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Walking with the angels at Zion National Park
If you're afraid of heights, you've got to do this hike.
First, check out this amazing photograph. See that little strip of black in the upper right? That's a two-lane highway. Dizzy? Good. Head on over to Zion National Park in Utah and go on the Angel's Landing hike.
Zion is my personal favorite among the national parks, even beating out the breathtaking but rather touristy Grand Canyon. Readers over at Tripadvisor voted Zion number one of the Top Ten National Parks.
Take a look at this gallery and you'll see why. Zion is nestled within a network of towering canyon walls of Navajo Sandstone that turn an infinite number of shades of red, brown, and gold as the sun rises and sets. Their shadows and the streams and rivers at the bottom create lush valley floors with a variety of wildflowers and animal life. The main visitor area has most creature comforts, with a luxury hotel and campgrounds with fantastic views. From there you can head off into a maze of side canyons and hike to your heart's content. It's one of the best places in the country to go cayoneering.
The most popular and nerve-wracking hike is Angel's Landing. It starts not far from the main visitor area and climbs a ridge up, up, up, growing ever narrower until sheer cliffs fall away on either side of a thin sliver of rock. Don't worry, there's a chain to hold onto in case you get unsteady. In fact, with the rock being pretty slippery even when dry, it's a good idea to hang onto the chain in any case. There have been a number of fatalities on this hike, but if you're careful you will be in no danger.
I'm scared of heights. When I was in college I took up rock climbing to get rid of my fear, but weekends spent scaling the cliffs of the Catalina Mountains near Tucson didn't cure me. All they did was make me able to control my fear. Now I can go up to any height with steady hands and a sure step, while inside I'm screeching like a schoolgirl. My inner schoolgirl was screeching pretty loud on this hike! But what a reward at the end. When you reach the top you're 1,208 ft. (368 m) above Zion Canyon with the river making a hairpin turn below you. You feel like you're literally on top of the world and the clean breeze blowing a bit too hard against you fills your lungs and makes you feel truly alive. Nothing like acrophobia to add a little extra zing to a hike!
More sedate hikes into the remote side canyons will be rewarded with quiet trails as well as glimpses of rare animal life like Golden Eagles and cougars. Steams cascade down little waterfalls and you'll find lush, peaceful grottoes sheltered from the desert sun. These side canyons are good places to go bird watching and there are even some decent rock climbing routes in case you still want to prove you're not afraid of a sickeningly long space of air beneath you.
Zion National Park is an easy road trip from Southern California and much of the Southwest, but even if you're living in Maine it's worth the drive to see one of the country's truly great National Parks.