Our first day in Zion National Park had been wonderful so far. My hubby and I had traversed the Riverwalk, visited Weeping Rock, and had an exciting hike on the Emerald Pools Trail. Although heavy clouds had obscured the sun all day, so far we'd avoided any rain.
But boarding a shuttle bus at the Zion Lodge, our driver had ominous news.
|Towering rock formations|
Local radar indicated a severe thunderstorm heading our way. It was already hitting the northern portion of the park, overflowing rivers and causing flash flood warnings. As our driver put it: "We're gonna get walloped good."
|Cacti ready to bloom|
It was hard to believe such a big storm was coming...the sky didn't look any different than it had all day. Roger and I decided we had time for another stop. We jumped off the bus at the Court of the Patriarchs viewpoint.
The Court of the Patriarchs consisted of three large sandstone mountains that soared high into the sky. Discovered by early Mormon settlers, the peaks were named after the prophets Abraham, Issac and Jacob. One of the most recognized landmarks in Zion, I wanted to be sure and get some good photographs.
|The Court of the Patriarchs|
However, the darkening sky made for difficult lighting conditions. That, and a few large thunder rumbles scared us away from a very exposed viewpoint. Roger and I decided to move on. After catching the next shuttle bus, we debated whether to visit one more place, or head back to our campground.
|Info board photo|
Since the bad weather hadn't hit yet, we made the decision to get off for a final stop. Deboarding at Canyon Junction, Roger and I followed the paved trail that dipped under a highway bridge and led towards the Virgin River's banks. It was a lovely place, lined with tall, colorful sandstone towers and lush green trees. The river burbled peacefully below.
|River view from under highway bridge|
Looking up towards a nearby sandstone peak, the sky suddenly began to change. It took on a white, misty sheen. Roger noticed a high waterfall suddenly begin to gush down the cliff face. Uh-oh....the big storm had arrived. That white fog was rain - and lots of it! Luckily, the highway bridge wasn't far away, and we made a quick dash for it, ducking underneath just as the deluge began.
|The sky is getting very dark|
The thunderstorm hit with maximum force. High winds bent nearby trees, and torrential rain streamed from the sky. Roger and I were joined by another couple, and the four of us huddled under the bridge. Then I noticed quarter sized hail had begun pounding the earth. All I could think of was my new car, barely five months old, parked back at the campground that was probably getting hammered.
|Here comes the storm!|
Runoff began pouring from the road above, and dirty red torrents came gushing in fat streams under the bridge. Afraid the river would rise quickly, Roger suggested we make a run for the bus stop. Flipping up my jacket hood, I followed my hubby through the downpour. Splashing through huge puddles, we were instantly soaked. Hailstones pounded the ground around us. I took two painful hits on my head and hand during our escape.
Reaching the bus stop, we ducked under the shelter with a bunch of stranded tourists. Finally a bus came by, and we crammed on. It was a long, wet ride back to the visitor center. I stood in the aisle, trying not to drip on the other passengers.
Back at the visitor center, the rain hadn't let up in the least. Roger was in a hurry to return to our campsite, so we ran through the pouring rain, getting soaked to the skin in the process. And naturally, the storm began to abate about the time we reached our tent.
Luckily, our tent was still standing, and my car was unharmed by the hailstorm. We changed out of wet clothes, and enjoyed dinner under dry skies. Retreating thunderheads against nearby sandstone peaks made for some dramatic scenery. After supper, I walked around the campground with my camera, capturing it all.
|Foggy leftover clouds|
I'd heard the National Weather Service had issued flash flood warnings for Zion. Passing by the Virgin River I was amazed to see how much it had changed in just a few short hours. The once placid stream had been transformed into a powerful, muddy torrent, its waters as dark as chocolate milk.
I stood on the roadway bridge and marveled at the river's sheer force. Anyone caught in it's current would be a goner!
|Swollen Virgin River|
Heading back to our campsite, I noticed storm clouds again building over the mountains. Oh no, not again! It didn't take long before rain drove my hubby and I into our tent for the night. At first the sound of rain pattering on our tent was kind of soothing. But shortly after sundown another round of storms hit, with thunder echoing off the nearby cliffs, and lightning bolts flashing.
|Looks like chocolate milk!|
I huddled in my sleeping bag, hoping the storm would let up. But throughout the night a continuous parade of thunderstorms hit in succession, each louder and closer than the last. The thunder was deafening, and nearly continuous bright lightning bolts lit up the skies. More torrential rain pounded the already saturated ground. Finally, around midnight, a huge lightning flash hit so close, I swear it was right overhead. Terrified, I made a beeline for the car, and spent a very uncomfortable couple of hours trying to sleep in the front seat.
|Evening light on adjacent rocks (the calm before another storm!)|
Would the storms ever stop? We had plans to hike Angel's Landing in the morning. If the lightning was still active, this hike would be out. Would the large amount of precipitation make the sandstone trails too slippery for hiking? Would flooding limit access to the trails? These questions churned through my mind as the storms finally began to fade, and I drifted into a few hours of fitful sleep.
Don't miss my next Zion National Park post, and see if Roger and I are able to tackle the famed Angel's Landing trail.
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