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Posts Tagged ‘ZIon National Park’

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:

Over all plan described here  (For all posts related to this trip, click here.)

Left Birmingham on 5/19, flew to Vegas.

5/20 – Hoover Dam and then on to Saint George, Utah.

5/21 – Snow Canyon and then on to Bryce Canyon

5/22-23 – Bryce Canyon (here and here)

5/23 – drive down to Kanab, UtahRed Rock Canyon and Coral Pink Sand Dunes on the way.

5/24-26 Grand Canyon North Rim (Here and here)

5/27-28 – Zion National Park

(Still to come, Death Valley & Vegas)

***

Zion National Park

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!

Well..it wasn’t.

(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?

Mountain goats.

Zion National Park

Much delight.

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.

Zion National Park

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.)

Zion National Park Zion National Park Zion National Park

Zion National Park

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!

Biking at Zion National Park

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?

It was!

(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….

badwater2

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Zabriskie Point, Death Valley

We are back.

Snake didn’t die. House wasn’t robbed. No need to crack the estate documents I always leave on my desk in plain sight for my adult kids, just in case….

It was a great trip. You know you did a lot when the adventures from five days ago seem as if they happened a month ago.

I’m going to take the next few days and blog in detail about the trip, since these are sights that many have on their individual and family bucket lists.  If you have experience with any of this, feel free to chime in.

Planning and Schedule

When it comes to travel planning, I am an odd, but so far workable combination of obsessive and lax. I love researching, but I spend the hours ultimately in the service of flexibility.  That is, I don’t want too many surprises…so we can be surprised.

I dreamed this trip up a couple of months ago when contemplating the shape of the summer.  June is mostly shot, since both boys will be going to camps (their own choice) that take up most of the month – none coincide with each other…not one of the weeks! Down here in the south, school starts early in the not-fall – August 6 for the rising high schooler.  There are other commitments in the beginning of July as well.  So that doesn’t leave a lot of travel time this summer (I’m not complaining…we got our fill in over the past 18 months at a ridiculous level. I’m grateful.)

But we did have these two weeks, in between Confirmation (May 18) and the beginning of the first camp (June 1).  What to do?  How about go out to the parts of the West that none of us had ever seen?

(Past travels have included:  some time in Phoenix and Tuscon back in 2005 for all of us; the boys and I to Albuquerque and Santa Fe a few years ago; the boys and I to the San Diego area Thanksgiving, 2009, Monterey a couple of years after that, other parts of the Bay Area the summer of 2013 to visit my daughter who was interning there, and various spots in California for speaking engagements. So no Northwest….actually not much in the West, period.)

After (as I said) obsessing, here’s how the trip turned out.  I’ll have more details about what we saw and the hotels in individual entries.

May 19:  fly out of Atlanta, direct flight to Las Vegas, leaving at 9:30pm.  Spirit Airlines. Arrive at 11 pm. Hotel: Best Western McCarran Inn.

May 20: Pick up rental car. Drive to Boulder City and Hoover Dam.  Drive on to spend the night in Saint George, Utah. Visit Pioneer Park in Saint George. Hotel: Best Western Coral Hills.

May 21: Morning in Snow Canyon near Saint George.  Afternoon, drive to Bryce Canyon for two nights. Afternoon: canyon viewing.  Hotel: Best Western Ruby’s Inn, closest to the park entrance (without being inside it). Night time ranger talk on astronomy.

May 22: 3 1/2- hour trail ride on mules/horses through Bryce Canyon.  Afternoon: more hiking through the Canyon.

May 23: slow drive south, with various stops along 89. Lunch in Kanab, afternoon spent at Coral Sands State Park. That night, the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, we stayed at 2 of these bunkhouses, rented through Airbnb. They were great!

May 24: Make way to Grand Canyon, North Rim.  Detour to view Vermillion Cliffs, then back through Jacob Lake – stop at the grand-canyon-north-rimjustly well-known bakery – and down to the Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge, where we would stay the next two nights. A bit of exploring, listened to a ranger talk on California Condors.

May 25: Driving/hiking around the Canyon. Late afternoon ranger talk on the geology of the Grand Canyon.  Nighttime ranger talk on river-runners of the Canyon.

May 26: Drive up to Zion State Park, enter in the east entrance, which lets us see the Checkerboard Mesa, Bighorn Sheep and some other great views, check into Flanigan’s Inn, ride the shuttle bus up to the end of the canyon, spend afternoon on various hikes, including the Emerald Pools Hike and the Riverside walk.

