As Craig and I drive down to the land of zion, the full moon is setting in the pinkish salmon glow of light bouncing off the stately sandstone cliffs. We're on our way to hike, slog, and scamper through the Left Fork of the North Fork of the Virgin River. It's a fabled place of sandstone subway-like tunnels and daunting depths and drops.
Depositing the shuttle car, we continue on to the North Gage TH and quickly hit the ground hiking toward the entrance to The Subway, somewhere ensconced below those towering buttes and temples. See the photos of Craig and the temples, and the entrance to The Subway above. That dark nothing in the Subway entrance photo suggests the depths of our canyon. Yet first we hike through swirling petrified sandstone bowls, dropping steadily as we go. Suddenly, we arrive at a cleft and begin the hike down, into the cool depths of the Left Fork of North Creek.
Wondrous reflections (middle photo, top row above) remind us to be mindful of the delightfully deluxe natural slot we cruise. The first minor obstacle requires us to clamber down a slot between the wall and a rock shelf. We get out the short rope for the first of several times. Soon, we are wading the belt-high cold water that doesn't experience the warming light of Southwest sun. "Yikes, this is frigid, like liquid ice." I comment. "Yes," Craig echoes back, "and soon we get to go swimming in it, through the cesspool. Yahoo!" A low pour-off drops us into an even colder (is this possible?) and deeper wade, followed immediately by a deep plunge pool that we helplessly slip into and swim across clumsily, flopping out on the sandstone veranda on the far side. The wintry water takes our breath away, yet we are buoyed by our packs stuffed with clothes, lunch, etc., safely encapsulated inside river bags. "Yow, this is hypothermia city!" I shiver. We find a tiny side canyon and inch up it to where we can stand in the sun and warm like rigid reptiles.
I pull off my soaked t-shirt and put on a heavy pile shirt. Ahh, better. On we go, inching around another series of pools on the ledge route, then over Keyhole Falls, where a polished log once leaned to allow a walk down the falls - today we have to rope down the short drop, getting soaked as we go. We enter a dark slot and slip along it to where - suddenly we arrive at The Subway. "WOW!" I note, "We have timed our arrival to see the glowing Equinox sun filtering through the sandstone tunnel." "Look up quick," comments Craig, "and you get a full scene that includes the undocumented Keyhole Arch." Yes, one must look up high on the cliff, just as the spectacle of The Subway focuses one's attention on it. "This will be a great addition to Bob, The Archman's site," I remark as I fumble out my trusty camera from its watertight river box, discovering that the circulation in my hands is still inadequate.
It's an amazing place of canyon subway space, we note. The Subway is a short feature in an elbow of The Left Fork of North Creek of the Virgin River, and it is lovely and mystical. We prowl around in The Subway, then emerge on the downstream side to find a sunlit slickrock veranda to warm like lizards, eat lunch, and dry clothes. The sun slips behind the canyon wall, prompting us to continue through the red cascades that ripple in drops below The Subway exit. The canyon character changes, more open, studded with trees, and we begin weaving our way through boulders and shrubberies.
It's a long hike because of the obstacles, punctuated by a dinosaur-tracked mudstone (limestone?) perched near the stream bed. We pause at a clear side stream for gorp and to recharge our water bottles and rest our prune-like feet. Craig has done enough wet hiking, bumping boulders over the past few weeks that he has a big toe wrapped like a mummy. It looks like it hurts, and Craig confirms this.
Now, we are hiking in t-shirts, puffing up to the top of the rim, through a series of lava and sandstone layers, out of the Left Fork. Following a rove through the pygmy forest of pinyon and juniper, we arrive back at the lower trailhead. Ahh, and we made it before sunset, just in time for a quick warm rinse from the sunshower that has been roasting in Craig's car, savored with a beer that has been chilling in the cooler, and things are right with the world.
With the complementary full moon rising, the sun sets on the domes and buttes of the land of upper Zion as we drive off the plateau and toward a delightful dinner at Lupitas in Cedar City. !Es muy excelente, que rico! and, tops off a delightfully deluxe day of scampering and sloshing The Subway.