2020 COVID Adventure Zion National Park Part Two

Yikes! One step forward and two steps back. This week California sent our county back to start in the game of “Open Up the Economy.” The current virus surge triggered feelings of sadness, despair, and grief for the many people suffering under the weight of COVID-19.

Virgin River flowing over boulders
Virgin River

Then, while preparing the photos and narrative for this post, sadness turned to thankfulness. How lucky are we that so far our family has escaped infection and illness? How lucky are we that we have a home to keep us safe? And how lucky were we for the opportunity to visit Utah before the virus worsened across the nation? Pretty dang lucky, I’d say, and for that, we’re very thankful.

A path, trees, and balancing rock
Balancing Rock on the Riverwalk Trail

While traveling we thought we had found a way to “live with the virus” that was safe for the people we encountered and for us. Unfortunately, it looks like we won’t be able to put our newly learned skills to the test anytime soon.

Virgin River with low water level
Virgin River

Instead, we will abide by the new restrictions the health department has placed on us and look back on our trip to Utah while reminding ourselves that someday we will again travel the roads and continue exploring the United States. We can wait a few more months. Hope it won’t be a year. If only we had a crystal ball to tell the future.

Skinny tree trunks growing in a swamp
Zion National Park’s Swamp along the Virgin River

So, join us as we look back at our second day trip into Zion National Park.

Zion National Park adopted a reservation system for their shuttle into the canyon where many of the hikes and sites are located. The reservations are required for two reasons. The first is to reduce the number of people on the shuttles, and the second is to avoid the crowded long lines of people waiting to board them. Our attempt to snag four tickets the day before was unsuccessful, so we signed up for a private shuttle, costing $30.00 per person rather than the $1.00 the parked charged.

Ferns clinging to a cliff
I call this Fern Wall. The Weeping Rock is 100 times more impressive, but it was closed.

We parked in the South Entrance visitor center parking lot and took the short walk across the bridge to Springdale. The gear store and our shuttle stop were in the shopping center close to the park entrance. I wasn’t too happy about sitting behind, in front of, and next to strangers in the van. The concept of social distancing was not adhered to on this shuttle as it was on the one the park ran. Everyone did wear a mask, though. I hoped it would be enough protection.

Virgin River pools and boulders
Virgin River

Our first stop was the Temple of Sinawava, which leads to the Riverside Walk and the Narrows trails. We took the Riverside Walk to the Narrows (photos above), and waved goodbye as Kevin and Bailey, wearing their special boots and grasping their hiking staff, continued their trek in the Narrows.

People standing in a rock riverbed with mountains towering in the background
Random visitors at entrance to the Narrows Walk

Jon and I decided keeping the virus at bay was enough to deal with. No need to add the toxic cyanobacteria bloom in the Virgin River to our risk of possible illnesses. So we hopped back on the shuttle and got off at The Grotto. From there we took the Kayenta and Emerald Trails to Zion Lodge.

Trees, grass, picnic tables, and building
Visitors will find picnic tables and restrooms at The Grotto
Towering canyon cliffs and mountains above the Virgin River
Virgin River and canyon cliffs from Kayenta Trail
Trees, canyon cliffs, and Virgin River
Virgin River from Kayenta Trail
Shrubs, towering cliffs, and blue sky
Lower Falls from the falls trail
Waterfall stained rock cliff
Hard to see the waterfall from this spot

Zion National Park did not receive the normal amount of snow and rain this past year, so Lower Falls was more of a trickle than waterfall.

A trickle of a waterfall
October 2020 the fall was like a trickle

This is a photo from October 2017 when the park received more precipitation.

Larger waterfall
October 2017 there was more water flowing

The trail under the waterfall’s overhang is slippery. Use the fencing to prevent falls.

Red path to the waterfall with ferns growing on the cliff
Lower Falls trail

When we reached the lodge, Jon’s attitude turned grumpy when he realized our shuttle didn’t stop there.

Bridge across the Virgin River
Bridge across the Virgin River from trail to the Lodge

We had another mile to go on The Grotto trail. The trails we took made a loop, normally our favorite. This time, it subjected me to bouts of grumbling as Jon trailed behind me.

Read rock towering cliffs and blue sky
I think the mesa on the left is the Sinawava Temple

We went back to where we picked up the shuttle that morning. A mocha frappuccino and protein bar perked us up as we recovered and waited for Kevin and Bailey to return from the Narrows hike.

