Trail Dust: A Desert of a Different Stripe: The Trans-Zion Trek

Updated: Jul 25

All photos below are by Steve Silva.

All this year, I've enjoyed a great and regular routine of wandering around our local desert, looking for the little nooks and crannies that keep us all wondering just what's around the next bend! Hikes with FOTO and other hiker friends have been not only a lifesaver when the weather was cold, but also a path to finding new places to hike. But as the hiking season rolls into full swing, my own hiking has begun to take a different turn. Gone are the local and short hikes near the lower Owyhee as the heat ramps up and the buzz tails become more prevalent. I find it a bit more pleasant to take to higher elevations.


Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to hike in many amazing and fun places. Oftentimes, I get to share these adventures with not just my friends, but my family too. It amazes me that I have had the opportunity to have hiked hundreds—if not thousands—of miles and to have traveled to a bunch of different areas around the Northwest with my daughters and son. What an absolute blessing to have this remarkable time with just us enjoying some of nature’s finest scenes!

This year has turned out to be no exception. I have just recently returned from hiking in Zion National Park with my daughter, Libby. Libby and I have done a lot of hiking together, and I am always excited to create an adventure with her!

With some free time available, Lib texted me about a hike in Zion National Park that she was interested in doing. With a carefree “Sure!”, I agreed. Little did I know that carefree response would be kind of like famous last words. I looked at the link she sent me, and there it was: the Zion Traverse (also known as the Trans-Zion Trek), a fairly long hike that weaves its way across the entire park. I was really impressed by both its length and its difficulty. Not only was there mileage to contend with, but also logistics, permits, heat, and water availability. Unlike the Owyhee, where we park and just disappear into the countryside, Zion has its own set of rules to follow.

With our goal in view, we worked our way through the hoops of the park so we could tackle this beast of a trek. After procuring our wilderness permit and finishing up our last-minute preparations, we were picked up by a shuttle service that whisked us away to the northwest corner of the park.


We quickly realized that we would need a non-traditional hiking schedule. We decided to start our hike very early in the day to cover some distance while the weather was still cool. Then, during the hottest part of the day, we would find a shady spot to sleep and snack. Once the heat began dying down, we’d continue hiking to our next camp. We were always on the lookout for natural springs; the creeks’ waters were contaminated with a toxic species of cyanobacteria, so the springs were our only water sources.

Our route started at the Lee Pass Trailhead. From there, we dropped significantly in elevation as we approached LaVerkin Creek. We decided to spend a couple of hours sitting near the creek with a beautiful pool at our feet and the shade of cottonwood trees keeping us cool. After some rest, we continued alongside the creek and finished our first day at a wonderful camp in the middle of huge ponderosa pines! These pines would continue to be a comforting presence all along the trail. After setting up camp, we decided to do a short side hike to Kolob Arch, a beautiful and huge free-spanning arch perched high on the rock wall. These views—the rocks, knobs, plants, and animals—all had a familiar feel to them, and I felt like I was back home in the Owyhee. I couldn’t help but think of how much more detailed our hike would be if Sammy, our favorite hiking geologist, were along with us!


Day two was a long hike. We climbed up into Hop Valley, an absolutely stunning flat valley with gigantic walls towering on either side of us as we walked along the sandy trail, happy as clams. From Hop Valley, our trail joined the appropriately named Connector Trail, which brought us out to Wildcat Canyon. This quickly became one of our favorite camps of the trip. Hidden away from the trail on the mesa, we cowboy camped under the stars and slept soundly. That evening, we remarked how we had yet to see anyone else on this route. We then calculated that we had hiked roughly 21 miles thus far. Significant progress, I’d say.

On day 3, a late start saw us leaving Wildcat Canyon and its breathtaking views, and we began to follow the West Rim Trail. We hiked this trail all day along an incredible array of twists and turns, overlooking the landscape below, just as the name suggests. The miles quickly began to take their toll as the sand sucked at our feet and the heat began to drain our strength. With a side trip down to a shaded spring, we filtered water and took a much-needed break from the blistering hot trail.


