Linnie Aikens Arts and Letters • HeART Haven Studios

Atop Angels Landing, Zion National Park, Utah

"Where Angels Land"


““Enjoy the little things for one day you will look back and realize they were the big things.”


Whew!  What an accomplishment today!  I climbed to Scout’s Lookout and then braved the trek out to the very pinnacle of Angel’s Landing today!  When my daughter and I came 11 years ago, we chickened out once we’d reached Scout’s Lookout.  I was determined not to wuss out this time!  The trail begins at the Grotto and makes pretty steep climb up 1100 ft of switchbacks.  Here is a picture looking down from barely at the 1/3-way point.  I had to walk on my toes most of the ascent due to the angle of incline.  About this point, I was feeling pretty smug and proud of myself, thinking, “ah! This is a much easier hike than I remembered from the past.”  ....thus pride cometh before the fall....


From the top of these switchbacks, I entered a very narrow slot canyon called Refrigerator Canyon.  Incidentally, Zion Canyon itself is considered a slot canyon on a grander scale, of course.  


Refrigerator Canyon is so named for its shady coolness and the tree lined stream that runs through it far, far below. Here, you get an up close and personal look at the Navajo Sandstone alcoves and striations in the cliff face.


Again, it’s incredible seeing how these trees cling to the rock and thrive in the seemingly most impossible conditions.  The richly colored rock pinnacles, hoodoos and formations, formed by weathering, surpass any famous man-made sculpture or painting, abstract or realistic.  I just never tire of the wonder of it all!


I can see why adventurers, explorers and artists alike all gravitated here in the 1800’s.  Zion draws me like a moth to red-rocked flame.  Below are scenes from Refrigerator Canyon.



Once emerging from the refreshment of Refrigerator Canyon, I was met with the tickle-my-funny-bone name of the switchbacks, “Walter’s Wiggles.”



The engineering feat alone is mind boggling 1000 feet up a rock cliff.  Man-terraced switchbacks wiggle their way up the next incline, and 24” diameter drain pipes were sunken below the trail at each most inland turn, where they emptied out into a small rocked-in reservoir, which fed into another pipe hidden below the trail.  Genius preplanning!  To think of the monumental task of creating this trail, only to have it eroded away by the elements would have been a daunting thought.

The first photo is looking up, although you can’t see all of the levels, and the photo below is a shot looking down.  I was enlisted a few times to take photos of friends positioned in a vertical line at different levels---truly a picture saying a 1000 words!  It made me smile to do it for them! 



I’m wondering if these alcoves were already here before Walter’s Wiggles were made, or whether they appeared afterward due to the water freezing and then thawing at each level, pushing the rock out.  I wonder if the drain pipe system came later, as a preventative measure, after seeing this happening here???


Another 50 feet or so further opened up onto Scout’s Lookout where I stopped for lunch on this little slickrock outcropping.  Chipmunks and ground squirrels swarmed me the minute I opened my baggie of nuts, seeds and dried fruit.  I know these cute little rodents are used to people, but baby chipmunks literally climbed up my back and over my thigh to get to the food!  Yikes!  The may be cute as heck, but you don’t want to feed them or get bitten or you’d have to get a rabies shot....not fun!


The view from Scout's Lookout, and as far as my then 9 year old daughter and I climbed 11 years ago.



Notice the rock “island” (The Organ) mid-photo, to the right of the river.  See my photo farther down taken looking down on it from Angel’s Landing (for some perspective)!!

The trek to Angel’s Landing was daunting from where I sat.  It appeared to be little more than a mountain goat trail, requiring a human to grip chains fastened to the cliff face!  But I thought, ah it doesn’t look too far...I can handle that!  What I didn’t know was that once you get around the bend at the top, you’re hanging onto the top ridge of the rock, which is nothing more than a sliver really.  It reminded me of the lines for rides at Disneyland.  Just when you think you’re close to the end, you turn a corner and find there’s a whole new set of zig-zagging lines.  The idea is that you don’t realize how far it really is because you’re just focused on doable milestones.  So true for this walk too.  It was like a one lane highway, where the people descending gave right of way to the ascenders by rapidly searching for a foothold somewhere! I just stayed focused on my next step and talked myself out of my fear of heights!