So how was it hiking under the threat of COVID-19? Mostly I felt safe. The majority of hikers on the Riverside Trail wore masks. There were a few groups with college-aged people who walked around like, “Virus? What virus?” And other groups where there was one, maybe two, holdouts in a family of seven or eight were like, “No mask for me. Don’t tread on my rights.”

red rock towering cliffs and building
Back at the Grotto

That was okay because the trail was fairly wide, and it was easy to keep our distance. The Kayenta and Emerald Pools Trails was another story. The narrower path made it difficult to keep our distance from the “mask-less” folks.

View of craggy cliffs behind a courtyard
Sitting under the overhang, drinking our shakes and enjoying the view

Our hike took us much longer than it should have since we had to step off the trail and let people without masks pass before we continued. We thought for sure one of us would end up infected. We’re happy to report our fear did not materialize. After that experience, we only hiked in places where there weren’t a bunch of people.

Man and woman relaxing on beach chairs.
Kevin and Bailey relaxing after their walk through the Virgin River

So was it worth the $30.00 shuttle ride? We have to say yes. Hiking the narrows was an item on Kevin and Bailey’s bucket list, and we got to see a few sites in a different light than we did before. Besides, with our Lifetime Senior Pass, we entered the park for free.

The next day, we moved to Zion Wright Family Ranch for a couple of nights of dispersed camping to see a different side of Zion.

Stay safe.

2020 COVID-19 Adventure: Zion National Park Part One

We counted the trip to the California coast a success, so it was time to map out our next adventure. Initially, we planned on a week or two in San Diego to visit our son, Kevin, and his better half, Bailey. They had other ideas in store for us. When they mentioned Zion and Bryce, we said, “Sure. Let’s go.”

With the trailer loaded with food and clothes, we made our first leg of the trip to Barstow, California, on October 3, 2020. Smoke from the California fires filled the skies until we reached the Tehachapi Summit. I switched the AC from recycle to fresh air and we took big deep breaths as we descended into the Mojave Desert.

The next morning we left Barstow at sunrise, which wasn’t all that early, only 6:50 a.m. It sure looked like smoke or dust or something had shaded the sky with orange and yellow hues. The iPhone 8 captured a surreal image.

Sunrise in the desert
Desert Sunrise

In Las Vegas, Nevada, we caught our first glimpse of the new Raider’s Allegiant Stadium from the freeway. Bitterness that the team left Oakland, again, still exists in the Bay Area, although I’m sure fans in Las Vegas are happy about the move. The stadium should be a boom to the City of Las Vegas once we come out of the pandemic, and fans are let back into the sports arenas.

View of Raider's Football Team's Allegiant Stadium
Raider’s New Nation

The quick breakfast we ate that morning had long worn off when we hit Las Vegas, which would have been a good place to stop and have a bite to eat. We try to avoid the big cities for our stops because it’s too difficult to maneuver through traffic and find a place to park with the rig. So, we sucked it up and drove the next two hours to St. George. That Cracker Barrel sign never looked so good by the time we arrived.

Cracker Barrel restaurant parking lot and sign
Breakfast, here we come.

In the Bay Area, dining options were limited to takeout and outdoor seating. In Southwestern Utah, they offered inside dining or takeout. Since we hadn’t been inside a restaurant for seven months, we chose the takeout. Cracker Barrel isn’t usually my first choice for a restaurant. I much prefer to buy food from an independent store or a local chain. Jon, on the other hand, loves their pecan pancakes. We put on our masks, locked up the trailer, and set out to order our meals.

We were leery about all the people waiting outside, rocking in the chairs on the porch or standing next to the railing and ignoring the six feet of distance we had practiced since March. Only half of them wore masks. At the time, wearing face coverings was only a suggestion, not a state mandate. The state now requires masks in all state-owned buildings and individual counties may have their own requirements.

We kept our distance the best we could, stepped up to the podium, and ordered our meals. A few minutes later, we were inside the trailer, chowing down on the best Cracker Barrel breakfast and cup of coffee I had ever had. Either the cooks do a better job at the Cracker Barrel in St. George, or I was so hungry, a dog bone would have tasted good to me.

With our bellies filled, we drove the remaining thirty minutes to WillowWind RV Park in Hurricane, Utah, where we had booked three nights. Kevin and Bailey arrived a few hours later.

Rv and truck parked in campsite
Campsite at WillowWind RV Park

On our first day in Zion National Park, we checked out the situation for catching the shuttle (we couldn’t get tickets for the park shuttle, so paid for a private one) and renting equipment Kevin and Bailey would need for their river walk the next day. Then we drove to the east end to see other sections of the park and find a place to eat our lunch.

