Virgin River

There are always those places that hold your attention and draw you back time and time again. For me, one of these places is Zion National Park in southwestern Utah. The park is world-renown for its awe-inspiring beauty, from soaring, majestic mountains, to red rock formations that defy conventional description, to its tree-filled main canyon, an oasis in the desert that makes you feel as if you walked onto a different realm altogether.

I’ve been in the park more than a few times, and I’ve been known to drive a few hundred, or more, miles out of my way just to drive through it. There is, however, one feature of the park that draws me back: the Virgin River.

The Virgin River is not, by any means, the mightiest river around. Far, far from it, and most days, it is quiet and unassuming and you can walk though it without getting the tops of your shoes wet. However, when the flash floods come, and they do, this small river becomes a torrent in its own right, and it has cut through and down into Zion National Park, leaving impossibly high and sheer canyon walls and small hidden treasures.

For this small adventure, we’ll work our way from north to south along the Virgin River.

Subway PoolsOur first stop is called The Subway. Here, the river has cut a near-tunnel through the solid rock. It’s not a true tunnel, as there is an opening, perhaps just a couple of feet wide, at the top. The walls are gently curved and rounded, however, and it resembles more than anything else its namesake: a subway. The river seems to be so gentle here; a thin film of water, not even an inch high, covers the entire floor. And yes, as you might expect, it is exceptionally slick, too, and you need to be mindful of where you put your feet. The highlight, though, are a few emerald green pools of water. The pools are a few feet deep, deep enough that you don’t want to fall in them, and just deep enough for the emerald green color to appear. In any event, The Subway is a highly photogenic location.

Archangel Falls

Just downriver from The Subway is a small, gentle series of cascades known as Archangel Falls, or sometimes, Arch Angel Cascades. To me, this is one of the most beautiful locations in the entire park, if not this entire area of Utah. The river still isn’t very large at this point, but what water there is cascades over a long series of sandstone shelves. The water flows every which way here, and when viewed from the bottom, the cascades really show their beauty. With the high canyon walls behind it, and the characteristic glow of reflected light on sandstone, the scene is absolutely breathtaking. A small stand of foliage at the top completes the tableau.

Swift Narrows

Further downriver, many miles in fact, the Virgin River is more of a river. Small side streams and springs along the way feed into the river, and it slowly begins to build. Along with that is the power to cut through canyon walls. The Narrows is a section where the walls are staggeringly high, almost one thousand feet, and the river runs from edge to edge. The effect is, well, dramatic, to say the least. This small river is now a quiet powerhouse. For me, I love the feel of the blue-green waters of the river and the high sandstone walls; the color combination just cannot be beat and again it feels like you are walking through a different time and a different place.

Subway FallsWe’ll leave the Virgin River with one more view of the Subway. This view is at the beginning of the Subway, looking up into it. I really like how the small waterfalls are formed between the pools, all flowing into a fault on the river’s bottom. This scene, perhaps, is my favorite one of the Subway.

The Virgin River cuts through Zion National Park, leaving us a myriad of wonders to enjoy.

Zion’s Autumn

As autumn creeps across the country, the landscape begins to change. Gone is the lush green of the summer, replaced, instead by the subtler, yet equally vibrant, hues of fall. Soft golds and yellows; rich oranges and reds, and every color in between begin to dot the landscape, in pockets here and there, and in vast swathes of color in other places. Even the desert Southwest dons fall colors, and especially Zion National Park, in Utah.

Zion is a very interesting park, and each of its different sections presents a completely different feel. Along its eastern edge one can find twisted sandstone shapes and canyons, with etched lines in the rock that defy the eye. Along its far western section are staggeringly large canyons, full of evergreen forests that seem to go on forever. But its middle section, where the Virgin River flows, is one area of the park that relishes fall. Here, the cottonwoods line the bank of the river, and it is those cottonwoods that turn into vibrant yellows come autumn. As the river flows through the canyon, carving its way down the soft sandstone walls, it flows past some of the most beautiful scenery in the country, and it is here that Zion’s autumn really shows off.

Zion Serenity

On the right time of the right day, the Virgin River seems to run with pure gold. The light reflecting off the canyon’s walls softens everything, and adds a rich hue to it; by the time the light reflects off the river, it is mostly gold anyway, completing the golden illusion. As the cottonwoods reach over the river, they add their own rich hue, and the result is an absolute surreal scene.

The river has more tricks up its sleeve, however, for it sometimes flows over small waterfalls and rapids, just for a change of pace. In this section of the park, none of the falls are very high, and none of the rapids very fast, but it does help to vary the tone and the tempo of the river as it cuts through the canyon. And it provides a different set of views, too. As it makes its way over these sections, the cottons still continue their march down to the waterline, and some very intimate views can be found, as long as you know where to look.

Virgin ViewTake, for example, this small scene. The gentle flowing waterfalls add their own touch to the overall sense of peace in the canyon. The trees reaching down to, and around, the bend just seem to pull one into and beyond the view and the arching canyon wall helps pull you along. Not far from here the canyon walls completely close in, squeezing out the trees completely. This just adds to the complexity and character of the river’s journey through the canyon.

A mile or so downriver this spot the river picks up speed as it rounds an area known as “Big Bend.” Here, the canyon takes a relatively sharp turn, taking the river along with it, or perhaps the river is the one making the turn and taking the canyon along with it? Either way, this is a beautiful area, and can make for some beautiful panoramic photographs.

Zion's Bend

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Zion National Park is rated as one of the ten best places in the country for its fall color, and it is small wonder why. The Virgin River and its attendant canyon surely accounts for almost all of that rating, for after all, red rock, beautiful water, and amazing fall colors are an excellent combination. This is not to take away from Zion in other seasons, of course, or any other area of the park, for it is amazing throughout the park in any time of the year.

The river runs through the canyon and beyond; not far from here, just a few more miles in fact, the tall canyon walls begin to widen and then fade away as the river makes its way out of the park and into the lands beyond. That’s way of most rivers, of course, and not a problem, for the beauty that it leaves behind is beyond amazing.

Own Zion’s Autumn

You can purchase each of these pieces and always be able to see autumn.