The Zion Narrows

The Zion Narrows Courtesy & Copyright Rhett Hellstern
Zion Narrows
Courtesy & Copyright Rhett Hellstern
Seventeen miles, and three potential swims. If those two descriptors aren’t deterrents, great scenery awaits those who hike the Zion Narrows from the top down into the main canyon. If you run marathons, bike the LOTOJA race, or simply marvel at nature’s masterpieces, there is nothing intimidating about this adventure. However, if you are a professional armchair quarterback, you had better get some miles under your feet before attempting this adventure, especially if you want to complete it in one day.

I’ve been to Zion many times, but after seeing the inspirational film, “The Bucket List”,
I decided it was time to do this classic hike. Along with good luck, and good sense, the key to success lies in the preparation.

There is no marked trail because at least 60 percent of the hike is in the Virgin River and, although the air temperature was in the 90’s, the water was chilly when we had to do the three short swims. Groups are limited to 12, and permits are required, but Rangers won’t issue them is the flow rate goes above 120 cubic feet per second. We were fortunate and hit a day when it was flowing at 100 CFS.

Unless you reserve one of the dozen Narrow’s campsites for an overnight stay, plan on about 12 hours walking. Unfortunately, if you are too slow and miss the last shuttle bus at the Temple of Sinawava, you will add another 8 mile hike to return to your car at the Visitor Center.

River hiking can be like walking on greasy bowling balls. You can ruin your own shoes, or the Zion Adventure Company will rent sticky-soled boots, tight neoprene socks, and a walking stick. Unless you have two cars, they will also provide the 90-minute shuttle to the Chamberlain Ranch. They are helpful and show a training film about hiking the Narrows. Here you will learn to watch for the signs of deadly flash-floods. If it happens, immediately go to higher ground, available throughout the canyon…except in the “Wall Street” area. Check weather conditions with the Zion Backcountry Desk before you take your first step.

Wear layered clothing, use a river-bag for food and dry clothes, bring at least two liters of water or a good filter, and waterproof bags for your camera. Forget phones, they will not function there. Finally, borrowing a line from “The Bucket List”, (never pass up a bathroom) each hiker is provided with a human waste disposal bag.

To avoid packing extra food and sleeping bags, we were determined to do this as a day-hike. We had picked up our permit the night before, and saw the weather forecast at ten percent chance of light rain. Wanting to hit the trail early, we camped out on the east side of the park. After six hours of slumber-sweet, we let adrenaline pilot us toward the canyon. The first five miles were covered effortlessly, but the trail and shallow river finally transitioned into the copper-colored serpentine canyon we sought.

The Narrows is by far an acme of hikes in Zion. The sandstone walls ascend 2,000 feet, yet at times are only 20 feet apart at their base. For 12 miles we enjoyed incomparable scenery, waterfalls, small tributaries, sandbars where canyon maples provided alluring rest-stops, and the pleasantry was recorded with calendar-quality photos. But then we entered the “Danger Zone”.

True to its namesake, the Wall Street section was full of surprises. The sky darkened as though someone had pulled a black quilt over the canyon. Birds stopped singing. The wind picked up. Our ten percent chance of rain suddenly became one hundred percent! We were already wet, so we laughed…until the lightning flashed. Then thunder rumbled behind us so loudly we turned as if expecting freight trains to pummel us. Since there was no high ground, we picked up our pace and stuck close to the canyon walls. Seven people sloshing, wading, swimming, and helping each other to get to high boulders as soon as possible.

We reached safety the same time the storm stopped. The forecast was accurate. No flash-flood during our adventurous 12-hour journey and, yes, we caught the bus with time to spare. Would we do this hike again? Absolutely!

