Canyons and cliffs, Zion National Park has it all.
After a few days of breakneck travelling it was wonderful to have out butts firmly planted in one place for a few days. Our plan for an early start did not materialize, and it was around 11 am when we finally managed to drag ourselves away from the motor home. Luckily, we only had a short 35 miles to travel to reach Zion National Park.
Not many people had spoken to us of this Park so our expectations were not too high, but, to our surprise, as we entered the park we were stunned! The sandstone formations and high mesas were staggeringly beautiful.
As soon as we entered the park we come across the “Checkerboard” mesa, a fantastically criss-crossed edifice etched in time by wind borne sand and ice cracking. From the direction we continue entered Zion we had to pass through the 1 mile long, Mt Carmel tunnel. When this tunnel was constructed in 1923, by blasting through the mountains of Zion, it became longest tunnel in America and an engineering marvel. Unfortunately, they had not planned for 12 foot high, 40 feet long motor homes. Luckily, on this trip we only had our Jeep. If we had come in the motor home we would have had to drive down the centre of the carriageway and be escorted.
Being out of season we did not have wait too long to pass through. From the tunnel exit there are a series of hair pin bends which take you down 2000 feet to the bottom of the canyon. At the base of the canyon the scenery is breathtaking as you find yourself overlooked by magnificent, 2000 foot high sandstone cliffs; some of the largest in the world.
These cliffs were formed by sedimentary deposits laid when this was an inland sea, and the layers of sediments are clearly seen in shades of reds, yellows, oranges, browns and greys. We stop at the visitors centre to find out about the Junior Ranger programmes and what else is going on. As it is quite late in the day we have to decide how we spend our time. We catch the shuttle bus to the Museum where we watch a 20 minute movie that gives you the background fundamentals on the geology, biology and history of the park. Whilst this film is not as bad as the one we saw in Yosemite it is still somewhat sentimental and not hard fact enough for us well travelled Hoblets. We want information not PAP!!! Anyway we did admittedly learn a thing or two but decided it was time to explore the real Zion rather than a celluoid imitation (showing our age- now it probably stored on a hard disk drive).
There are no cars allowed to drive up the main canyon of the Virgin River, which only has one way lane for traffic each way. You have to go in and come out the same way. Before the bus shuttle system some 5000 cars went up and down this road each weekend looking for one of 430 parking spaces. We happily discard our car for the bus and head to the very end stop at the head of the valley. Here a mile long trail takes the river route further upstream, all the time the valley walls close in, and in the end they are probably no more than 50 feet across and hundreds of feet high. This area is called the Narrows, and in the summer months, when the water flow has dropped you can take to the water and head up stream to where the gorge narrows to only a few feet across. The river was flowing too rapidly during our visit so we had no choice but turn around and go back.
We caught the bus back to the Lodge, about half way back down the canyon, and took another trail up into the hills, where after about a mile, we came to the “Emerald” pools. There are three pools; imaginatively known as the Upper, Middle and Lower. The top pool is filled by water seeping through the permeable rock. The water continues to flow from the Upper, through the Middle to the lower cascading over the edges of ledges above each. We stand below the overhang of the Lower Pool catching kisses from passing drips. After admiring this glory of nature for a minute or two we realised it was getting a bit cold so we dashed back to catch a bus back to our car.
Zion National Park is about 160 miles from Las Vegas and 300 Miles from Salt Lake City. The nearest large city is St George, UT which is about 40 miles from the park.
WHERE TO STAY:
At the park:
There are many hotels in St George, UT.