A couple of cool views on the way up.  For a few of these, I was laying flat out on my stomach on the slickrock to take them so that I wouldn’t fall because the wind was whipping so badly up on top.



Notice the mesa of that white mountain in the background and compare it to my earlier photos for some perspective!!  I was HIGH UP!!!   The way these sandstone layers angle up to the sky remind me suddenly of an old (black and white) Star Trek episode--I almost expected to see Captain Kirk and Scottie coming around the corner with their lazer pistols at the ready!


.....and the view from the top!!!    Looking South toward entrance to Zion:



...and looking North.  Notice the rock “island” called The Organ in this one, and how far above it I am now!!  When you drive by that same rock formation in the shuttle, it dwarfs you, it’s so tall, and here it looks small!  (see the reddish brown two-lane road that wraps around it?...and yes, that’s tiny olive-green ribbon is the big Virgin River~)



Now here is the view from Angel’s Landing, looking back toward Scout’s Lookout.  Yes, it’s the skinny little ridge to the left that has a sheer drop off on both sides!



....and THEN I had to do it all over again and climb DOWN the rock holding a chain!  About now I might have had Scottie to “beam me up.”  I think it’s much easier to climb up than climb down.’s a knee thing!!


Here’s Scout’s Lookout (Highest part at Top Right) to Angel’s Landing (Top Left) from a zoomed-in photo on the shuttle.   The angle is a little deceptive though since Angel’s Landing is actually higher than Scout’s Lookout. Basically, that ridge is THIN, with drop-offs like this on both sides.


All photos and text used in this blog are copyrighted by Author of this website, unless otherwise indicated, and permission is required to use any image or text.


"Morning Foraging & Wildcat Willies Breakfast"


This is only the morning segment of my entry today.  I awoke at dawn and after making myself some tea, enjoying the quiet of the morning and watching the early light illuminate one peak then another, I found I was hungry.  It seems my four-legged friend had the same idea!  I think this is a White Tailed Deer, but not sure.  I know the Mule Deer have longer ears, but this one has pretty big ears!  The deer here are comfortable around humans, but I know even not to get too comfortable with them.  They’re wild, beautiful creatures but can be vicious if scared.  She paid me no mind as I maintain my distance and enjoyed her beauty.


I splurged and did my morning foraging at Wildcat Willies Ranch Grill and Saloon, where wagon wheels, rusted spurs and six shooters grace the wall and old time country music keeps you company.  The food is good, comfort food with some concession to us health-conscious travelers by way of homemade granola and fresh fruit!  Cowboy coffee (with the grounds) is in abundance!  If you’re looking for a place to eat that goes way beyond the food in terms of heart and soul, you must eat at Wildcat Willies for breakfast!  You MUST chat it up with Grant and Shandy too or you’ll really be missing out on some treasures of Zion.


My waitress, Shandy, was incredible!  Youngish, 27, and she knew more about the area than any guidebook.  8 generations or so grew up in this valley, taking her family back to the early 1800s, all of those still living, right here in the Zion Valley still.  She said no one cares here about keeping up with the Joneses, and if someone needs it, the whole town in there to help out.  “Family means something here,” she stated.  In fact, she’d gone away to college and came right back because “You just can’t find that sense of family out in the big cities.”  The stories she could tell about history of Zion, which was actually called some Native American name beginning with a K, were utterly fascinating.  She herself was pretty amazing-- a single mom, having raised her child since 19 in the LDS church, no less... Her life story was one of courage and guts, and not a complaining bone in her body.  She shared her wisdom with her coffee, and you felt like you gained a whole new insight into the area not usually afforded the casual traveler.  She sort of took to me as I was an (older) single mom traveling alone, saying she hoped that one day she would be like me.  Well Shandy, if you’re out hunting deer with the guys to put food on the table for your daughter, you’re already ahead of me! 


