ZCFI Thursday Trek – “Take a Hike with Mike”

“Take a hike with Mike!” That was the call for Thursday’s Trek on March 28th. Michael was sure we would see bighorn sheep and promised to take us where the crowds wouldn’t amass.

The fusion of a crisp spring morning, the warm colors of the Navajo sandstone, and being out of the office on a Wednesday, filled me with a euphoria I haven’t felt in a while. My spirits soared while riding up the twists of the Zion Canyon switchbacks. There’s something about playing hooky on a workday that rejuvenates the soul. I wasn’t actually playing hooky; I had permission to attend the Thursday Trek with the Zion Canyon Field Institute. (Being in the park on a workday but not spending eight hours behind a computer screen at a desk felt a little like playing hooky.)

Locations vary, but Michael had chosen the east side of Zion for our Thursday Trek. Once we arrived at our destination, ZCFI Director Michael Plyler didn’t hesitate for a moment to give us what we had come for: a personal encounter with nature. He explained how windswept crossbedding formed areas of slickrock on the east side of Zion. Windswept ripples of sand hardened over time to produce formations which look like waves of water. We saw the sorted material remains of a flash flood environment in Clear Creek.

We not only learned about geology, but also botany as Michael explained how the edges of the Manzanita leaves move to the sun throughout the day to keep the leaves from drying out. We were shown the diverse ecosystems, cultural history and fauna of Zion. Who would have guessed the chirping sound we heard was actually a rock squirrel.

The petroglyphs show pictures of animals which look like the bighorn sheep of today, and interestingly enough, all but one of the animals face the same direction. Michael quizzed us as to why this might be?

One theory was that all of the ancients were right handed except one: many theories about the carvings, but none of the ancients left to give the actual story. Because of dated cultural material recovered from subsurface deposits associated with the images, archaeologists agree that humans have occupied the Zion area for somewhere around 7,000 years. Based on those dates, we would assign the images to a broad Ancestral Puebloan cultural affiliation.

The only remaining histories of these people are fragile, and although they have survived the winds and waters of time, they need to be protected for future study and enjoyment. Even touching these cultural treasures can deteriorate their historical and cultural value.

Many Pools Canyon is a hike I’m looking forward to replicating after a rain storm. Although the pools were stagnant, they still had reflective qualities and displayed a diversity of life from water skeeters to the ancient tadpole shrimp (triops longicaudatus*). How Zion canyon was carved and how this slickrock formation was manipulated with wind and water was evident. Small trickles of water ran down the slopes into pools where tadpoles, water skeeters, and other evidence of life were responding to the warmth of spring. The cacti were beginning to bud, the manzanita was in bloom, trees were budding, and other signs of spring were evident. Temperatures were nearly perfect requiring a jacket early on the trek, but shed by the time we stopped for lunch on a rock ledge in the shade of a giant ponderosa pine.

As we continued our trek farther back into the canyon, the pools became more frequent and deeper. Nature’s debris was evidence of past flash floods as rain water gravitated to lower elevations and filled each pool and then overran their depths. Each storm cutting the pots a little deeper and wider as the sandstone weathered away or filling others with sand and debris.

We never did see any bighorn sheep except the petroglyph carvings; but as promised, encountering other park visitors was minimal. It almost seemed as if we had the park to ourselves. Reality struck when we got back to the road making our way to the cars.

Thursday Treks don’t come with a visitor checklist or brochure to define what you’ll do or see. Each one differs depending on the guide, the weather, the time of year, what critters and blossoms are in season, and the engagement level of each participant. For me, it was an enjoyable day out of the office with an opportunity to witness what the Zion Canyon Field Institute offers!

Some comments from our participants that day:

“Thank you Mike, it was a pleasure meeting you on the Thursday hike. It was fantastic! What a great way to see Zion. The weather, the people, and the hike were all just wonderful! I have been to Zion many times and I have never done the two hikes we did. I loved not only the hike but all of the wonderful info. bestowed upon us. It was informative and beautiful and worth every penny!! It was just what I hoped for and more.



“Spending the day with the Field Institute group was great. Before we left the history museum [after the hike] we joined (ZNHA) and signed up for the Mohave Wildflower offering. Here are a few words about why it was such a valuable day:

Usually when we take off on a new trail we find ourselves asking a string of questions wondering about the name of something on the trail, the story behind what we are seeing, or the history of the area we are in. Mostly we speculate or say we can always look that up when we get home. But by the end of the day, we forget to do that. The hike with the Field Institute hike leader means our future hikes will be more enjoyable because we are better able to understand and appreciate something about where our footsteps take us.

Thanks to everyone who puts the Field Institutes together for a great day.”

Linda and Bob Shadiow

* http://www.nps.gov/zion/learn/photosmultimedia/ranger-minutes.htm

By Karolee Dennett, ZNHA Communications and Office Administrator