People taking selfie at foot of arch in the making cliff
An arch in the making
Zion cliffs with white tops
Reverse view from Arch in the making
Cliffs in Zion NP and shadows of people
Look at that view

We passed the Canyon Overlook Trail on our way to the tunnel, and there were no parking spots. So we kept driving and found a place with a bit of fall color to eat our lunch and take a break.

Two men and one woman in a desert setting
Shootin’ the breeze
Pine trees and mountain formation
Navajo sandstone
Closer view of trees and red cliffs
Fall is near
Rock formation with trees
View from picnic site

Checkerboard Mesa is a good place to stop for views. There is plenty of parking, information signs, and plenty of sites to see. Unfortunately, the position of the sun made it difficult to capture the checkerboard feature on the mesa. Earlier in the day would have been better.

Checkerboard Mesa mountain formation

Checkerboard Mesa

The sun was coming from a better angle, so the colors pop in the photo of East Temple.

Mountain Formation in shape of a wedding cake
East Temple

And here are two more views along the road.

View of mountains and cliffs
View of mountains and cliffs
Geological formations
View of geological formations

Outside of the park on the east side is The Get and across the street is an RV and tent campground and cabins to rent.

Rock cliff looms over building
The Get sells a bit of groceries, sandwiches, gifts, and souvenirs.

On our way back to the west side of the park, we scouted around for a parking space at the Canyon Overlook and ended up having to stop and wait for one-way traffic to clear. When the west-bound vehicles started flowing, a car just ahead of us pulled out, and we slipped right in as if it was all planned perfectly.

View from Canyon Overlook Trail

At first we thought the overlook was close by. It turned out further than we thought. I brought my water bottle with me, but no one else did. We hoofed it most of the way, at least to the section where the cave was and we could peek down into the canyon. So, word of caution: come prepared for a hike, not a short walk.

Zion cliffs, yellow flowers i the foreground
View from Canyon Overlook Trail
Horse head rock formation
Anyone else see a horse’s head?
View of cave opening
View of cave from Canyon Overlook Trail
View of canyon opening
A place to rest
View from cave into canyon

Heading west through the tunnel gives a person a good view out the windows. Luckily, no one was behind us, so Jon stopped the truck for a couple of seconds so we could capture the view with our cameras.

Zion cliffs from tunnel window
View from one of the tunnel windows

After the tunnel there are a few places to stop and take in the views and spot the windows in the rock walls.

Cliff in Zion showing the makings of a natural arch
Another arch in the making
Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel window

Next up we have another day of more fun and games in Zion.

Stay Safe

Heading Home with a Stop in Sparks, Nevada

Traveling without confirmed reservations or any idea where we’ll stop makes me nervous. For some reason, I felt a sense of freedom not knowing where we would land when we left Cortez, Colorado, on Tuesday, June 4, 2019. We were just heading toward Sparks, Nevada, and when we got tired, we’d stop.

Our route led us through farmland and canyons and one particularly interesting sight. This bulbous sandstone formation stood in the middle of a field all by itself.

Church Rock on U.S. 191 in Utah

To demonstrate how one perspective can differ from another, look what was behind.

Church, Beehive, Whale? What do you see?

A search on Wikipedia reveals a myth about how the formation earned its name, in case you are interested.

I’ve read many a blog post on Moab and Arches National Monument, but never got the impression the bustling town was more than a gas station and a convenience store. With over 20 RV parks and campgrounds, it was clear the population of 5,250 swelled with visitors during the spring and fall seasons. Too bad we couldn’t join them and fit in a hike or two in Arches.

We passed up a few eating establishments through town because they lacked enough space for us to easily park. Then, at the edge of town, we saw it. A Denny’s sign. With plenty of parking next door. This was our last chance until we hit the next town, which was hours away. I had not eaten at a Denny’s for over twenty years. My expectations for a quality lunch were extremely low.

When our server set down our plates piled high with old-fashioned grilled hamburgers including all the trimmings, I tucked away my restaurant snobbery and dug in. Even the salad tasted like the cook had freshly picked the ingredients from the garden.

Back on the road, I was so happy to see a pullout on Highway 191 at Wilson’s Arch. The preview of what awaits inside the park had me scouring the RV park listings for the perfect place to stay. We definitely need to arrange a trip this way again, including plenty of time for exploration.