This is Ron Hellstern for Wild About Utah


Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Rhett Hellstern
Text:     Ron Hellstern

Additional Reading

The Narrows, Plan Your Visit, Things to do, Zion National Park, US NPS, https://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/thenarrows.htm

Marine Adventure in a Serene Environment, The Narrows Awaits, Utah.com (Utah’s Travel Industry Website), https://utah.com/hiking/zion-national-park/the-narrows

Zion National Park: Zion Narrows, YouTube, https://youtu.be/-lfAoFgi7VU

Conserving Water

A Flowing Stream, Conserving Water Starts at Home, Courtesy and Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
A Flowing Stream, Conserving Water Starts at Home, Courtesy and Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
Liquid water is essential to life as we know it on planet Earth. With rising temperatures ahead, our water resources are critical to us all. Whether nations contain hot-desert areas or not, the appropriate management of water is essential. In fact, life-sustaining water is literally far more important and valuable than oil. While most Americans generally take clean water for granted, the current generation may see unprecedented changes in water policy, development of desalinization plants, and the distant transport of water through major pipelines. While the “amount” of Earth’s water remains stable, its accessibility and distribution may change dramatically. A current example is truckloads of water being hauled from California to the Crater Lake National Park system in Oregon.

As good Earth Stewards, what can/should we do to use water responsibly? Here are 25 ideas:

  • Run kitchen-tap water into pitchers until it is hot before you start your dishwasher. Use that water later for your houseplants or garden.
  • If washing dishes by hand, use a container of rinse water rather than letting it run over dishes.
  • Try a Navy Shower: Get wet, turn water off, lather up, rinse. Two minutes of water use is all you’ll need.
  • Install a water-saver showerhead.
  • Keep a pitcher of cold drinking water in the fridge instead of letting the water run down the drain while waiting for it to cool.
  • Wash your car on the lawn.
  • Use a pistol-nozzle on your garden hose rather than letting it run open ended.
  • Use a bucket in your bathtub to catch water until it warms, then use it on plants later.
  • Water plants with runoff caught from rinsing fruit and vegetables under your faucet.
  • See if your community allows plumbing your gray water directly to your outdoor plants.
  • Use a broom, not water, to clean sidewalks and driveways.
  • Turn running water off while shaving, washing hands, or brushing teeth.
  • Water lawns only in the early morning or late evening, and preferably on windless days.
  • Compost fruit & vegetable waste rather than using the garbage disposal.
  • Consider replacing your lawn with water-wise plants. If you live in a desert, grow desert plants.
  • Run dishwashers and clothes-washers only with full loads.
  • Upgrade old toilets with the newer water-saving models
  • Make sure that lawn sprinklers never hit driveways, sidewalks, buildings, fences, etc.
  • Put your lawn mower on the “highest setting” to conserve water and strengthen grasses.
  • Check the policy in your area about using barrels to catch rainwater from your roof to use later on flower beds and gardens.
  • Never use running water to thaw frozen foods. Plan ahead, and defrost it in the fridge.
  • Fix plumbing leaks immediately.
  • Don’t use toilets as garbage cans.
  • Save money and resources by avoiding plastic water-bottles. Use your own refillable container for meetings, hiking, etc.
  • If you have a pool, cover it when it’s not in use to reduce evaporation loss.
  • For dozens of other water-saving ideas go to www.wateruseitwisely.com

A Flowing Stream, Home for Wildlife, Courtesy and Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
A Flowing Stream, Home for Wildlife, Courtesy and Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
This is Ron Helstern with Wild About Utah.

Credits:

Images:
Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
Text:     Ron Hellstern

Additional Reading

Conservation Program, Utah Division of Water Resources,
https://conservewater.utah.gov/

Waterwise Utah, Utah Education Network & Partners, http://waterwiseutah.org/

Water Quality-Conservation, USU Extension, http://extension.usu.edu/waterquality/conservation/

Slow the Flow, Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District & Partneres, http://www.slowtheflow.org/

Green Canyon and Clean Drinking Water

Digging waterline trenches in Cache Valley, circa 1935. Photo: Utah State University Special Collections and Archives.
Digging waterline trenches in Cache Valley, circa 1935. Photo: Utah State University Special Collections and Archives.

If you’ve ever hiked or driven up Green Canyon near the City of North Logan, you’ve probably noticed the dried-up streambed. It wasn’t always dry, however. In fact, if you turn back the pages of history you’ll find water, and the story of why the stream no longer flows.

In the 1920s several families living in North Logan contracted meningitis from drinking contaminated canal water. The townspeople had tried drilling wells, but each time the water emerged from the ground warm and metallic. Farres Nyman, an early resident of North Logan recorded that during winter her father would chop holes in the frozen Logan-Hyde-Park Canal to retrieve drinking water. Her mother would then “take a little strainer and strain out the wrigglers and boil our drinking water.”1 One of the people infected was Utah State Agricultural College engineering professor Orson W. Israelsen. His bout with the illness left him completely deaf.2 The meningitis outbreak motivated the community, and especially Israelsen, to find a clean source of water for North Logan.