May 27: Ride rented bikes all morning.  Lunch in the park, then back in car to Saint George.  Stops to look at dinosaur tracks and petroglyphs.  Hotel: Hampton Inn 

May 28: Drive to Death Valley.  Stop outside Las Vegas for In n Out, then on to Death Valley via the more northern route, which takes you to Beatty and then the ghost town of Rhyolite.  In the park, it’s 111 degrees, but we soldier on, finding the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and Stovepipe Wells.  Check into our hotel, which is the Furnace Creek Ranch, then swim, eat and go back out to find Badwater Flats – the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere. ranch at furnace creek

May 29:  Early rising to try to beat some of the heat.  Down to the Devil’s Golf Course, through the Artist’s Drive, a bit of Golden Canyon – much of this trying to find various Star Wars filming location sites,  back for another swim, then check out, and on the way out see the Harmony Borax Works and Zabriskie Point. Back to Las Vegas, yet another lunch at In n Out,  spend the night at Excalibur, just to have the, er, experience of staying on the Strip at a hotel that might have a decent chance of being somewhat family-friendly, walk around a bit….

May 30:  Morning return flight via Delta, direct to Atlanta. Resolve to never allow purchase of souvenir pocket knives EVER AGAIN unless we are flying Southwest, which has free checked baggage….

What we did was a short version of what they call “The Grand Circle.”  It would have been great to get in Arches and Canyonlands, for example, but we hopefully will be able to do that another time, and throw in Moab and Mesa Verde.

Just a word about this backward-seeming itinerary.  After all, if you look at a map, it seems as if it would have made more sense to do Zion-Bryce-Grand Canyon, rather than Bryce-Grand Canyon-Zion.  It probably would have involved less backtracking, although returning from the North Rim would require going pretty close to Zion anyway, so…

Well, the reason was the challenge of obtaining reservations at the Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge.  I’ll write more about this in the individual entry, but it was the one park lodge I was determined to stay in. Bryce, Zion and Death Valley all have historic lodges as well, but those parks also have good hotel availability outside, but still near the park. (Death Valley is a little different…both hotels and all campsites are in the park, but given it’s summer there, for all intents and purposes, the Ranch was easy to reserve – in fact, I didn’t even do it until the day before we arrived. The Inn would be a different story)

But for the Grand Canyon, if you don’t get in the Lodge, the nearest accomodation is a small hotel about 20 miles away, and after that another small inn at a further 20 miles. The short version is…those were the days I could get!

Those last three days weren’t planned until we were actually on the trip  I didn’t know how much time we would want to spend in Zion and if Death Valley would even be doable, so I waited until we were actually in Zion to finish that part up.

There’s only one accomodation on our list that I’d probably recommend against if you have other options, but you know, live and learn. I”ll talk about that when I get to that day.  It’s hard to figure stuff out when you’ve never been in an area before, whether that’s a city neighborhood or a huge, arid expanse!

A note on camping and RV’s – renting an RV seems to be a pretty popular option for travelers in the area.  At every stop in every park, I saw at least two RVs rented from this outfit, and at Death Valley, several of these.  There might have been more from other companies that just weren’t as clearly identifiable.  I actually considered it for about two minutes – fly into Vegas, rent an RV, not have to move our stuff every couple of days?  Sounds good.  The boys were keen on it. Except for the fact that I know nothing about RV’s, really don’t want to drive something even the size of a smaller camper, and I’m pretty sure that when you factor in all the costs, including gas, there isn’t that much difference in total expense, especially with a $50/night hotel tossed in there here and there.

But if camping is your thing, I can’t imagine a more idyllic place to do it than Zion, just so you know.  

Tomorrow:  Adventures with Spirit Airlines

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DSCN4909Almost idyllic.  

I’ve loved all three national parks we’ve traveled to, but at this point, Zion is the one to which I would return. It feels as if we just got started with Zion.

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Not great internet, so here are a few photos.

Short version of the posts I’ll be writing up on our return:  This is a great trip, and everyone should do it!

(Saw a family yesterday in their car on the windows of which they had written, TEN PARKS OR BUST – with a checklist of all the parks they’d be visiting on the trip.)

"amy welborn"

If you look at this one closely you can see Bighorn sheep – one on the very top, and the other on the side.

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"amy welborn"

(Pictures are a little dark..no time to adjust)

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