We arrived at the ranch a few days ago, but would like to write up a story of our visit to a simply amazing place, Zion National Park.
We arrived in Virgin, Utah after a short 140 mile drive from Lake Powell Arizona. This trip did require a little bit of research as the shortest way between the two points was not the best way to get there with a big rig :-). We started out going north on Hwy. 89 to Kanab, UT. If you continued north and got on Hwy. 9 going right into Zion, there would be a major difficulty: there's a tunnel on the Zion-Mt. Carmel Road connecting the east side of the park to the west side. Vehicles over 13'1'' tall or a combined length over 50' are prohibited from the tunnel. We barely make it height-wise, but totally lose length-wise. So at Kanab you turn south again on Alt. Hwy. 89, and pick up Hwy. 389 going to the town of Hurricane, UT. I was quite amused at the name of Hurricane in a land-locked desert area :-). It's a good route to take, and gets you to Virgin and Zion without any difficulties.
Based on recommendations from other travelers, we stayed for a week at Zion River Resort. The campground was beautiful, sites were really nice, paved pads and thick lush grass. You could tell the facility is run well, and maintenance done all the time. The downside to staying here is that Verizon service, even with the booster, was virtually non-existent, and the shade trees completely blocked any satellite reception. It was also about a 20 minute drive from the west entrance to Zion National Park. I wish I had thought to investigate the campsites within the park itself. The Watchman Campground is very nice, has electric/water hookups, many sites with a clear shot at the southern sky, and Verizon worked great! I will definitely stay there when we return to the area, and it's about a third of the cost of the resort. It would also be more convenient with the dogs, as the only trail within Zion National Park that they are allowed to walk on, the Pa'rus Trail, is within walking distance of the Watchman Campground.
It was apparent from our first foray into the park that we would need to make definite plans to see what we wanted to see. Individual car travel is allowed on the Zion-Mt. Carmel Road, but in order to see the major "sights" you need to catch a park-run shuttle bus that travels between the Visitor Center and Temple of Sinewava, with 7 stops in between. The shuttle is free, and you can jump on and off as you wish. The reason for the shuttle was explained on one of the outdoor exhibits at the Visitor Center.
In the height of the summer season, over 5000 cars, RV's, and buses were trying to jam up into the canyon road. It was a traffic nightmare, and needed to be controlled to protect the land from such an invasion. The shuttle was instituted, and works great. The worst part is finding parking at the Visitor Center. By 10AM the lots are filled, and you need to park nearby in the town of Springdale, take a shuttle from there to the Visitor Center, and then transfer to a park shuttle.
After picking up our park newspaper, brochures and information, we did the drive through along the Zion Mount Carmel road. Driving through the tunnels, all the way to the east entrance station, we were very glad to have taken the route we did to arrive. Not only would we have not fit through the tunnel, the steep grade of the road and twisty turns heading down from the tunnel would have given me a heart attack! We also noticed that any of the small parking areas along this route were completely packed up. Back at the campground, we made our "battle plans" to see the sights and do the hiking that we wanted to do. These plans involved getting up at daybreak every day to arrive in the park shortly after 7AM when the shuttles started running. We would do morning adventures in the park, then come back for lunch and do something with the pups in the afternoons. I had corresponded with Mark Johnson over at Box Canyon Blog about good spots to walk with the dogs on the BLM lands around here where there are no pet restrictions. I also had a couple of drives planned if the weather co-operated.
Our first adventure was a hike to the Lower, Middle and Upper Emerald Pools, with the return hike along the Kayenta Trail, making a loop that started at the Zion Lodge and ended at The Grotto area. Unfortunately, the day dawned cloudy, but wasn't supposed to rain until that night. After parking at the Visitor Center and hopping on the shuttle, we headed up the trail from Zion Lodge.
The trail is paved and wheelchair accessible up to the Lower Emerald Pool.
This is the Lower Emerald Pool. Or as Al said, "puddle"!
The "massive" waterfall creating the lower pool.
From the lower pool, the trail started ascending, until we reached the Middle Emerald Pool.
The middle pool was a little larger. This is where that waterfall is coming from.
The sandy trail from the middle pool ascends more steeply until we reached the Upper Emerald Pool.
The picture is deceptive, the upper pool is larger than it looks like here. I guess to give it perspective, that large rock just off center in the picture is at least 20 feet tall.
Looking up at the top of the surrounding cliff walls. I imagine there would have been a much more vivid emerald color if the sun had shown itself at all.
Heading back down the trail.
The prickly pear cactus was in full vibrant colors.
From the Kayenta Trail we had a great view down the canyon along the Virgin River. I still find it completely amazing that these ribbons of river were the force that created these massive canyons.