Wilson’s Arch seen from U.S. 191

We pulled into the KOA in Green River, Utah, for the night. The next morning we bought lattes at the Green River Coffee Co. and a pound of freshly roasted decaf beans. That bag of beans had the cab of the truck smelling like a coffee roaster for the rest of the day.

Green River Coffee Co.

West Wendover, Nevada, was a good place to stop for the night. The next day we drove to Sparks, Nevada. After three days of driving, we needed a break so we settled in Sparks for two nights at the Sparks Marina RV Park.

Not content to sit still for too long, a visit to Virginia City was in order. It had been years since we were there last. The skies were clear making it a perfect day to view Reno and Sparks from Geiger Lookout Wayside Park.

Geiger Lookout – No need to climb the stairs unless you need exercise. The view is best from the parking area.

We marveled at all the housing developments that have sprung up in the area recently. Spurred by Tesla’s Gigfactory and other industries moving into the region, it’s easy to see why Nevada was the fastest growing state in the union last year.

View of Reno (to the left) and Sparks (to the right) from Geiger Lookout

I thought there would be an information sign explaining the purpose of the stone fireplaces scattered around, but I never found it. I did find mention of the park at livingnewdeal.org, which listed the overlook as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project completed in 1938. What looked to me like fireplaces were barbecues. Picnic tables and restrooms were also once located there.

Picnic area ruins from a WPA project.

When we arrived in Virginia City we noticed several motorcyclists were in town. They must have been from the Spring Street Vibrations event.

Motorcycles parked in front of the Mark Twain Casino

It seems like Reno and Sparks have some kind of event three or four times a month throughout the year. Watch the Great Reno Balloon Race in the fall, drool over classic cars at Hot August Nights, cheer on cowboys at the Reno Rodeo, and vote for the best ribs at a Rib Cook Off. There’s always something happening in the Biggest Little City in the World.

Territorial Enterprise Mark Twain Museum

Virginia City proudly boasts its connection to Samuel Clemmons. On March 5, 1862, he published his first news stories in the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise under his pseudonym Mark Twain.

He eventually became the paper’s editor and stayed on until May 29, 1864. His time at the paper was not without controversy given his habit of mixing in fictional narratives with the news as a hoax.

St. Mary’s in the Mountains

Many prominent members of politics and society in Virginia City, Carson City, and Washoe County were not sorry to see him leave. Wikipedia details the saga here.

Chollar Mansion

Jon was able to walk from one end of the town to the other with the aid of plenty of benches lined up on the boardwalk.

On the boardwalk

A tip from a proprietor at one of the bars led us to The Canvas Café. When I heard the word canvas, a tent came to mind, which is what I was on the lookout for when we searched for the cafe.

The Canvas Cafe

I should have paid more attention while eating my lunch. Now that I look closely at the photo of Jon, I see that Canvas refers to all the art hanging on the walls. Duh!

JT waiting for his lunch

The Reno River Walk and the Truckee River was our next stop. With all the snow and rain received in the west this past winter, we were curious to see the height of the water.

Portal of Evolution by Bryan Tedrick

Here is the view of the Truckee River raging through downtown from one of its many bridges.

Truckee River in downtown Reno, June 2019

And here is a view from October 2014 when families dipped their toes and whole bodies in the middle of meandering stream.

Truckee River through downtown Reno, October 2014

To spend a few hours along the River Walk is to spend time enjoying nature, the sound of rushing water, and the delightful squeals of children. To finish off our time in Reno/Sparks, we found a comfortable place to sip a beer, reflect on our trip, and people watch along the River Walk at The Sierra Tap House.

Sierra Tap House has a patio with tables and umbrellas on the Riverwalk

And so we cut short our Late Spring Adventure with dreams of our travels ahead once Jon resolves his back issue. Our fingers are crossed his appointment with the spine specialist will reveal a solution.

But before we go, just for fun, here are a few random shots of flowers that didn’t fit in with the previous posts on Cortez.

Mountain Daisy

Blue Flax

Munro’s Globemallow

Safe Travels

Richfield, Utah

We found the Richfield KOA to be one of the best places we have stayed. Their shaded sites are so large they can accommodate a tow vehicle and a large toy hauler or motorhome with plenty of room to spare for a few ATVs. Since our rig is not large and we don’t tug along ATVs we enjoyed the extra room to move about. The park also has easy access to the miles of trails that wind their way throughout Richfield and the surrounding area.

Fremont Indian State Park and Museum

Besides the ATV trails there is the Fremont Indian State Park and Museum, and Candy Mountain within a reasonable driving distance.

