Sunday, February 22, 2015

Rocking the Watchman Trail

I have never met a trail in Zion National Park that I did not like. Long, short, steep, level, paved, rocky, hard sandy slickrock or soft forest soil, it does not matter. I will hike wherever and whenever the opportunity presents itself. A few weeks ago when I had to be in the Park for a 1:30pm volunteer meeting, just such an opportunity appeared. Dizzy and hyper after snacking on a German chocolate brownie during the drive over, I left my friend Lucy happily napping on a picnic table in the early February sunshine. When I exited my meeting two hours later, we headed for the Watchman Trail.
Watchman trail

The trail is an easy two miles round trip. The climb is gradual, contouring up through the loose talus slope of Moenave siltstones and mudstones and then across the distinctive band of cliff–forming Springdale Sandstone of the Kayenta Formation. All the while, massive Navajo Sandstone cliffs tower above us like a sentinel.

023Springdale SandstoneLedge
The Springdale Sandstone is a distinctive band below the massive Navajo Sandstone

More of an early bird, I do not often find myself starting out on a hike in the late afternoon, so this day was special. The angled light of early February shifted dramatically on the already dramatic scenery of Zion. The play of late afternoon shadows on the rocks was mesmerizing.
029WestTemple FromWatchman Trail
Mid-winter light and shadow soften the West Temple as seen from the Watchman trail
There were no sounds but our own footsteps and chatter. During the summer months, there might be hundreds of people on this trail at one time. We were lucky on this February weekday afternoon. Except for a few folks coming down the trail as we started up, we did not see another soul.

038Springdale Sandstone
The distinctive band of Springdale Sandstone can be seen in lower Zion Canyon

After a mile or so, the trail levels out on top of the Springdale Sandstone and loops around on a small, open tableland with views up and down Zion Canyon.

ViewFrom Watchman NEFWFR
View from the top - up canyon from the Watchman trail loop

Did the groundhog see its shadow this year? I can’t remember, even thought it was only three weeks ago! However, as the winter sun inched towards the western cliffs we saw our own shadows lengthen, and soon were obliged to head back to my car. I thought of my half of a cup of cold coffee and the few bites of that tasty brownie that would sustain me on the ride home.

042WestTemple FromWatchman Trail
Lucy takes her time going down the Watchman trail

A midwinter sunset reflects its light on The Watchman


  1. I hiked this trail a couple of years ago and saw some blue, crumbly rock included in some large boulders along the trail about half way to the top. Any ideas what it is?

    1. Hmmm... There are some mudstone layers along the trail, that may appear blueish. I'll have to get back there, and take another look!

    2. Lightning was striking all around and I was herding my children off the trail as quickly as possible, but heroically, I managed to snap a couple of photos. Re-examining them, I think you're right about the mudstone. The blue rock was in thin sheets attached to the underside of a couple of large dislodged sandstone boulders that had fallen over the trail from above. I know that groundwater running along under sandstone layers can alter the mineralogy and oxidation state of the sediments, giving them some oddball colors. Maybe that's it. I was just amazed by the vivid, almost turquoise color.

    3. Heroically snapping shots of rocks in a lightning storm - now, that's what I call dedication!