With the help of his students at the Agricultural College, Israelsen explored Green Canyon. Sometime in 1928, the group located a spring five miles up in a narrow adjacent canyon (now called Water Canyon). From 1928–1934 Israelsen sent students, often on snowshoes, to gather flow data from the spring. He determined that the spring’s average discharge of around 88 gallons per minute was sufficient to meet the needs of the community.3

The spring was already spoken for by a local power company and the Little Flower Mine, who owned rights to the water jointly, but in 1928, the power company decided not to re-file. And so on October 1st of the same year (when the water rights came up for renewal) North Logan resident Robert Burns Crookston camped out near the state offices in Salt Lake City and claimed the water for North Logan before a representative for the Little Flower Mine had a chance to re-file.4

Concrete equalizing reservoir for North Logan Waterworks at the Mouth of Green Canyon, circa 1935. Photo: Utah State University Special Collections and Archives
Concrete equalizing reservoir for North Logan Waterworks at the Mouth of Green Canyon, circa 1935. Photo: Utah State University Special Collections and Archives

With the water now theirs, residents of North Logan decided to incorporate as a town. In 1934 town leaders laid out their plan to construct a waterline to bring the spring water in Green Canyon to their homes in the valley. Orson W. Israelsen was put in charge of the project. He estimated it would cost $24,000$35,000 to build the waterline. To defray costs, the city sought help from the Federal Government. Through the Works Progress Administration (WPA), Uncle Sam contributed $32,850 while North Logan City raised another $28,800. Surveying took place during November 1934 and men began digging trenches in Green Canyon during the winter of 1935.5 Israelsen described the work:

There was no digging equipment at that time, a pick and shovel and crowbar were used. When they came to a level, a plow or root digger was used, which was drawn by a team of horses. This loosened the soil, which the men lifted out of the trenches with a shovel… They were interested in their town welfare and did the job on the 5 miles of pipe in the canyon and 8 miles in the valley. What a joy it was to turn a tap and get a clear cold drink of pure water6.

Despite the difficult work, the men made good time. By June 1935 water was flowing from the spring in Green Canyon to residents in North Logan.

Not much has changed since 1935. The spring continues to send clean water to homes in North Logan, just as Israelsen and the WPA workers hoped it would. Until 1984 North Logan City used the original pipe. However, severe flooding during the winter of 1983–84 washed out sections of the old pipe, requiring installation of new pipe.7 The new pipe is even more efficient, capturing all the spring water that once tumbled down Green Canyon spreading life. These days the streambed is full of dusty hikers and mountain bikers instead of water. And, the cottonwoods and willows that made Green Canyon so green have dried up, reminding us of our history and the cost of clean drinking water.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Brad Hansen

Footnotes:

1.

    1. Jesse L. Embry, North Logan Town: 1934-1970. (North Logan, Utah: North Logan City, 2000), 25.

2.

    1. “Biographical Sketch,” Orson Winso Israelsen Papers, (1894-1966), (Available at Special Collections and Archives, Utah State University), accessed April 25, 2012, http://library.usu.edu/specol/manuscript/collms31.html

3.

    1. Lydia Thurston Nyman and Venetta King Gilden, Miscellaneous Papers on the History of North Logan, Utah. (Published by Authors: 1998), 60.

4.

    1. Don Younker Oral History, interviewed by Jessie Embry, 1998, 6.

5.

    1. Thurston and Nyman, 61.

6.

    1. Ibid, 61.

7.