The other waiter, Grant, perhaps owner, is like a grandfather to Shandy, and she calls him gramps.  He wears a sheriff badge and knows as much historical and geological information about Zion as any park ranger, which he dispenses with robust humor and a booming laugh.  “Ya all have yerselves a great one now, ya hear!” follows each group to the door as they head out towards a day hiking.  


Today I’m headed for Walter’s Wiggles and Angels Landing.  It’s been 11 years since I made that climb to the highest peak.


Below is White Throne with morning sunlight and below that, the Virgin River, only a 150 mile river, but it has shaped Zion Canyon for 1000’s of years.  Everywhere you look you see evidence of the path of water on the walls of these great rocks.



Virgin River through Zion Canyon (below)




All photos and text used in this blog are copyrighted by Author of this website, unless otherwise indicated, and permission is required to use any image or text.

Emerald Pools, Zion National Park, Utah


"Cooling Off!" 


The Kayenta Trail connects up with the Upper Emerald Pools Trail, which takes you on a fairly steep incline up the mountain, through the Middle Pools, and eventually up to the Upper Pools.  It’s a child’s (and childlike’s) delight to discover the trail squeezes through tall rocks and then opens onto layers of slick rock, hemmed in with more stunning views.



In the picture below right, the Upper Emerald Pool is a little below the top of the large middle tree.  The picture below left shows how the cliff face of the rock has calved off, leaving an arched indentation in the cliff face with small waterfalls and water seepage from the cliff face into the pool. This picture was taken from inside the pool.


It was 100 degrees today, relatively cool for this time of year in Zion, but having come from weeks and weeks of “June Gloom” on the coast where I live, my body felt like it was in an over--broiling on the surface and boiling from within.  The Emerald Pools beckoned me!  I eschewed all caution and self-consciousness and dove into those emerald waters.  Ahhhh!  What I didn’t know until I got back was that we weren’t supposed to swim in the pool.  I felt terrible, but all my sunscreen had been sweated off on the hot hike up the mountain, and I didn’t pee in the pool, so I am hoping I didn’t damage the ecosystem too much.  And here I was thinking I was such a free spirit to “throw cares to the wind” when I jumped in to that cold water!!  Alas, it was still a thrilling moment!


Honestly; normally I’m a very respectful and caring person when it comes to the environment!  If I'd been thinking clearly, I would have realized, or at least questioned myself, about the responsibility of swimming in a National Park pool.  I'm a little ashamed, actually.


After the Kayenta Trail, Upper and Lower Emerald Pools hikes, I decided to visit “Weeping Rock” and then the East Rim Trail to an observation point.  This is Weeping Rock from behind the “tears”!


All photos and text used in this blog are copyrighted by Author of this website, unless otherwise indicated, and permission is required to use any image or text.

The Rock formations bove Springdale, just outside of Zion National Park, Utah

 "Warming Up!"


Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.  ~ John Muir (1838 - 1914), Our National Parks, 1901


My first glimpse of these majestic mountains of Zion, and all the pains and hurts of the past few weeks slipped almost effortlessly from my shoulders like an unnecessary dark, heavy coat in summer.  I glance back and wonder where it fell.   But only a glance.    All I know is that the call of the Ancients beckoned and began to fill me with new energy and vitality, in body, mind and spirit.  I can feel the presence of God here.


Today I decided to warm up on some easy scenic hikes.  “Scenic” is redundant as I don’t think there’s a trail or vista at any given spot in Zion that isn’t utterly breathtaking.  You can’t actually drive through Zion, so I parked at the Visitor Center and took the tram up to Zion Lodge.  From there, I walked the 1/2 mile Grotto walk through the Fremont Cottonwoods and Golden Columbines that grow down by the Virgin River. From there I took the Kayenta Trail, named for the Kayenta Shale that slopes below the Navajo Sandstone in a deep rich vermilion.  



