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East Mesa Trail


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The East Mesa Trail has long been the access trail to Mystery Canyon. As a side benefit, anyone going there also hiked on down to Observation Point.

Then came the massive rockslide which blocked Lower Echo Canyon and both the Observation Point and East Rim Trails. Park officials have consulted with geologists and been told the face of Cable Rock is unstable and two more slabs are prone to peel off at any time. That means any crew trying to remove the debris would be in serious danger, and even if they removed it, any hikers using the trails would be in serious danger. The result is that for the foreseeable future, hiking from Weeping Rock up to Observation Point is not going to be possible.

Suddenly, East Mesa Trail is the access route to the iconic Observation Point.

The trail itself is easy. It's a perfetly level walk through Ponderosa forest, the shrub Manzanita, and Sage.

The Emerald Pools Observation Point Angel's Landing West Rim East Mesa The East Rim Y

The challenge is getting to the trailhead. Fortunately, the Mystery Canyon popularity among canyoneers led Zion Adventures to long ago set up a daily shuttle to the trail head, and thanks to Ponderosa Lodge, there are passable roads for anyone wanting to drive it.

To get there on your own, go out the East Entrance to the park. Roughly 1.7 miles east of the Zion National Park border along Route 9, turn north onto the paved North Fork Road and follow it for 5.4 miles, then turn left onto the dirt road that heads west under the Zion Ponderosa gate. Follow the main Pine Angle Road as it heads west and then north towards the trailhead.

As you approach that trailhead, be careful. The last half mile, the road drops down a very steep hill which may not be suitable for your vehicle. You might be prudent to park at the top of that last hill and walk down to the trailhead.

The trail is three miles one way.

It's interesting because it passes through a classic fire adapted ecosystem. Lightning strikes often up here on the high plateau, and fire is very common. The fire keeps the understory cleaned out. Large amounts of dead wood do not build up,so the fires never become too big. Ponderosa trees have thick bark which insulates them from moderate fire. Ponderosa seedlings are adapted to thrive in openings created by the fires. Manzanita is fire adapted. It benefits from frequent burn overs.

So as you're hiking, notice how this entire ecosystem has evolved to prosper in a fire based environment.

But you'll have other views. First, to your right (north), in the distance, will be the 10,000 feet high Pink Cliffs. The cliffs are basically Limestone, which has been colored by Iron and Manganese.

After about 2.0miles, you'll see Mystery Canyon opening out to your right. You'll see the view in the photo below, but there are trails leading over to it. If you follow one of those you'll see the view here at right.

This is a fascinating canyon. It is considered one of the great canyoneering locations and on good weather days you'll see helmeted climbers dangling from ropes all the way to the bottom, which is a very long way down. One of the highlights of the East Mesa Trail is the opportunity to watch these climbers in action, but be careful.

The park service only allows 12 climbers a day here, so competition is intense for those 12 permits. It is also a very technical descent so extensive training and prior experience are required before you are given one of those permits.

Mystery Canyon continues due north, as you can see here, then makes a sharp left turn, continues to the main Virgin River canyon, where Mystery Falls drops down into the Narrows.



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