Temple of Sinawava – Zion National Park

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As I finished my hike on the Hidden Canyon Trail, I made my plans for the rest of the day.  I decided I would leave the park and drive up to Cedar Breaks National Monument and Bryce Canyon National Park before the end of the day.  It was before noon, so I had plenty of time, and I realized that despite spending three days in Zion Canyon, I hadn’t made it all the way to the northern end of the bus route.  It seemed wrong to leave without covering the entire canyon, so I headed up to the final bus stop, at the Temple of Sinawava.

The Temple of Sinawava isn’t one peak, it’s the entire northern end of the canyon.  At the end of the canyon drive, the mountains come together to form a jaw-dropping amphitheater.  As you stand along the Virgin River here, the mountains encircle you on three sides, and in every direction, it’s straight up.

Sinawava is the name for a powerful Paiute (Native American) deity, known as the Coyote or Wolf God.

One of the most popular walks in the park is The Riverside Walk Trail, which leads to The Narrows.  The wide, smooth, paved trail begins at the Temple of Sinawava bus stop, and heads north through the only break in the encircling sandstone mountains.  As you’d expect by its name, The Riverside Walk Trail follows alongside the Virgin River, and there are plenty of opportunities to access the water.

The Riverside Walk Trail is one mile, one way.  It ends just as the surrounding canyon walls begin to close in.  You don’t have to stop at the end of the paved trail–just step into the river, and keep going.  This is the point where The Narrows begins.

Hiking in the Virgin River requires some pre-planning.  You’ll need to wear shoes that provide a good grip on slippery rocks.  A hiking stick can help you keep your balance.  The water can reach waist- or even chest- deep in places, so a dry bag may be necessary to protect your camera, cell phone, and other essential items.  You can hike as far as you want to up The Narrows, then turn around once you’ve had enough.

As I rode the shuttle bus up to the Temple of Sinawava, the driver had thankfully turned off the pre-recorded tour of the canyon.  It’s an interesting recording the first time you hear it, but after three days, I could almost recite it word by word.  Instead, the driver narrated the tour herself.  She mentioned that it was perfectly okay for pedestrians to walk on the road, and she mentioned a good reason for hiking the pavement: halfway between the Big Bend and Sinawava bus stops, there’s a small attraction at the side of the road, known as Menu Falls.  It all sounded like a good idea, so when the bus stopped, I started walking back down the road.

Since the road closely follows the banks of the Virgin River, this was a great chance to check out the river, up close.  A narrow, unofficial path followed directly beside the river, and whenever that got too rough, I could always return to the pavement.

One thing I couldn’t quite capture in a photo was the color of the Virgin River here.  Sunlight hit the western walls of the canyon, which reflected off the reddish sandstone, which in turn reflected off the surface of the water.  The result was, the Virgin River seemed to have a brilliant reddish glow in places.  It’s something you have to see to fully understand and appreciate.

About a half mile from the bus stop, this is the view looking north.  That gap in the mountains is where you find the Riverside Walk, and beyond it, The Narrows.

If your bus driver doesn’t point out Menu Falls, it would be quite easy to miss.  There is a boardwalk and stairs leading up to the falls, but there are no signs at the side of the road to draw your attention–just a couple of stakes at the side of the road, with yellow and black stripes.  From here, the Temple of Sinawava and Big Bend bus stops are about the same distance: 1/2 mile.

Menu Falls received its name, because long ago, a picture of the falls appeared on the front of the original menu at the Zion Lodge restaurant.

And with that, my three days in Zion Canyon drew to a close.  I hiked back to the Temple of Sinawava bus stop, caught the shuttle, and headed out.  My time in Zion National Park wasn’t done yet–on Day 5 I hiked into Kolob Canyons, in the northern end of Zion.  But as for the canyon, I said goodbye, headed out Rte. 9 to Interstate 15, then north.

Note: This trip was first published in 2007.

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