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Zion National Park

Words by Christina Huntington // Photography by Sarah Prikryl // Contributing Photography by Gina Cholick

A couple years ago, I came across a photo of a giant bright peach of a mountainside towering over a meandering aqua river adorned with patches of bright green fluffy trees dozing under a hazy golden sunset. It seemed like something out of a dream. Or perhaps a distant memory from some other world where only peace, beauty and tranquility exist. A mythological fantasy planet that someone managed to come back to Earth with visual proof of. I recognized it somehow, though I had never seen it before. This intense feeling immediately rushed up from deep down inside my soul and commanded, “We must go to there!!” I could almost taste the gorgeous landscape on my tongue, hear it whispering in my ear. My eyes searched for the name of this biblical Eden incarnate until they landed on the word “Zion”. Of course…Zion. I had heard the tales many times from others who had made the epic journey before me but this was the first time I was laying eyes on it myself. Like meeting a man that every single one of your closest friends somehow dated and now refer to as “the one that got away”, Zion walked into my life the same way—its legend looming large before we ever officially met. And suddenly, I just knew. I had to go to Zion.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my work as a meditation teacher, it’s that when your soul sends you such a loud and clear message, you answer it. Even if you have no idea where it came from, why, or where it’s leading you. So taking my own advice, I cancelled my annual desert birthday celebration with friends and put out the adventure call to see who wanted to hop in the car and road trip it out to Utah instead. Sirens Sarah, Gina, Kelsey and Pippa immediately volunteered for the mission. So with our backpacks, hiking boots and plenty of snacks in tow, we loaded up five girls in one Prius and hit the open road.

The seven and a half hour drive from Los Angeles, CA to Zion National Park, UT stretched into more like eleven hours after gas, rest stop, lunch and leg stretch breaks. Luckily, we had some awesome playlists to keep us company as we cruised up the 15 through Vegas and even dead-stopped for a while in a parking lot sea of thousands of cars headed to an EDM festival on the desert outskirts. Trapped amongst carloads of young kids dressed in neon as far the eye could see, their cars adorned with flashing lights and glowing signs, I could not help but feel this was all part of the plan. We were most definitely traveling to another world, possibly another galaxy. And this was just the beginning.

It was the dead of night when we finally arrived. We had to drive through the park to get out the other side where our accommodations awaited, beckoning us to come lay our heads down and sleep for awhile. As soon as we crossed the threshold into the park, the paved road turned bright red as if we had just touched down on Mars—our first clue that we definitely were not in normal life anymore. The stars were clear and bright—more stars than we had ever seen in our lifetimes, even with the low-hanging waxing moon. We wound our way through the park in pitch black, giant darkened slabs towering above us on all sides that seemed to stretch up up up forever so that we had to crane our heads to see the starry sky above. Even in total darkness, the enormity of Zion’s mountainscape was breathtaking. It felt huge, ancient and powerful. In that moment, I understood that if I could just stay open and listen for the wisdom, this journey would somehow change my life.

Driving into the park in daylight was a completely different experience, though no less surreal. The hulking darkened slabs from the previous night transformed into sweeping vistas of bright peachy sienna mountains that looked like they had been painted by Van Gogh’s brush, all thick sideways sherbert swirls. It felt like landing on some future Mars, the red planet suddenly bursting to life with trees and flocks of animals resting in the shade under the galactic sun. Surely the Prius had accidentally dropped us into some different star system in the night and we were no longer on Earth but some brand new planet just waiting to be explored.

The people of planet Zion are very friendly, I’m happy to report, and very well organized. They have a hop-on-hop-off shuttle system that runs all day and conveniently takes you to all of the different hikes and sites throughout the park. We parked our car down at the first lot inside from Springdale, the tiny town full of restaurants, markets and sporting goods stores for all your adventuring needs. Our first stop would be Emerald Pools Trail, a moderate mountain hike that leads to—you guessed it—emerald water pools. We stepped off the shuttle, crossed the bridge and collectively gasped at our first real sight of the Virgin River. It literally took our breath away. We stood in awe as we watched the gentle sea foam green water babbling across glittering rocks under the giant peach mountains dotted with bushy side-growing trees. Suddenly, I understood where we were. This wasn’t Mars at all, this must be the land of unicorns and dragons! The mythical planet that provides James Cameron and fellow filmmakers with all their sci fi inspiration. THIS is where the unicorns and dragons live, of course! I swear we saw some giant fire-breathers flapping their majestic wings off the mountaintops in the distance to take to the sun, heard the soft hooves of unicorn families drinking from the nearby stream. And it all felt perfectly normal and right. In fact, taking in this landscape, we realized it would actually be stranger NOT to see dragons and unicorns here. Clearly, this was their natural habitat.