    1. Al Moser Oral History, Interviewed by Daniel Franklin and Sean Harvey, February, 2012.

Credits:
Photo: Courtesy Utah State University Special Collections and Archives
Text: Brad Hansen

Sources & Additional Reading

Water-Liquid Life

Spring Runnoff in Cottonwood Creek near Sandbagged Home From "Spring Run-off Dangers Ahead," Unified Fire Department Chief Mike Watson Courtesy Cottonwood Heights City
Spring Runnoff in Cottonwood Creek near Sandbagged Home
From “Spring Run-off Dangers Ahead,” by Unified Fire Department Chief Mike Watson
Courtesy Cottonwood Heights City
It’s springtime in the Rockies, and Utah’s northern rivers are engorged with liquid life- and have been for what seems like months now. After a winter of record snowfall, the spring heat and a miniature monsoon season have raised our local waters to levels not seen in decades. During this exceptional seasonal runoff, it’s easy to forget that we still live in the second-most arid state in the Union. Nonetheless, this seasonal plethora of the wet stuff is an ardent reminder that, even here, it is water we Utahns have to thank for our most prestigious landscapes and the diversity of flora and fauna that call these places home.

It has, in most cases, taken quite a lot of time, though. Consider the Great Salt Lake: Utah’s most iconic landmark. It’s a remnant of prehistoric Lake Bonneville-itself the pluvial product of slow glaciation and rainwater collection. Thousands upon thousands of years of evaporative sun exposure, though, shrank Lake Bonneville and changed the local climate and ecosystem into what we have today, a salty inland sea implanted within an arid, Mediterranean climate. Though deprived of its acreage- and being immensely saltier than its predecessor- The Great Salt Lake supports an incredibly diverse and highly complex ecosystem. Concocted by the mixture of ancient salts and fresh water provided by the Jordan, Weber, and Bear Rivers, the wetland ecosystems on the fringes of the Great Salt Lake play host to millions of migratory birds each year that are travelling along the Pacific Flyway. Without these oases, the diversity of Utah’s waterfowl-and wildlife at large- would dwindle drastically.

One cannot speak of water’s effect upon Utah’s landscapes without singing the praises of the wondrous redrock canyons that dissect our state’s southern reaches. The force of water upon the high desert of Utah’s allocation of Colorado Plateau is intermillenial, hydrological poetry. Ancient Jurassic and Cretaceous seas deposited layer upon colorful layer of various sediments before heat, pressure, and the recession of shorelines turned them to stone. Water then went back to work within a new climate upon an old geography with rare but violent torrents of flashing floods that sliced ever deeper and more intricate cleavages into the sandstone. I remember visiting one particularly beautiful slot canyon with my wife. The fossilized wave action we spotted above the rim was preserved below as well with streaks of sediment mismatched and displaced into a beautiful kaleidoscope of reds, oranges, and purples. Water’s work was not finished here, though. Dispersed along the distant trail into the best parts of this remote canyon, there were desert riparian jungles of small cottonwoods, mosses, and ferns that harbored ephemeral pools dotted with water striders and even the occasional canyon tree frog.

Street Flooding Box Elder County 2017 Courtesy https://dem.utah.gov/2017/03/31/news-release-gov-herbert-declares-state-of-emergency-for-february-flooding/
Street Flooding Box Elder County 2017
Courtesy https://dem.utah.gov/2017/03/31/news-release-gov-herbert-declares-state-of-emergency-for-february-flooding/
Water is a fickle beast, though- crucial to maintaining life but behaving without regard for its endeavors. The same forces of hydrology that created the Great Salt Lake, our richly diverse wetland ecosystems, and the stunning desert landscapes we love to explore can likewise wreak havoc upon our daily lives. Consider the recent deluge in Cache Valley. Several weeks ago, our northern valley was inundated with precipitation, leaving some families stranded in their low-lying homes with no access to the nearest road. A friend of mine who runs a canoe rental business told tale of making deliveries to homes so that people could commute from the end of their driveway to their front door. Perhaps no other force of nature can be so frustrating yet so gratifying; so plentiful yet so fleeting. It’s a wild thing, water. It is a miraculous ubiquity that, even in the driest places, leaves an indelible mark upon the landscape and the lives that inhabit it.

For Wild About Utah this is Josh Boling

Credits:
Photo: Courtesy & Copyright Cottonwood Heights City
Text: Josh Boling

Sources & Additional Reading

Water Week, Eli Robinson, USU Water Quality Extension program, May 8, 2017, http://wildaboututah.org/utah-water-week/

Water Properties, Andrea Liberatore, Stokes Nature Center, Nov 17,2014, http://wildaboututah.org/water-properties/