While resting, a rustle in the grass caught our attention. Within moments, we were watching two full-grown mule deer, both with velvety antlers, graze by us and then drink from the same spring we had just used ourselves. What an incredible sight! We enjoyed the afternoon shade, drinking and snacking the heat of the day away until it was time to continue along the rim. We tackled the trail yet again with weary steps.

Our fatigue began to lift as the trail climbed its way to a lofty plateau, as well as our campsite. Stepping over to the rim, we had one of many views that words cannot properly describe: rows and rows of jagged canyons and cliffs with an astonishing spectrum of colors from bright white to deep maroon, stacked with layers and layers of history showing in every rockface. We were grateful to have our understanding of how the Owyhee formed, as we could draw parallels in this landscape that presented so many similarities but was also a completely different desert. It brought a great deal of comfort, seeing the two systems and recognizing their community and commonalities.

Plants that we have been watching bloom here in our local area were also in full bloom along our hike through Zion. The list was impressive: sego lily, Indian paintbrush, columbine, prickly pear, lupine, sweet pea, scarlet gilia, arrowroot, and orange globe mallow. It was just incredible to see a sea of blooming flowers.


After another demanding day, we laid our sleeping bags out to the stars and drifted off to sleep… only to be wakened by the cold drops falling from the sky. “Rain? Are you kidding me?” I thought. The forecast said nothing for ten days! Now what? We had laid out our tent to use as a ground sheet instead of climbing inside. We debated quickly and decided to brave the drops and quickly pitch the tent (with a few curse words mixed in). We finally get the tent set up and stuff everything inside just in time for the rain to stop. It didn’t rain for a single moment for the rest of our trip. “Okay, this trail is just… well, it’s always something!” Libby sighed as we laughed about our luck.

Day 4 was our final day of hiking, and we were so excited to have a much less demanding day scheduled. Morning came very early and, with some humor provided by our 1 AM tent set-up, we were walking by 7 AM. With each step we took, the terrain and views just went over the top. Our trail began to just fall out of the sky! Over the next half dozen miles, we were to descend from this amazing canyon rim to the bottom of the park, so you can imagine it was pretty steep. The trail began to switch back and forth, dropping down in huge chunks of elevation change. Soon, the tread was replaced with some kind of concrete or asphalt, and for the final few miles, we plodded down this hot and hard surface. With the new surface, we also faced our last and final challenge: our re-entry into society. Ugh! Hardest part of the trip.

Libby and I enjoyed every moment of our time together. Over Mexican food, we laughed about how dirty we were, how clean the tourists were, and what a great time we had. These trips are more than just an opportunity to see amazing places—they also provide us, as a father and daughter (or son), a chance to filter out the rest of the world and spend meaningful and memory-making time together. Life today is filled with distractions. Our hiking time is a means to focus on family and friends. I look forward to many more adventures with both.


Until next time, I hope you get sand in your shoes!

 

After starting technical climbing at age 12 and backpacking at 14, Steve Silva has been an avid outdoor adventurer his whole life. His constant chasing of bigger and bigger climbs has led him all over North America, from the gargantuan walls of his home in Yosemite to high-altitude volcanoes in Mexico to chilly peaks in Canada. Steve's love for backpacking adventures has taken him throughout most of Idaho, along the John Muir Trail, the High Sierra Route, and a large section of the Hayduke Trail. He's been a long-time fan of the Owyhee desert, having boated through most of the main canyons and tributaries of the Owyhee River. Steve's passion for this landscape inspired him to write a guidebook titled Get Lost!: Adventure Tours in the Owyhee Desert. Now an expert in off-trail hiking, planning, and logistics, he loves teaching more people how to hike easily and more comfortably than they've ever known.


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