The trail grips the side of the cliffs as it winds it’s way around and several towering peaks, and the  Single Leaf Pinion and Utah Juniper grip the edges of the trail with their twisted and gnarled hands hanging on for dear life.  I walk carefully around them, respectful of their effort and beauty.   I find it utterly inspiring how the plant life survives in these harsh conditions of little water and heat, which can easily soar into triple digits in the summer and plummet to single digits in the winter.  They send their roots wiggling through the crevices and fissures in the rock in their search for water.


Way up high on seemingly the sheerest of rock faces, cryptobiotic soil forms on the tiniest of ledges, and tiny plants find home, against all odds.  Cryptobiotic soil is not just dirt.  The microorganisms that make up the cryptobiotic soil are essential to desert ecosystems, but very fragile to human contact.  They help plants find purchase on the tiny cliff ledges by promoting retention of moisture and contributing atmospheric nitrogen.  This picture is taken of a cliff face hundreds of feet above my head and even farther above the river valley.  The way nature finds to adapt and endure is inspiring.  It doesn’t complain---it just finds a way.  Would that we more often take a lesson from observing nature.


Virgin River below (zoomed in photo)


This year I can’t learn over the shoulder of my daughter, but of course, I brought my flower, plant and tree mini guide books to identify each, and I visit the park’s historical museum to fill in the bigger picture.   I’m sort of a geek in that way I guess.  An authentic mountain girl geek.



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Camping at Zion River RV Resort - Between Hurricane (pronounced Hurriken) and Zion, Utah


Zion River RV Resort - "Roughing it" in Luxury


My family and friends thought I was a little crazy, if not reckless, traveling alone this year.  The thing is, I LOVE to travel, and I can’t afford airfare and hotels, so I car camp and hike!  I used to take my daughter, but she’s flown the nest these days.  Sure, I’d rather have a partner, better yet, a fun hunky man along, but even though that’s not readily available, I’m sure not going to let that stop me.  I just decided to go alone!


In preparation, I pulled out my tent and resealed all the seams, tested out all my old equipment to be sure it was still in working order.  There’s nothing worse than getting out in the wilderness and thinking you have an essential, only to discover that it doesn’t work or is broken.  Turns out I had to replace my old camp stove, which after 25 years of wear and tear, was malfunctioning.  Thank God I tested it!!   The check out boys at the outdoor recreation store queried me about my trip.  “You’re going by yourself?!  Really?  Wowww...”  As a was walking away, I heard one say to the other, “Wow, that is sooo cool!”  I smiled to myself.  Yes,  pretty dang cool!!  I was excited!


After traveling for 8 hours, the landscape changed into huge weathered and layered rock formations in colors of vermilion, salmon, raw siennas and yellow ochres, the vegetation in values of sap green.  I’d finally arrived at Zion National Park in Utah.  It has been 10 years since I’ve been here with my daughter Mireya, who was a young girl at the time.  Now she’s in her 3rd year in college!  It’s the first real traveling vacation I’ve taken in perhaps 6 years, and I felt the tension ease from my body as I pulled into the Zion River Resort.  There’ve been many changes since I was here last, when it was new.  The trees have all grown up and actually provide shade now, a real luxury in the sometimes scorching heat here.  After setting up camp, I headed over to the pool and swam for a couple of hours, where I met people speaking French, Castilian Spanish and Dutch.  To my surprise, I discovered that they come to the USA, rent motor homes then travel the countryside that way!  Long gone are the backpacking and hosteling days I guess!!  



The 18-25 ish young men camping next to me reminded me of the camping trips my family used to take with the church high school group--their gear tossed everywhere and unprepared for actually camping.  I can’t tell you how many times they asked to borrow items. I’m grateful my mother was such a good example on how to pack. The young men told me I should write a whole entry on what to pack and how to set up camp!



