Zion Portal

Left Fork, Zion National Park, Utah

This fluted sandstone chamber, carved by eons of flashfloods, is in the Left Fork of North Creek, in Zion National Park, Utah. It’s hard to judge its size without any references in the frame, on the screen it looks as if it may be two feet high instead of closer to twenty. But, that doesn’t take away from the beauty or mystery of this image.

This is the subway terminus. It’s the end of the line for hikers coming up canyon to the Subway, and the last notable obstacle to overcome on the top-down route. When approaching from above, the stream just disappears into a crack in the canyon floor where two massive sandstone blocks abut, and it’s hard to even get a sense of this chamber.  

Weathered trunk sections of fallen pine trees from the slopes above have washed down canyon and been wedged into the skylight of this room by the same forces that carved it. One of these logs provides a stepping stone as you’re forced into crossing from one broad sandstone ledge to another, as they both pinch off and abruptly end at a twenty foot fall, and the whole canyon swings ninety degrees toward the north. It’s time to get the rope out again and descend into the Subway.

The Left Fork of North Creek has to be one of the worlds’ classic hikes. The route from the top down requires some preparation as well as a certain amount of strength and endurance, and a backcountry permit from the park. Most people find it strenuous and challenging, so it helps to go with someone who knows the way. It’s definitely a canyoneering adventure you’ll never forget. Every time I’ve hiked this route, I’ve felt a slight knot in my stomach, a nervous appreciation for the canyon’s indifference to life and death and its rugged remoteness.