Being a tree in Zion NP is, for the most part, no easier than being a tree in the rest of the southwest. Here in southern Utah you’ll find the same twisted, gnarled, and undergrown specimens that populate the rest of the area. Alive, but struggling.
With one major exception. If you’re lucky enough to be a Fremont Cottonwood living in close proximity to the Virgin River, life ain’t so bad. First and most important, there’s usually plenty of water around. The Virgin River rarely runs dry. There might be too much water from time to time, but almost never too little. Second, if you’re close to the river, then you’re probably also in the canyon. While temperatures can reach 100 or more in the summertime, it’s not as bad as being completely out in the open. The sun doesn’t shine all day in there. The cliff walls reach 2,000 feet in places, creating a lot of shade a lot of the time.
While the cottonwoods are always beautiful, my favorite time to see them is early spring. For some reason, these trees seem to glow when the sun hits them. And when their light green leaves first pop out, the effect seems to intensify. It’s as if they’re electrified.
If the light is right, you can sometimes capture them lit up like this with the dark red canyon walls – also illuminated – in the background. All in all, not a bad deal. You’ve got the happily gurgling river close by, some amazingly illuminated trees, and the ever present red Navajo sandstone hovering over everything. I could really learn to like this place.