I grew up “roughing it,” camping and backpacking throughout the Western States.  I find at 51 that my bones don’t take well to the hard ground anymore, nor am I all that hep on not having a shower, or “grabbing a tree” to pee!  I can remember once when I was about 12 I guess, my family and I backpacked for 2 weeks in the Grand Tetons.  The last day, we hiked out 15 miles to Jenny Lake.  There we were, Mom, Dad, my 3 younger sisters and I, all crashed on the side of the trail, leaning against our packs and eating ice cream sandwiches from the lake general store, when a tour bus stopped and emptied 50 Japanese tourists at our feet, who lined up to photograph “a real U.S. mountain family”  We were grimy, exhausted, weathered and after 2 weeks of freeze-dried food, we were thinking that those ice cream sandwiches were the best thing we’d ever tasted in our entire lives!    


By comparison, Zion River Resort is luxury camping!  There’s an upscale rustic, but fully stocked club house, game room, general store, TV room, Laundry, Pool and Jacuzzi on site, as well as PRIVATE bathrooms granite counters and large showers, and outdoor kitchen areas with gas grills and industrial sinks and counters.  Of course, we still have the fire pits in our campsite, but we also have electrical hookup and free wifi, if you can believe it!!! The camp host/owner came around and said hello and then came and sat for awhile to chat, which didn’t bother me any as he’s a dead ringer as a look alike to Sam Elliott!!  Now I ask you, what woman in her 50’s can’t appreciate that?!!


Well, I’ve cooked my dinner of Thai ginger vegetable soup (with a bit of crab) from scratch, and now I’m headed over to the jacuzzi!  Such a rough life!



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 All I want to do is unroll my sleeping bag in the back of my truck and sleep!  I hate that 10 hour drive through the desert.  It's not the same as driving in the desert through Arizona or the high desert of Utah and the Colorado Plateau.  Except for the exceptional beauty of the stretch of Joshua Trees outside of Barstow, the drive is dead heat through nearly dead small towns and the occasional city of beautiful new empty homes that no one can afford to rent or buy.  If they COULD afford to rent or buy such a home, they certainly would settle off the Pear Blossom Highway or outside Victorville!  Then there's Las Vegas, just about my least favorite city in the world.  I pretty much put the pedal to the floor and try and get past Las Vegas as fast as possible.  The countryside only starts distracting me once I get past Mesquite and make my way through the Virgin River Gorge.  Of course, one can't be distracted through this narrow, windy gorge, because it has been under construction for decades it seems.  Sometimes I see crazy rock climbers in one area, who must have a death wish if you ask me.  Alas, I am finally here and the worries and stresses of teaching is just now finding room to ease out of me.  I've needed this vacation for so long.  I will miss my daughter though.  It used to be our thing to come here!



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iMadonnari Chalk Painting done by my art students at Adams School, Santa Barbara, CA 

I spent 16 hours during Memorial Day Weekend participating in the annual iMadonnari Italian Street Painting Festival.  I worked with about 14 students on this 4’ x 6’ chalk painting depicting Santa Barbara during the Mission Era, as interpreted by students ages 5-9.  The students took the idea from a mural they’d just finished painting at Adams School with nationally known Montana muralist, John Carlon.  They did this one from memory in much brighter colors and with some new twists.  It was great to see the praise the students received from the thousands of visitors to the mission grounds that weekend.  Adults were just amazed that young children could do this kind of quality work, so they stood and watched the kids for awhile and then walked away even more amazed.  Many adults told the kids that this painting was their very favorite in the whole festival.  It made my heart smile to see the pride and beaming joy on the kids’ faces hearing that over and over.  The really gained some confidence in their talents this weekend.  I love this event!  It’s such a community activity, bringing young and old artists together.  Hundreds of artists were bonded in chalked faces, arms, legs, hands and creative joy!


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"Apple Blossoms"


The arrival of spring bloomed with the nectarine blossoms and wisteria outside my door this year.  The sun dawns a little earlier, filling my yard and heart with a morning glow to start my day.  Each day brings a new promise to match each new bloom I’m delighted in discovering daily.  Defying seeming hard and dried branches, life and beauty springs forth in bright hues!  So too our lives.  We just need to stop and notice.  The evidence is there.  If we take the time to notice, growth and beauty surrounds us and uplifts us without the asking.  How lucky are we!!


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