Back at The Grotto, we hopped back on a shuttle to the Visitor Center, and then back to the campground. After lunch, we took a peek at the radar and determined we still had a couple hours before the rains came, and we took the dogs out to a trail on BML lands called the Virgin Dam Trail. I have no pictures, as the batteries in the camera decided it was time to quit. We walked along the rim trail for about a mile and a half, encountering a black and white striped king snake along the way. This one is harmless, but on the return trip we did encounter a rattlesnake. We did have the dogs on leash, and Al heard the rattles before any harm came about. It was about three feet off the trail. We pulled back a distance, and gave it a very wide berth. This was our first rattlesnake encounter during hiking; I would very much prefer that it be our last!
Our next day was a close repeat of the previous day. Up early, on the shuttle and were dropped off at the end of the canyon, Temple of Sinawava, for a hike up the Riverside Walk.
I thought I'd throw in a picture of the shuttle since we spent so much time on them :-).
Riverside Walk is a paved path 1.1 miles long that leads to the jump-off spot for a very popular hike known as The Narrows.
Water "weeps" down through the cliffs and creates what they call "hanging gardens" on the cliff walls.
Yellow columbines were in bloom.
As the sun was peaking out, the color of the water was beautiful.
We reached the end of the paved trail, and the end of Riverside Walk. From here the hike turns into "The Narrows". Hiking this means hiking in the Virgin River. 60% of the hike is spent wading, walking and sometimes swimming in the river. This hike needs to be researched and prepared for properly.
After Riverside Walk, we stopped at the Weeping Rock and took the short, steep path to view the hanging gardens.
This stop would be the end of a hike we had planned later in the week to Observation Point. More on that...
After lunch, our afternoon activity was a drive to a different section of Zion National Park, Kolob Canyons. Kolob Canyons Road is a five mile scenic drive through the northwest corner of the park, and was about a half hour drive from the campground.
The scenic road ends at the Kolob Canyon Viewpoint. There is a short trail leading to an overlook here, but again, no dogs allowed. Being as there were signs up of recent mountain lion activity in the area, I didn't feel comfortable going by myself, especially as there were no other visitors to the area at the time.
The next morning we had breakfast at the Zion Lodge, a nice buffet with several selections. After breakfast, we took the shuttle to one of the "essential" Zion views, the Court of the Patriarchs. These three formations were named in 1916 by Frederick Vining Fisher (a Methodist minister) after three towering figures of the Old testament, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We hung out here for awhile, waiting for the cloud cover to break so I could get a peek of blue sky.
We also stopped at Zion Human History Museum. They have a viewing platform behind the museum, many exhibits of the history of human existence in the canyon, and an orientation film to the park.
The Pa'rus Trail follows the Virgin River from Canyon Junction to the Visitor Center. This is the only trail dogs are allowed on in the park, and is a main bike path also. It is paved, as is many trails in the park. A sign along the trail here explained this is not just for accessibility, but to help prevent erosion due to so many people walking the trail.
So many beautiful sights along the trail.
One afternoon we took a drive along a "back way road", visiting the ghost town of Grafton.
The dirt road wound around, up and over Smithsonian Butte.
Nice views from up there as well.
Friday was a day off from the park. It was supposed to be cold and rainy, and we had an extremely early morning hike planned on Saturday. We planned to be shuttled by Zion Adventure Company to the East Mesa Trailhead, where it was an easy three mile hike to Observation Point. From there, it was a 4 mile hike down switchbacks, 2,148 feet down to the bottom of the canyon. It was quite an ambitious undertaking for us! Friday we did, indeed, wake up to a cold rain, and it lasted until after lunch. It appeared to be clearing up a bit, so we took a ride up another backway road, recommended by our friends Steve and Joan, Kolob Terrace Road to Kolob reservoir. It was indeed a very nice drive, but as we ascended Kolob Mountain, we started finding snow, and a lot of mud. We made it to the reservoir, but I never did get out of the car and take pictures :-(.
I was starting to get nervous about the weather and our hike the next morning. It just didn't seem to be clearing, and they were talking about really cold temperatures in the morning. At 8:00 that night, we got a phone call from the shuttle company, cancelling the hike the next day. Apparently the road to the trail head was impassable due to all the rain and snow. I was relieved because I was worried about the weather, but also disappointed since we were leaving Zion and couldn't reschedule if the conditions improved. Oh well, it leaves us something to look forward to for another trip there.
We had also found a nice city park in Springdale to walk the dogs, that had an off-leash area as well, which Casey quite enjoyed. Springdale was a neat little town, completely unexpected. Being used to the red rocks and canyons of the other Utah National Parks, I was surprised at the number of flowers and gardens. And grass!
We strolled around town for a little while, admiring the cute shops and looking at all the things we don't need.
One store had tons of yard art. It was all so pretty.
Our time at Zion National Park came to an end, and it was time to resume our trek northward to our summer jobs. Even though the weather did not cooperate very well for us, we managed to get out and see quite a lot. The beauty of Zion Canyon is amazing, a sight that sets your heart racing. My advice for visiting this National Park would be to really look into what you want to do, be prepared for the more strenuous hikes that you might like to do, stay closer to town, and take lots of pictures!