Okay, I need to finish this!
For those of you not keeping up, or who have forgotten because this trip report is taking me weeks to complete, let’s recap:
Left Birmingham on 5/19, flew to Vegas.
5/23 – drive down to Kanab, Utah – Red Rock Canyon and Coral Pink Sand Dunes on the way.
(Still to come, Death Valley & Vegas)
I enjoyed every single spot we visited, had my breath regularly taken away, and was impressed by the national and state park infrastructure at every turn.
However, I’d say that Zion National Park is the one to which I’d return. We barely scratched the surface on our visit, and there is much more to do and see than we were able to even begin to try.
There are two main entrances to Zion National Park – one to the west, and one to the east, north of Kanab. We were coming from the Grand Canyon, so toggling west would be out of the way and take longer, but I was given pause by guidebooks’ descriptions of the SCARY WINDY CLIFF-HANGING nature of the east entrance. I mean, I’ve driven some windy places before – Sicily and the Pyrenees, for example, but still. This sounded treacherous!
(I eventually went for the east entrance because, I usually do end up choosing speed over everything else.)
The one thing I would say, however, is that going this way requires you to go through a narrow tunnel, and the line of cars can get backed up for that. We didn’t have to wait too long, but I imagine that during the height of summer, the wait is considerable.
But windy roads…you don’t scare us!
And more than that, the prize for going in that east entrance?
After surviving the not-scary drive, we made our way to Springdale, which is the little town at the west entrance of the park and where the closest accomodations are located. We found lunch at a Mexican restaurant, then checked into the hotel, which was Flanigan’s Inn, which I liked very much – it had an eastern, spa-like vibe, but the price was decent for the area, and the employees were probably the nicest of the trip – and on a trip through Utah, that’s saying something – because everyone is nice there.
Not our hotel, but iconic. This is how close Springdale is to Zion. Basically in it.
Springdale is right at the entrance to Zion, so what’s great is that you can walk everywhere, including to the park, and there’s a shuttle system that runs up and down the main drag of Springdale itself and to the park entrance.
(The shuttle within the park itself is mandatory during the summer months – traffic would be crazy if it weren’t.)
Please go to Zion. Well, go (almost) everywhere we went on our trip, but Zion – yes. It’s beautiful and well-managed and rather varied in landscape. In case you’re wondering about the origins of the name:
When Nephi Johnson arrived in what would become Zion National Park in 1858, the Paiute Indians occupied the canyon. Isaac Behunin became the first permanent European-American settler in the canyon when he built a one-room log cabin near the present location of Zion Lodge in 1861. Behunin named his new home Zion, remarking, “A man can worship God among these great cathedrals as well as in any man-made church – this is Zion.”
After we had eaten and settled in, we walked to the park entrance, flashed that membership card, and entered. We took the shuttle up to the Zion Lodge, got off, and then hiked for a couple of hours – it was a great loop up the Emerald Falls trail, then over to the Grotto and back. It’s all paved, it’s easy, I imagine it’s super crowded at high season, but it was gorgeous at every turn, and at the highest pool, we found friends:
Then back down to the shuttle which we then took to the end to the Riverside Walk and The Narrows. On the way, we looked at Angels Landing – one of the most famed hikes in the country, and one which I will never do – and saw several rock climbers ascending sheer cliffs, along with their cliff-tents thumbtacked into the cliff face. Sheesh.
(The Narrows is also famous – it’s a hike basically through water to get to some great scenery. It’s recommended that you rent special shoes and pants for the hike, and a lot of people of every shape and size were doing it. It wasn’t anything we were going to do this time, and I was also given pause by the stories I overheard from hikers who had cut their hike short that day because of the presence of a dead, decaying deer in the water.)
So we did our exploring, had a great time, and went back on the shuttle. Ate dinner, etc.
The next day was going to be biking.
Since there is no car traffic on the Canyon road, only the shuttles that come by every few minutes, the road is open to bikers during the summer, and considered safe.
We first did the Pa’rus trail, which is just that – a walking and biking trail that runs along the Virgin River. It also runs along the campgrounds, and although I’m not a camper, I’d say that if you are, camping at Zion, with that scenery, would be gorgeous.
Then we hit the road!
I didn’t have a plan. We would just go as far as we could – I was hoping we could make it to the end of the road (the Narrows.) What I hadn’t counted on, however, and really hadn’t considered, was that the road into the canyon is mostly uphill. It was a bit more challenging than I had expected, so we stopped at The Court of the Patriarchs, waited for a shuttle, loaded our bikes on it (you can do that) and took the bus down to the end – it would be downhill all the way back, and that might be fun, right?
(No more photos, because it’s not safe to take photos WHILE BIKING on a road with even occasional buses coming by.)
We made one stop – at Big Bend, where we parked the bikes and walked down to the river, then coasted all the way back.
It’s very safe – I wouldn’t do it with a five year old, but if a kid is steady on a bike and understands that the minute you see or hear a shuttle bus, you are to pull over and stop, it’s fine. We really enjoyed it!
But then…it was time to move on. See? Not enough time. We’d definitely return and explore more.
The next stop would be back to Saint George, explore a bit around there, and then on to Death Valley – a pretty long drive – the next day….