Zion National Park
Zion National Park is the southernmost and last of the Utah Mighty Five National Parks. It has been an amazing trip through these parks and well worth our decision last year to bypass the mighty five during our wild west whirlwind tour of National Parks in thirteen western states, in order to have more time to devote to these awesome parks. After passing through the gateway city of Springdale and near the main entrance and visitor center is Canyon Junction which is the setting for a 360 degree view of famous formations. Our cover photo is The Sentinel at 7157 foot and is joined by the Alter of Sacrifice, The West Temple and The East Temple as well as a group of peaks collectively called the Towers of The Virgin, all high above the North Fork Virgin River. Zion has a northern section which could almost be a National Park of it's own. The Kolob Canyons area has it's own visitor center to host this group of parallel canyons, and since we are approaching from the North, we took advantage of this opportunity to get a preview of what awaits us.
We entered the Kolob Canyons area at the 5000 foot visitor center and drove up, up, and up some more until the road curved enough for the above to explode into view. It was the first of many WOW moments! The road ends at the Kolob Canyons Viewpoint with a half mile hiking trail up to a point which has a view along the Hurricane Cliffs and in the distance, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We couldn't pass on such an easy hike with a great pay-off, so off we go. Hmmm..... just a little muddy! Here is another good reason to have proper footwear....which we did not!
A little mud is not going to stop us! The photo above and two below are from the top of the hiking trail, and show canyons opening onto Timber Creek.
Can you see the North Rim of the Grand Canyon? I'm sure that's it!
On the way back out to Highway 15 and southward to the main Zion entrance, we paused one last time for a view of the Taylor Creek Trail. It will have to wait until a later visit when we have better footwear.
Our advance reading and planning for our visit to Zion prepared us with the knowledge that the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive from Canyon Junction to Angels Landing is only accessible by park shuttles and no private cars are allowed from Spring through Fall. Since riding packed shuttle buses from one overcrowded stop to another is not our idea a fun, (tried it....didn't like it), we decided to go to the shuttle stop nearest the start of the scenic drive, go to the visitor center and then make our decision if it would be worth it to endure the shuttle system. The sea of cars in the parking lot was our first clue. Kaye had to drop me off near the visitor center and circle the full parking lot while I checked it out. The line of people above is only the part that I could get in my camera view who were waiting to board shuttles. Decision made! We will revisit Zion in off season when we can drive it, but for now, there are lots of other features of Zion to see away from the crowds.
Leaving the madness of the visitor center and shuttles, we turned onto Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, aka Highway 9, that leads up multiple switchbacks with views of the features that I mentioned in my opening, toward the East entrance of the park.
As we gained altitude via the switchbacks, this view of an arch in the making made us pause to think that in few thousand years, we will be able to walk under it.
One of the highlights of this road is a 1.1 mile tunnel that was completed in 1930 to connect Zion to Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon as well as other parts of Utah to the east. Upon opening, it created a huge increase in park visitors. Unlike modern tunnels which are generally short, straight and well lit, this tunnel is narrow, dark, and curvy. It was built with some large arched windows which let in some light and give you a quick glance at the valley below. Since the tunnel was built to handle 1930s size vehicles, there had to be new procedures put into place by the park service to handle large trucks and motorhomes. Any vehicle over 8 feet tall or 12 feet wide had to register with the park service who would then arrange to stop on coming traffic while the large vehicle was in the tunnel. We were lucky enough to be stopped in a line of cars near the top just before entering the tunnel. So, what to do while you wait? We had a turned off the car, had a snack and got out to take photos. Soon the ranger announced for everyone to get back in their cars, and we were soon in the tunnel. The view below, taken while we waited, is The West Temple and The Towers of the Virgin.
The road past the tunnel is other worldly with volcanic formations that look like ice cream cones and below, the head scratching checkerboard mesa formed by both vertical and horizontal cracks due to cooling of volcanic material.
This Desert Mountain Goat is no stranger to car traffic. He was standing on the side of the road as we approached and seemed to be waiting until we passed in order to cross the road. When we stopped, he scampered across in front of us to get to the greener grass. We will see his cousin a little later on a hiking trail.
Near the tunnel exit is the Canyon overlook trail. One of the most interesting trails we have hiked, starts with a climb up nice wide safe looking stair steps then down some very narrow ledges...great place for a rail!
Into a large cave......While we were there, we could see far below us a grazing Desert Mountain Goat. We watched for a while and zoomed our cameras as far as possible to try to make him look larger than a speck in the distance. He started moving closer and closer until we finally realized he was coming right at us. Thinking he would stop when he saw people in the cave, we kept taking advantage of the ever increasing closeness to get better photos.
He never stopped! Came right into the cave with us. Looked at us and went straight to his favorite lunch place. I could slowly walk closer to within 8 feet, so I no longer needed to zoom. We watched for several minutes until a hiker came from the opposite direction around a blind curve face to face with the goat. Both hiker and goat were startled, with the goat running away and the hiker grasping his chest!
The end of the trail is the canyon overlook, with a view of the twisting road we took up to the tunnel and the far view of the Alter of Sacrifice and the Towers of the Virgin at about 7500 foot elevation. This was a great finale to an amazing park and the Utah Mighty Five. Zion, we will be back!