to a winter wonderland. The rocks and trees were adorned with fresh white snow. After a hearty breakfast in the lodge dining room, we prepared ourselves for the big hike. I attached the crampons to my hiking boots and stepped onto the snow. All of a sudden my anxiety subsided. I felt comfortable, stable, and ready to begin the four mile strenuous hike.

After the first mile, I started to sweat. I took off one of my layers and tied it around my waist. We pressed on higher and higher up the side of the canyon.

A few hikers had blazed the way before us, and it was easy to see where the trail led. Once again, I appreciated my crampons, because parts of the trail had serious drop-offs. One false move and you were gone!

Danger can arise if hikers are approaching from the opposite direction. Usually the person ascending freezes in place and gives ample room for the descending hiker to pass. I appreciated this, because it gave me time to rest.

At one point I looked up to see a young mother coming toward me. She carried an infant in her pack, and held the hand of a young child. I felt shocked to think they were by themselves, without a father. She said they were turning back, and I thought that was a great idea. ( In fact, I wondered if I should go with them.)

Eventually we reached the part of the trail known as Walter’s Wiggles. Here the trail snakes back and forth, through a series of narrow switchbacks. I felt very tired and stopped several times to catch my breath. I met an elderly man descending from the upper level who encouraged me to keep going. His words inspired me and I pushed myself forward to Scout’s Lookout.

Posing for a photo finish with Herb. (Scout’s Lookout)

Scout’s Lookout usually offers a great view of Zion Canyon. But today visibility was limited because the clouds opened and snow pelted the area. Nearby, a group of four guys dared one another to climb up the chain rope to the top of Angel’s Landing. Common sense ruled. My adventurer husband also decided to turn back since we could only see about twenty feet in front of us.

After a literal pit stop, we turned around and began our descent. The wind blew the snow sideways stinging my face. The temperature had dropped at this higher elevation and I shivered in the cold. The middle layer of clothing I tied around my waist, was wet from the snow. I had one goal in mind: I must get back to the cabin!

A new sense of courage overcame me and I picked up my pace. Descending is always easier but I felt tired, and needed to be careful. The hike down was uneventful and I paused once to take Herb’s picture.

Of all of our hiking vacations, this is one trip I will never forget. Some people are content to visit a time-share at the same time every year. My adventuring husband wants to travel to wild places during unusual seasons. Why did I go? Sigh… the things I do for love. Besides I am always looking for good story material.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my story about Zion’s “Secret Season.” Now, it’s no longer a secret.

Teton Magic—First you see them, then you don’t.

“Sometimes all the planning in the world doesn’t mean your day or week will turn out the way you expected.”

I have always been captivated by the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. The mountains seem to rise out of nowhere and demand your attention. I am awestruck and humbled by their presence. If I let my imagination go, I can hear them speak of the majesty of creation. The Tetons place sixth among the most photographed mountains in the world.

We all know 2020 was hard. And like many travel deprived Americans, I felt eager to fly somewhere this summer. For weeks Herb, Jenny, and I watched videos, studied maps, and planned our activities. We had a tight schedule with four days to spend in the park. That seems like enough time, right? But this trip to Grand Teton National Park came with two unexpected trials.

One week prior to leaving, I strained my back lifting a box of books. I felt good when we left on Saturday, but the pain returned after the long flight and the drive from Salt Lake City to Jackson.

When we finally arrived at the park on Sunday, I was saddened to see smoke covering the mountains. The smoke originated from fires in Oregon. Since we couldn’t see much, my traveling companions insisted I visit an urgent care for help with my back pain.

“But we only have four days! How can I waste time waiting to see a doctor?” I asked. Eventually they convinced me if I didn’t get help, I would never be able to hike. I relented and off we went to the nearest clinic.

After a lengthy wait, I saw a doctor who called in a prescription to a pharmacy across the street. When I arrived to pick up my medication, ten people stood in line ahead of me. My back muscles tensed as I noticed the pharmacy closed early on Sunday. Thirty minutes later I reached the pharmacy window, only to be told the prescription wasn’t ready and I should come back in twenty minutes.

I joined Herb and Jenny at an outdoor table for a quick snack and hobbled back to the pharmacy. Now eleven people waited in line. (Someone told me the pharmacy closes on time whether people are waiting or not.) Desperate to receive my medication, I cut through the line to get to the pick up window. I simply couldn’t stand on my feet any longer, and the thought of being turned away was more than I could bear.

The pharmacist served me, much to the chagrin of those waiting in line, who complained about my behavior. At this point it was three minutes to five and I don’t blame them for being angry. I received my meds and left the store before emotions got out of control. I confess I felt ashamed of myself.

The remainder of Sunday I spent in bed at our Airbnb in Teton Village. Monday morning I encouraged Jenny and Herb to return to the park without me as I felt no improvement in my health. I stayed in bed and felt sorry myself. I didn’t have much time left to tour the park. I wondered if all I would see is the four walls around me? Would this be my punishment for cutting the line?

By Tuesday morning I felt ready to hike. I used my trekking poles to traverse the most beautiful trail to Taggart Lake. The smoke lifted that day and we got some great pictures of the mountains. I felt good to be alive and see such beauty. After the hike we drove to visit some of the historic buildings in the park.

Taggert Lake

Wednesday we hiked to Inspiration Point, located on the opposite side of Jenny Lake. Both hikes were listed as moderate with a significant elevation gain. I felt surprised when a fellow hiker told me I was his inspiration. (Probably due to my age, I guess.)

Inspiration Point with Herb and Jenny

By Thursday my pain returned and a thick blanket of smoke covered the mountains again. We checked out and began our return trip to Orlando.

Now a week later, I am still recovering. What did I learn from this experience?

Trips take people, people don’t take trips. All the planning in the world doesn’t mean your day or week will turn out the way you expected or wanted. I had expected too much from this trip. Blessed are those who are happy with little. I am thankful for those two days when the smoke lifted and I was well enough to experience the mountains.

Somewhere in the middle, between the good times and the bad, I sensed God’s love for me. I remembered the sick woman who pressed through the crowd to reach Jesus. (Matt. 9:20-22) She received her healing. Did she cut through a line?

I am thankful Jesus is able to recycle our mistakes into something good by his transforming grace. When I depend on experiences for my happiness, I want to remember the smoke and pain of this trip.

I want to remember lasting joy is only found in God’s redeeming love.

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