Travel Review of Zion National Park and…….

On November 6, 2011, in Travel, by admin


Seems Low Budget Review Guy got off his duff and took a vacation.  Always some interesting tidbits for those of you looking to learn about different areas of the countryJourneys of a Lifetime: 500 of the World’s Greatest Trips

Part I


For our annual trip to Las Vegas this year, my wife and I decided to take a few extra days off and visit some National Parks I had never been to.  So flying into Vegas, we rented a car and off we drove to St George, Utah.  This town of roughly 65,000 is approx 2 hrs drive due north on I-15.  We had decided to make that our base of operations for the first few days.   Checking into our Hampton Inn, we got some very helpful suggestions from the desk staff.  I am a fan of Hampton Inns, big rooms, fair price, free hot breakfast every mornings, usually a pool and Jacuzzi.  Not for the Low Budget Traveler, but a good value.  Even though it was after 2 pm, we decided to drive up to Zion Natl Park from St George.  It is a scenic 45 min drive through towns such as Hurricane ( In Hurricane Valley—really? what is the origin of THAT name in south Utah?) and Springdale.  Both of those cities were larger than I had realized and both offered what would have been very acceptable lodgings, and much closer to the Natl Parks.  If we go back again, we will stay in one of those vs. St George.


Zion Natl Park was nothing like I had imagined.  It is a deep river valley surrounded by towering cliffs of red, white, buff colored rock formations.  I am not a geologist, although I know a few very well, but I will not attempt to talk about the age of the rocks, the type of formations—the science of it.  From a esthetic viewpoint, though,  it was breathtaking and the whole valley gave off a Zen vibe of cosmic one-ness with the universe.  The name Zion is derived from a Hebrew word meaning something close to “sanctuary”, and indeed it felt as such.


The river itself is mostly shallow and less than 20-30 feet wide in most places.  While  appearing calm and peaceful, during spring run-off and flash-flood rainstorms it becomes a raging animal ripping huge boulders and large trees out of the ground and carrying them downstream.


To control traffic and pollution, visitors are required to park in one of several places and ride free park-owned shuttle buses up to the end of the canyon and back.  There are about 13 total bus stops where people can get one, get off, hike a trail or hang out, and wait for the next bus which will arrive in about 10 minutes.  The bus sound system will talk about the next stop, what to expect, which hiking trailheads are there, etc, so it was educational as well.  To go up and back to all stops, takes about 80 minutes if you stay on the bus through each stop.  We got out at a few to take pictures and just enjoy the sights.  Even though it was only about 3-4 pm, the steep cliffs were already in shadow on the west side of the canyon, while the east side was brightly lit with the sun.  It is a landscape where one could spend all day at one place and take the same picture two dozen times and get two dozen different views because of the angle and intensity of the light.  It would be a painter or pro photographer’s heaven.   The next day we came back to hike two different trails, one, the Riverside Trail  was about two miles roundtrip.  Our hike ended at the river, where we turned back.  A mile or so upstream, after wading the river, the canyon narrows to places where the opposite walls of the canyons can be touched by extending out both arms—very narrow, very cool.  We were not prepared for getting soaked, so we turned back and later took another trail with more elevation climb to the lower Emerald Pool. That hike, a little over a mile round trip, had more elevation change but was worth the effort.    Zion is an amazing place.  By then it was almost 2 pm and we decided to drive to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, as I had been to the South Rim, but not the North.  This was a 2 and a half hour drive, the first 30+ minutes were driving up a steep, twisty, switchback road out of Zion.  For a person with high anxiety, such as myself, this was very nerve racking.  Driving southeast to the Canyon, we drove through the Kaibab Plateau, a beautiful high-country forest with pines and Aspen trees.  The aspens were mostly bare, having lost their incredible golden leaves a few weeks before.  There were a few stands still magnificently shining like electric gold, including one stand near the South Rim Visitor Center.   The Visitor Center was closed for the season, but no worries, we just walked a couple of trails along the rim, just an hour before sunset.  The North Rim is very different than the South, being higher, the nearby rock formations have more vegetation, more greenery. Still awe-inspiring when one thinks of the time represented by all those formations.  While my spouse went further out to a point on one trail, I wisely just stayed put.  Beautiful yes, scary for people who don’t handle heights well, very much yes.


The next day we drove to Bryce Canyon Natl Park. Due to some road closures due to rockslides, the trip took almost two hours going a longer way.  Worth the effort?  Oh yeah.  The rock formations, mostly caused by freezing/thawing carved fantastic towers, windows, columns with hard rock capstones on them—what are called Hoodoos.  The Park itself is not that large but the elevation rises to well over 9000 feet.  The temps were chilly but not cold. After the brutal Texas summer, it felt great.  We had light jackets and baseball hats and were quite comfortable.    With approximately 13 scenic viewing stops, it took us several hours to get a hike in, listen to a Ranger talk about the geology, and take  a gazillion pictures.  Wildlife seen in Zion, North Rim and Bryce included numerous deer, gray rock squirrels, chipmunks, fat Ravens, and a Mountain Jay (think Blue jay on massive steroids and a dark blue—very cool).


This was a great 3 days for me, as I had never been to these great western icons before.  If I had to pick a favorite, it would be Zion, I would go back there again in a heartbeat.  Being October, crowds were small,  mostly retirees or foreign tourists, and some Utah folks.   All 3 Parks are well worth the time to visit.


End Part I—


Part II—Viva Las Vegas!


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