View from the top: Local college student finds perfect place and survives family vacation

Tuesday, August 1, 2006
Submitted photo

When every road becomes a path to Wal-Mart and the horizon is overshadowed by golden arches, sometimes you just have to start climbing above it all.

Occasionally, it's good to have a reminder as to what the earth looked like before credit cards and terrorists. I needed a reminder myself -- something to show me there's more to this place than global panic and the leather couch I watch it from. Somewhere, there was something good to see.

There had to be a place where things were formed, not built; a place where people were nice for no reason; a place where you really didn't have to worry.

Unfortunately, this could not be accomplished without riding in a car with my family for 30 hours. This included my3-year-old nephew who almost made it the whole way without getting car sick. Almost.

My parents and I visited Zion National Park several years ago, where we tried, but failed, to hike Angel's Landing -- a "strenuous yet rewarding climb" the brochure told us. I wrote about the experience in one of the columns I sent to my grandma, who later approached me and said she didn't like it, telling me that I'd better finish hiking it this time.

I asked her why it was such a big deal, and she just looked at me and said it was one of the most beautiful views she had ever seen. And when she told me she did it in her 40s, it gave me a whole new reason to hike it: I couldn't let a middle-aged woman out-climb me!

Before long, I was waking up before sunrise and getting my amateur hiking gear together. My new $100 hiking boots had not been thoroughly broken in, so my only option was dorking myself out in three pairs of long socks. (I would later find out I should have worn 10 pairs of socks, because Neosporin and Band-Aids became my two closest friends.) My friend and I then took the earliest shuttle, and by 6 a.m., we were standing at the Grotto Trailhead, staring up -- way up -- at Angel's Landing.

My excitement was turning to anxiety. It was rated strenuous for good reason.

The only thing between you and certain death was a chain you held on to while climbing. On each side, just two feet away, was a 1,000-foot dropoff.

I did my research before I left and found out many important things. Like how people die every year on the same trail. And how you're much more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a mountain lion. Whew, that made me feel better.

As the hiking progressed, we came upon a series of 20 switchbacks known as Walter's Wiggles. For those of you unfamiliar with torturous hikes, a switchback is a path embedded on the side of a cliff that zig-zags upward and makes you feel like no progress is being made whatsoever.

After that came the chains. But these chains were more or less there to stabilize you.You didn't necessarily have to hold on to them in order to stay alive. Those chains came later.

Finally, we made it to the point where hikers have one of two options: (1) turn back and risk being struck by lightning or eaten by a mountain lion, or (2) continue and risk having your battered, half-eaten corpse picked up by helicopter and flown back to the lodge. We figured if something were to happen, it was at least a little more dignifying for us to try. Plus I didn't climb all that way just to see Angel's Landing a little closer.

Soon thereafter, I was standing 1,400 feet in the air. The Virgin River was a piece of forgotten string, curving its way through what looked to be an infinite world of canyons. The sheer magnitude of it had several hikers in an almost euphoric state. The feeling of indescribable accomplishment had others laughing and congratulating one another.

At that moment, Angel's Landing was the most perfect place on earth.

Sam DeReign is a student at Southeast Missouri State University who recently took a family vacation and lived to tell the tale. Contact him at

If you go ...

Southeast Missourian freelancer Sam DeReign recently visited Zion National Park in Utah. Here's a list of other vacation-worthy stops in the "Industry State."


The diversity of Canyonlands, the largest national park in the state, confounds the imagination. Thousand-foot views down into river canyons or up to red rock spires are truly awe inspiring. Visitors may explore the park by driving a passenger car on paved roads, by traveling the network of four-wheel drive roads found throughout the park, or by hiking and biking.

State Parks

Utah's 45 state parks are a combination of heritage, scenic and recreation parks. You can camp, boat, swim, fish, picnic, visit interpretive areas, golf, hike, bike, ride off-highway vehicles or just relax with family and friends. Discover what's new and see what programs are being offered in the parks.

Visit Salt Lake

Utah's capitol city combines the amenities of a major metropolitan area with the friendliness of a small, western city, according to the city's Web site

It's fast becoming one of America's foremost destinations with access to natural recreation such as skiing, a bustling economy, dynamic nightlife, remarkable history and warm hospitality.

The city is nestled in a valley at the foot of two mountain ranges--the Wasatch to the east and the Oquirrhs to the west. In spring, the canyons are adorned with wildflowers and impromptu waterfalls.


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