Journey to the Subway

April 21, 2013 ·

Miles Hecker

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said

“The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls…”

~Paul Simon 1964

The subway that Paul Simon wrote about was located in New York City. As I grew up the New York, I am all too familiar with it. With 468 stations and 209 miles of routes, it handles over 5 million riders each day on peak days. It is about as far from the wilderness as one can get in the United States.

In a little known spectacular canyon, in the remote section of the state of Utah, there is another subway. It has no trains or tracks, and even though it sees about 80 visitors each day on peak days, it is a wonder to behold. This lesser known subway is located in the Left Fork of North Creek in Zion National Park. It is one of the photographic gems of the southwestern US.


View See the Route to The Subwayin a larger map Arch Angel Falls

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The entrance to Zion’s “Subway” doesn’t require a token or ticket, but it does require a permit. Information on obtaining a Subway permit can be foundhere. The Left Fork Trailhead is located on the east side of the highway about 8 miles north on the road from Virgin Utah to Kolob Reservoir. For photographers, the normal way to visit the Subway is from the bottom up. The top down route requires technical canyoneering skills and gear.

From the Left Fork Trailhead a well-maintained trail starts off level as it makes its way to a terrace overlooking the Left Fork. It then makes a fairly steep 400-ft drop, zigzagging down a gully to the streambed. Once you reach the stream, make note of the trail entry point, youdon’t want to miss the exiton the way back! Take a GPS reading here if you have one.

The route then follows the Left Fork streambed up the canyon. As you hike, you alternate between sections of hiker made trails, boulder hopping, and hiking right in the stream course. As there is no definitive route, some of the trails are of questionable value. In about two miles, the canyon starts to get more interesting and the streambed turns almost entirely to solid slickrock. You should not have to get in water more than ankle deep if you pick your way carefully.

In about 4 miles, you get toArch Angel Falls. In my opinion this is the prettiest falls in all of Utah. The light here can be amazing in mid to late morning.

Starting at Arch Angel Falls, the floor of the canyon changes from a mix of river rock, slickrock and debris to a flat surface. The floor here is the crimson-ebony fossilized lake bed of the Kayenta Formation. The golden hues of the sun light reflecting off the 1000 foot high walls of Navajo Sandstone above,  create a neon glow reminiscent of a great natural cathedral.

The long sinuous cascades offer endless compositional alternatives.You can shoot vertically or horizontally. You use normal, wide or super wide angle focal lengths. You can shoot at the bottom, middle or top of the cascades.

Shortly after the falls and about 200 yards before you reach The Subway, you passThe Crack. The Crack, also known as The Chute is a fissure line in the Kayenta Formation floor. It is deep enough to swallow most of the creek when flow is low. It makes for a fascinating visual contrast betwen rock and running water. If you like macro landscape photography, this is an opportunity like no other I have seen. In the fall some people carry downed maple leaves to add to the effect here.

About one half mile beyond the falls, you reach the Subway.The light here is also amazing in mid to late morning. It’s pools, glow with a turquoise shimmer. It is a truly visual potpourri of the first order. The second set of emerald pools in the Subway mark the turn around point for most day hikers.

The Crack

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The Subway

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Beyond this point, the route becomes one requiring technical canyoneering skills. Within the Subway, you can shoot from the entrance, middle pools or final pools. It can be quite slippery here. A pair of good water shoes or yakrax for your hiking boots can make travel easier. Many the photogrpaher has taken a tumble in this location!

It will take between 2.5 to 4 hours for a hiker in good to moderate shape to reach the Subway. The route back will take a similar amount of time. Start as early as possible, the light in late September to early November is best between 10AM to noon.

If you are physically able to make the nine mile hike, a journey to the Subway is one you will cherish fondly for the rest of your life.

For more infomation about photography in Zion NP, check out ourZion & Bryce NP photoguide.



About Miles Hecker

Miles has been involved with photography for over forty years. He teaches digital photography at Casper College in Casper,Wyoming. His photos have won awards fromNatures Best magazine,, The Luminous LandscapeandWyoming WIldlife . Miles’ photos have been published in American Vignette, Backpacker Magazine, Natures Best Images, Popular Photography, Wyoming Audubon, and Wyoming Wildlife. He is co-founder ofWyoFOTO LLC.


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