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Monday, December 28, 2009

A Winter Wander Through Zion's Sunny Lowlands

coalpits wash

The temperature was a balmy 4 F as we pulled away from my home in Springville on Dec 26. The forecast called for haze and a daytime high of a balmy 24 F.

We drove south heading for Utah's Dixie, where the summer sun spends the winter. I wanted to explore some of the lower areas in Zion Park, to hike, stretch my legs and work the smog out of my lungs.

Coalpits wash drains some of the Zion's southwest desert area. Where the wash crosses Hwy 9, between the towns of Virgin and Rockville, the elevation is about 3650 feet - the lowest point in Zion Park. (Zion lodge, in Zion Canyon, sits at an elevation of about 4270 feet.)

Because of the low elevation, Coalpits receives little snowfall. What does fall melts quickly and so the area is ideal for hiking during the winter months. It is not a great summer hiking destination because daytime temperatures get blazingly hot.

Zion was awash in sunshine we pulled into the Coalpits Trailhead. The trail looked dry, no snow, but I knew it would have mud in shady areas. In the distance we could see some of Zion's high country, where snow and ice frosted the craggy peaks.

It was about 11 am when we started up the trail. That was by design - we wanted to let the air warm up a bit before we headed out. The temperature was about 40 F when we started hiking, and it warmed to about 45 F during mid-afternoon. We quickly shed our jackets as we hiked in the sunshine, but put them on again when we went through shady areas.

We hiked up Coalpits and then returned the way we came. It was a great winter wander, just the ticket for someone who wants a moderate route free from ice and snow.

The lower part of the wash is open and hiking is easy. The wash forks about 1.7 miles up from the trailhead. Coalpits goes to the left when you are facing up canyon. The right fork is called Scoggins Wash and it is also a great hiking route. As you continue up these canyons the trail becomes faint and you find yourself scrambling over boulders and hopping rocks across the small stream. That's the fun part, in my opinion.

In Coalpits, a small stream flows year-round, except perhaps during the hottest, driest summers. In Scoggins there may be flowing water in some areas but it is intermittent and usually dries up during the summer.

A series of small waterfalls adds to the beauty of the stream in Coalpits.

The Chinle Trail cuts across the upper parts of Coalpits and Scoggins and then drops down into nearby Huber Wash. It then continues east and ends in the town of Rockville. Because it connects the washes, it provides a variety of options and allows hikers to do extended loop routes.

Our trek was easy and enjoyable. I was sad when we pointed the truck north on I-15 and drove away from the land of sunshine.

I'm already planning a return visit.

- Dave Webb


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