Fall is a great time for hiking, and last year I did a hike down the rocky wash of Clear Creek in the eastern part of Zion. It turned out to be far better than I expected, so I'm back this year to enjoy it again. This time I'm starting out at the east entrance, trying to get in as much of the drainage as possible.
While it's supposed be pretty nice today it's fairly cold in the shade, cold enough the snow from the previous days is lingering. Clear Creek is the major drainage on the east side of the park, running from east to west, from outside of the park to become Pine Creek Canyon and drain into the Virgin River. It is paralleled for virtually its entire course by Highway 9.
The bed of the creek is usually dry, mostly rocky with some sandy stretches. The hiking is tiring due to the constant rock-hopping. The total distance I will hike today is 15 miles, but it is far more exhausting than the 20 miles I did to Deertrap Mountain a few weeks ago.
Clear Creek is the end for all the well-known and not-so-well-known canyons on the east side. The first major canyon passed is the deep cleft I originally called Hidden Arch Canyon as I scrambled out of it to the East Rim Trail. I later decided it wasn't close enough to get it's name from the arch and settled on Red Mane Canyon thanks to the obvious large mineral flow near the mouth of the canyon.
Back to the east is a glimpse of Hidden Arch, visible from the road but essentially invisible because the angle makes it blend into the surrounding cliffs.
Passing below a huge blind arch on the cliffs above the creek.
Clear Creek had a few shallow pools in places, most of them frozen over.
A couple of bighorn sheep running up the slickrock, startled to see me. As if I could follow them up there...
The next major landmark is a short dryfall that marks the end of Separation Canyon.
It also marks the beginning of the best set of narrows in the first half of the canyon, the Separation Narrows.
There are several sets of these narrows throughout the canyon, none of them particularly long, but I find it remarkable the number of people who drive within several feet of these, wishing they could see a slot canyon and having no idea that these easily-accessed slots are right below them.
Past the narrows is the next point of interest, the end of Keyhole Canyon. There was a group of painters in the dry streambed. I thought about posing for them but time is a factor, unfortunately.
Heading through the watery tunnel underneath the highway to Keyhole Canyon.
Looking down into Keyhole Canyon. Looked cold. I didn't linger long.
The next of narrows is shorter and shallower, but does have a nice looking sculpted chamber.
Further downstream is the major canyon of interest to me today, Petroglyph Canyon. This north-running canyon is named for obvious reasons. I've known about it for quite awhile but never found a reason to check it out.
A few remaining fall colors. That's pretty red!
Petroglyph Canyon is of course named after the petroglyphs, art chipped into the rocks thousands of years ago by ancient Native Americans. I'm not normally that interested in ancient artifacts, but whenever I see something like this it's hard not to wonder about the people who made them. Did the person who made these draw the figure there to represent himself? Someone else, someone he cared about? Does this tell a story that mattered to him? Whatever it was it's gone, forgotten, lost to time, as of course everything that matters to us today will be.
It isn't much of a wilderness setting; to protect these the park has put up several signs and a fence, but they are interesting. What was the area like back then? Most of the formations and canyons would have already been carved in their present configurations, but several years here have shown me how much these things can change. There was of course no highway, and no tunnel. Without technical equipment and knowledge Pine Creek would have been impassable, making Clear Creek a dead end. Pine Creek Canyon itself would have been different... what features might have existed that have since been eroded away in the passing thousand years? All the rappels and downclimbs formed by logjams... all those trees would not have even been born for centuries. The canyon would have been a unknowable place, something that no person had ever set foot in. A far cry from today, where it stands as a fun way to spend a summer afternoon. Things, they have changed.
A bit somber from my thoughts and reflections at the petroglyphs I continue up the canyon, scrambling up to a wide open slickrock section.
Above the canyon is the white tower of Aries Butte.
Further up the canyon narrows to a true slot, with some little scrambles and climbs thrown in for good measure.
Good fall colors in the shelter of the narrow canyon.
I went up to where it started to become actually difficult, then decided to call it a day. I still have a lot of hiking left to do and can't spend the whole day in Petroglyph Canyon. I'm sure I will return to explore further.
Heading back through the slot.
Back in Clear Creek, almost immediately is another narrow section.
It's a little cold in this narrows...
I found myself in possession of the largest icicle of the bunch. I felt a crazy urge to scramble out of the canyon, find a parked tourist, and offer it to him. Decided not to, probably a good idea.
Ant Hill from near Many Pools.
I remember this grove of trees having excellent colors last year too. Good to see some consistency.
Cockeye Falls, still dry. I just hiked through here the other day will looping through Parunuweap Pass Canyon, so this will be familar territory for a little bit.
Hidden Gardens. Would like to check this one out a little more but, you know, time.
The mouth of Parunuweap Pass Canyon again.
This section I remember well... last year I was nearly killed by some kids throwing rocks into the canyon from the roadway. One came within a couple of feet of shattering my skull. Not a good memory.
Another unnamed side canyon. On the map it's short but every time I come by it there's a small flow of water issuing from it. Will have to come back and check it out sooner or later.
Just past that canyon is one of the best sections of narrows, begun with an exciting crawl through a small arch.
The rock has changed since the earlier narrows... here the canyon is sculpted smooth by water, and the slots narrower and darker.
This section of narrows seems to frequently by blocked by a deep pool at this point. Fortunately there is a bypass on the rim.
Heading back out of the narrows. The canyon is beginning to look more and more like Pine Creek, the canyon it will become shortly.
Looking down into the canyon from the rim bypass. Last time it was just a single short pool that blocked me. This time there is no chance of getting through dry!
After an enjoyable experience with a branch jabbing into my eye I continued down the canyon to the next set of narrows, after the confluence with Upper Pine Creek.
Nice suspended log. Amazingly it's survived for as long as it has.
Probably my favorite picture of the hike, a dark section of narrows near the very end.
The last set of narrows, begun with passage underneath a wedged boulder.
As happens often, the final narrows is blocked by scummy water, only a hundred feet short of Pine Creek. Well that's close enough, time to head on back. I forgot about how daylight savings time changes when it will get dark, so now I have to hurry to make it back while it's still light.
Another bighorn sheep on the way back.
Nearing the end as the sun is going down. Made it back with time to spare. If you can ignore the sounds of the highway Clear Creek really is a fun and scenic hike, with lots of side trips possible. A good way to spend a fall day.