Fremont Indian State Park and Museum

We started out by visiting the Fremont Indian State Park and Museum where we watched a movie about how the museum came about. It all started with the construction of I70 during the 1980s. The plan was to take down four of the five-finger range hills and use them as fill to build up the valley after diverting the river/creek.

The last of the five finger hills

When the crew began digging, they found an ancient Indian settlement consisting of several pit houses and storage facilities. Archeologists rushed to the area to document and preserve what they could. It turned out that this was the largest Fremont Indian settlement found.

A depiction of family life in a pithouse

Possible trapper attire and tools of his trade

The neighboring community did not want the artifacts to sit in a university somewhere and pushed for the state park. Their dream came true and the park preserves the history of these ancient peoples.

What a find this jar was. It was found upside down in a pithouse

The museum depicts life as it was including a mockup of a pithouse with a vent that brought fresh air in and a hole at the top where smoke escaped.

Possible meanings of petroglyphs

Cooking and work areas are also displayed. One of the most interesting objects was a recreation of remains that were found a few miles away. The recreation shows how the woman might have looked like when she was alive. A push of a button starts audio so visitors can hear her story and learn how tall she was, the condition of her teeth, the age when she died, and how she was buried.

Layers of time

Clear Creek Road and I70 run through the middle of the narrow park with trails on both sides of the freeway to explore the terrain and view petroglyphs and pictographs. When we finished in the museum, we ventured outside to explore more. a short drive on Clear Creek Road took us to panels where petroglyphs and pictographs have survived erosion.

Petroglyphs are carved into the stone and depict a story, the meaning of which has been lost over 500 to 1,000 years

Pictographs are drawn using some kind of coloring or pigment. These seem to represent blankets.

It’s amazing that these have lasted so many years

Across the freeway are caves and the Sevier River.

Sheep Shelter

The mirror in Sheep Shelter reflects a view of the ceiling where more petroglyphs are carved

I love it when wildlife poses for a photo. It sure is better than when they show me their backside.

This cabin is similar to what the Joseph Lott family may have built on this site when they settled here in the 1880s.

1880s cabin

The 100 Hands Cave caught my interest. When were they placed here? Why did they make the pictograph? Was it some kind of ritual? How long did the pigment stay on their hands?

100 Hands Cave

It’s a good thing the park protects this art with a wrought iron gate. Given the evidence that modern day artists had a mind to destroy this artifact, I can’t imagine what it would look like if not for the protection.

Close up of 100 Hands Cave

The last stop on our adventure at the Fremont State Park was the Jedediah Strong Smith Memorial. Yes, the same hunter, trapper, and explorer of the American West who traveled through the Great Salt Lake, Colorado River, Mojave Desert, California, and Oregon. To think of all the changes made since the 1820s when Smith roamed the west, it boggles the mind. I wonder what it will all look like in another 200 years.

Jedediah Strong Smith Memorial

Big Rock Candy Mountain

What attracted us to Big Rock were the mountains that looked like cakes dripping with yellow, white, and caramel icing. Volcanic activity is what gave the mountains their colorful feature. Different types of minerals produced different colors.

Big Rock Candy Mountain

Besides the mountain, hiking and ATV trails and access to the Sevier River are also available.

Big Rock Candy Mountain across the field. On the far right and middle of the photo is the RV park under the cluster of trees

The Big Rock Candy Mountain Resort offers places to stay in an RV Park with about 30 sites including water, sewer, and electricity; eight suites in the lodge; and 12 converted train cars in the Caboose Village. It looks like Big Rock Grill and Smokehouse serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. At least as I write this.

Caboose Village from across the river

Piute State Park

No, I did not misspell the word Piute. Although the park was named after the Native Americans who lived in the area at one time, the state legislature decided to change the spelling. I’m not sure why they would want to do that.

The park was abandoned when we visited, most likely due to the low level of water in September. The reservoir is used for irrigation purposes, so I guess it was all used up. I’m not sure how fish could remain alive in the reservoir at this low level, though. The water was quite murky, as was the runoff.

Low tide at Piute Reservoir. This is the boat ramp.

The park sits on the Sevier Plateau and contains a portion of the Piute Reservoir where anglers can try their luck for a trophy-sized rainbow, cutthroat, or brown trout. A boat ramp and day-use shade shelters are also available.

Day use shade cabanas

The park is quite primitive, including the campground. Only pit toilets are available and there is no water, so be sure to bring what you need. There are also three ATV trail systems accessible from the park.

Looking south across the Piute Reservoir

Next up we continue our trek west toward California.

Safe Travels