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Angel's Landing at Zion National Park

Utah's Zion National Park draws 2.7 million visitors a year, and a major attraction for hearty hikers is a trek along the Grotto trailhead to Angel's Landing. Scott Carrier recently made the trip, and was rewarded with a nearly supernatural experience:

From the banks of the Virgin River, the yellow-and-red sandstone sides of Zion Canyon rise 2,000 feet. It feels like being inside a huge body. The canyon walls are the rib cage spread open and Angel's Landing is like the heart.

Angel's Landing is the top of a thin, red mesa that stands alone in the middle of the canyon, 1,500 feet above the river. The trail starts out steep and gets steeper. Near the top there are fixed chains to hold on to. The people walking up are sweaty and doubtful. The people coming down are smiling and happy.

There are two couples from France and two couples from Japan... and also the guy who operates the elevator at the Shalimar Hotel in Las Vegas. Four young women from BYU and a young man quoting Henry the Fifth.

There are good, wide steps chopped into the sandstone, but in certain places, tripping and letting go of the chain would be like falling off the Empire State building. Far below, the shuttle bus that carried the climbers to the foot of Angel's Landing inches along the river road.

At the top there's a crowd, a party of people who don't know each other and will never see each other again, all high on gravity. Most are half-clothed college students, but there's also a Bavarian hiker with leather boots worn out in the Alps, and a nurse from Belgium carrying a copy of Desert Solitare in her backpack.

It seems entirely possible, standing on top, that this is a place angels would land. Maybe time travelers and space aliens, as well. It's an altar, 1,500 feet in the air. It feels like all the energy coming off the canyon walls is focused on this spot.

As the sun starts setting, many of the people leave. We stay and wait for a sign from the supernatural world. When we listen closely we think we hear the canyon humming. Then we realize it's the sound of the shuttle bus resonating against the walls of the canyon. We remember we have to ride that bus. We pack up and run down, barely making the last bus of the day.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Carrier