Once upon a time, I thought a Rick Steves guidebook was the key to adventure. This is the story of how my horizons have broadened since then.
August 2007: I come back to America from my second trip to the Jungfrau region of Switzerland and rave to my parents about the fabulousness of my trip. I shake my head sadly when they counter with descriptions of their second trip to southern Utah. Why are they so insistent on staying in America, land of Wal-Mart and McDonalds? There’s a whole world out there!
August 2008: I come back to America from hiking the Haute Route, Chamonix-Zermatt, and rave to my parents about the fabulousness of my trip. Glacier hiking! High-mountain hostels! I shake my head sadly when they repeat that I really should try Utah. Staring at a bunch of rocks? I think not.
May 2009: I board the plane to Las Vegas with my parents, hoping I won’t be too bored over the next 17 days. The itinerary: Bryce – Moab/Arches National Park – Havasupai – Zion. I reason that by going, I’ll be strengthening my position that my parents should get passports. I’ll be able to say “I’ve been to Utah, and Switzerland is better.”
September 2010: I board the plane to Las Vegas with my parents for my second trip to Zion.
May 2011: I board the plane to Las Vegas with my parents for my third trip to Zion. I’m bringing a friend who invited herself after I raved about the fabulousness of my two previous trips.
Switzerland? Meh. I can drive to Vermont and imagine the lakes there are bluer than they really are.
No, really, the Swiss Alps are still unique in their beauty. But they don’t have the Zion Adventure Company (ZAC). Let me try to explain…
ZAC has unfailingly provided just the right amount of advice and support my parents and I needed to get as much as possible out of our time in their area. When we wanted to hike the Subway route, Orderville, and the Narrows, ZAC came through with clothing and equipment recommendations and the shuttle service. Whenever we needed more information about a particular hike or how the day’s weather would affect us on a trail, the incredibly helpful ZAC staff was far more specific than the park rangers at the Zion backcountry desk.
These examples are minor, though, compared to our canyoneering experiences with ZAC. My first trip there, Nick and Cory took us through a great canyon that was certainly not for first-timers on their own. At one point, we saw two women who were there without a guide. My mother and I admired their independence, telling each other that we would never do such a thing.
My second time out there, Jonathan and Rob were our guides for the Extreme Adventure Day described on the ZAC website. Ascending high canyon walls when you’ve never even seen an ascender before…. Well, let’s just say that those guides are outstanding teachers.
My third time, last May, Jonathan and Tom took us on the Escalante-Neon adventure listed on the ZAC website. My friend and I agreed that we will never be able to adequately describe our experience to others. It’s just impossible. Even now, the images flash before my eyes. The amazing vista spread out in front of me when I awoke in the mornings. The tiny silver frogs clinging to the canyon walls just above the waterline and the adorable pack rat trying to escape the beam of my headlamp. Jonathan pointing to the hole in the rock beneath us just before we rappel into the Golden Cathedral at Neon Canyon and saying “This is so beautiful, it makes me want to cry” and me seeing a few minutes later what he meant.
On the plane back after the Escalante-Neon trip, my parents and I discussed what we’d do on our next trip there. We speculated about what new adventures ZAC could have in store, and about what we could do on our own. Remember the way my mother and I marveled at the two women doing that first canyon independently? Thanks to the experience we gained through ZAC, we said that our next time there, we’d do that canyon without a guide. The hundred-foot rappel near the end? Piece of cake.
One more thing: My father was 60 when we did the Extreme Adventure Day. He was 61 when we went on the Escalante-Neon trip. Physically, while he’s still strong, he is not the 20-year-old college football player that his heart tells him he is. My mother was 55. My friend was a 36-year-old mother of two whose last regular exercise was high school softball practice. We weren’t a bunch of 20somethings with six-pack abs. What we did have was a love of adventure and natural beauty, and trust in our ZAC guides. They know how to work with all kinds of people and make adjustments to fit ability levels.
Back to the point I think I was trying to make before I started rambling. I keep going back to southern Utah partly because of the staff at ZAC. Every time I’ve arrived at ZAC seeking information or equipment, I’ve felt as if the staff had been waiting eagerly for me. Every time I’ve returned to drop off rental gear. I’ve felt as if I made their day when I told them I had a wonderful time. Every time I’ve left a ZAC experience, it has been with more skills, greater confidence, and amazing memories.
If I’d bypassed ZAC that first time I went and seen Zion mainly from the trails served by the park shuttle, I promise, that would also have been my last time there.
One more promise: There’s another trip with ZAC in my future.