So with our bearings finally gained, we proceeded with our hike deep into mythical creature country. We followed the winding Emerald Pools Trail across walls of giant rusty sandstone, under naturally-occurring hanging gardens and waterfalls until we reached the lower pools and then the upper pools, each stop along the way more jaw-dropping than the next. On planet Zion, time ceases to exist, so there is no pressure to have to get anywhere or do anything quickly. You can take your time—because you have all the time in the world—to just slow down and feel each drop of water fall into your palms, press your cheek to each warm earthen wall, splash your feet in the cool emerald waters. It’s a different kind of photosynthesis that occurs here, where you soak in all the natural surrounding beauty directly through your skin, filling up inside with all of your essential nutrients: peace, tranquility and a deep knowing that all is right in the world.

Day two on planet Zion was time to answer the warrior’s call. Armed with our water boots and walking sticks rented from Zion Adventure Company (and after watching the safety video to make sure we were properly prepared for our exploratory mission), we arrived at The Narrows. Why is a safety video necessary? The Narrows is a water hike where the river IS the path. You literally walk on water the entire way through red rock subway slats jutting up thousands of feet above you. While this creates stunning beauty and an incomparable experience, it can also be very dangerous. Flash floods happen in the area without warning even on a bright hot sunny day. In a slot canyon filled with water, there is nowhere to go when that happens. So when deciding to venture out on a Narrows mission, always be sure to check the park’s daily safety warnings first.

Boots on, sticks in hand, our four tall American Amazons and one little Aussie Fairie waded into the refreshingly cool waters that sloshed up thigh-level, a welcome gift in the afternoon heat. We had been told to go first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds that flock here in the summer. But we decided to go mid-day after a leisurely sleep-in and cabin breakfast. Our wager worked in our favor. The morning rush was coming out as we were coming in, so we had lots of room to meander at our own pace. We wound and twisted our way through the russet slot canyon. Placing one wet foot in front of the other, rock by sparkling rock, greeting every new reveal behind each turn in the path became a waking meditation connecting us to a deep and ancient part of ourselves with each new step. This must have been what it felt like before language, before words, when there was only feeling. And this feeling was pure wonder.

Our third and final day on planet Zion was all about slowing down and just enjoying the scenery, relishing this new process of nature-synthesis. We picked up treats from Café Soleil Zion in Springdale—a restaurant we found early on in our expedition because, as Siren Gina keenly pointed out, their sign was “definitely our font”. She could not have been more right. With a menu full of healthy, vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options as well as smoothies and lattes, Café Soleil became our go-to purveyor of all things human food while hiking through the park. But on this day, we ordered to-go with one final mission in mind: to picnic by the Virgin River and take in the sunset over The Watchman, Zion’s most famous and picturesque mountain peak.

Armed with our bounty of healthy and delicious provisions, we hiked down to the riverside under the bridge off Hwy 9 and happily discovered several small private sandy beaches just perfect for lounging. We kicked off our shoes, laid out our picnic and munched happily as the afternoon sun began its descent and Leon Bridges’ achingly beautiful “River” played in the background. All the while, The Watchman stood guard, his majestic robes ever-changing from dusty pink sherbert to electric orange nectarine to deep russet rose as the sun dipped ever lower. The air was cool and still, the water warm and inviting. Honoring our pledge to explore all native territory thoroughly, we stripped down to our bikinis and waded into the Virgin River to watch the final blaze of light pass behind the mountains. This is where time truly stopped. Was it an hour, was it three, was it a lifetime in one moment? There was absolutely no way of telling. All I know is that life stretched out indefinitely, infinitely. No life, no death, no other time or place but this. This one moment for all eternity.

As I sat there on my birthday in the Virgin River and just watched the light shift over The Watchman for three hours/three years/three lifetimes, I asked the river to lend me her ancient wisdom—what was it that I needed to know? I was instantly shown an image of us walking through the Narrows with our walking sticks the day before. How much easier it had been to walk back out when we were going with the current versus when we were first walking in against it. How slow and clumsy it felt going against the current, how many more people around us stumbled and injured themselves that way. And I was told, “Life is not just about surrendering to the will of the Universe, it’s about going with the current of your Life. Move with Life in the direction it is flowing and use that momentum to catapult you forward to where you need to be. Do not get bogged down in trying to walk against the current of your life, you will only slow your own progress. It’s not about just surrendering and floating in whatever direction the water happens to take you. Your participation and your deliberate action are required. But walk in the same direction that the water is leading you, feel how it wants to support you from behind and propel you forward. Tune into that force and use it…and you can never go wrong.”

With that, the Great Big Eternal Silence returned as the stars peeked through the evening sky and the moon smiled above the sleepy mountains. After a long while (decades, centuries, millennia), we reluctantly decided it was finally time to go. The dragons had already flown back to their evening nests, the unicorns snuggled down in cozy pairs for the night. All that was left to do was hop back in the Prius and watch the moon illuminate the nighttime mountainsides while Neil Young serenaded, “There’s a full moon risin’, let’s go dancin’ in the light…” with the windows down. See, the beauty of nature-synthesis is that it works whether the sun’s out, moon’s out or none’s out. It ALL gets distilled down through your cells into the essential core of your being, begins to alter your very DNA and gently turns you into something…more. A person made, at least partly, of pure magic.

Our Utah Road Trip series continues next week with our trippy archaeological dig down the rabbit hole at Bryce Canyon!


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