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

Zion National Park

Day 13 of our fall tour, October 6, 2017, time to pack up, hook up, and move on down the road. Around lunchtime, we pulled into Hi-Road Campground, formerly Zion RV Campground, in Mt. Carmel, Utah, for a three-night stay. Trees dressed in yellow, gold, and orange, signaled fall’s arrival on the east side of Zion National Park, Utah’s First National Park.

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View of Canyon from Campsite

Although Zion’s visitors’ center was only twenty miles from our site, it took at least an hour to make it to the canyon bottom by way of a twisty-turny road with slow speed limits, hairpin curves, and a delay to enter one of the tunnels.

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Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway

The scenery along the way was the silver lining, however, consisting of sandstone slickrock, Checkerboard Mesa, and cliffs that towered 2,000 feet from the valley floor.

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Sandstone Slick Rock

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Checkerboard Mesa

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Red Cliffs of Zion

We stopped in at the visitors’ center, picked up pamphlets and information, and then drove out of the west entrance and into the town of Springdale, which looked nothing like we remembered from twenty years ago when we last visited.Construction of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway and one-mile tunnel, which took two years and ten months to complete, was dedicated and opened on July 3, 1930. The highway was the last link in the Grand Circle Tour of Zion, Bryce, and Grand Canyon National Parks.

The construction crew blasted gallery windows into the cliff face above Pine Creek Canyon to gain access to the interior of the mountain so the crew could carve out space to create the tunnel. The windows were also used to remove the rock debris and supplied ventilation and lighting. In 1937, the entire tunnel was lined with concrete.

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One of the Tunnel Gallery Windows

One-way traffic control is required for large vehicles traveling through the tunnel. The park charges $15.00 for a permit in addition to the park entrance fee for vehicles 7 feet 10 inches in width and/or 11 feet 4 inches in height, or larger.

We remembered driving our truck to all the sights along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive in the 1990s. Now a shuttle is the only way to get around unless you’re staying at Zion Lodge. During peak hours the shuttles fill up with standing room only, so it is wise to arrive at the visitors’ center before 9:00 am, even in the offseason. There is also parking in Springdale, but when we drove through, everything looked pretty parked up.

The next day, we rode the shuttle to Zion Lodge in search of a cup of coffee only to find a long line. “How about the dining room?” We arrived about a half hour before the buffet ended and noted only a few people seated at tables. “This shouldn’t take too long.” We decided to go ahead and order breakfast with our coffee since we planned on taking a hike. We waited for our food as we sipped our steaming cups of coffee. Then we waited, and waited, and waited some more. Oh well, we had a nice view of a park-like grassy area with large trees. When our eggs benedict arrived my eggs were overcooked and Jon’s were undercooked. The long wait and the mix of cook on our eggs must have been a sign that the concessionaire reduced the employee headcount after the peak season.

With our bellies full, we walked across the road to the trailheads for the Lower and Upper Emerald Pools. Most of the trails were easy going except for the large boulders we had to navigate and the slippery rocks near the Upper Pools.

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Bridge Over River

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Towering Cliffs

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Hanging Garden

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Falls at Hanging Garden

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Trail Narrowed in Spots

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Lower Pools

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Upper Pools

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Typical View from Lower and Upper Pools

We connected with the Kayenta Trail, which took us along the river toward the Grotto where picnic tables huddled under large trees and restrooms were a welcome sight.

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Kayenta Trail Along Virgin River

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Virgin River

Then we continued on to the lodge where we picked up the shuttle for the ride to the Zion Human History Museum. We sat on the back patio eating our lunch of tuna sandwiches and apples and enjoyed the views while we waited to listen to the geological ranger talk.

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View from Museum Patio

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View from Museum Patio

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View from Museum Patio

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More Views

Zion is part of the Colorado Plateau and the second step of the Grand Staircase with geological layers at the top of Zion consisting of the layers we saw at the bottom of Bryce: Carmel Formation, Navajo Sandstone, Kayenta Formation, and Kaibab Formations. It was interesting to learn that rain flows through the porous Navajo sandstone until it reaches the Kaibab Formation of limestone and siltstone, which is not porous and blocks the water so that it seeps through the sides of the cliffs. This sounded similar to how water seeps through the basalt in Idaho to find its way to the Snake River.

On Sunday, we woke up early again and rode the shuttle to the Temple of Sinawava to take the Riverside Walk. It didn’t look anything like what I remembered from when we were there before. Perhaps this was because of flash floods that had occurred during that time.

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Trail to Temple of Sinawava

Ferns and other plant life clung to the red cliffs and trees grew near the river. We watched people prepare for the walk across the icy water. Some of them wore rented water tennis shoes and long pants that swished with each step. Other people only wore shorts, t-shirts, and normal walking shoes. I remembered years ago when we crossed the river in water socks on a sunny day with our children in tow. Bundled up in jackets, Jon and I weren’t about to venture into the rush of water this time.

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The Makings of a Future Arch

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Ferns Cling to Rock Cliffs

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The Crossing

Our next stop was Weeping Rock. This was a short steep hike with lots of trees, shrubs, ferns and a few remaining wildflowers. Water oozed from the overhang and gently dripped like rain on us.

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Along Weeping Rock Trail

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Late Blooming Wildflower

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View from Weeping Rock

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Plants Cling to Sandstone Cliff

These climbers came into view while we waited for the shuttle at Weeping Rock.

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Climbers on the Rock Cliffs

We thought we had been transported to Disneyland when we returned to the visitors’ center. Crammed under a shade structure, the line for the shuttle snaked back and forth through ropes and continued around the buildings toward the parking lot.

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Wait. What. Is this Disneyland?

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Coming and Going

We were glad we were on our way out of the park rather than arriving.

If we make it back to Zion, we will plan ahead and find a spot for our trailer on the west side of the park to avoid driving the hour on the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway each day. The prospect of catching the shuttle in Springdale would also be a benefit.

The next day we headed south with no reservations, taking our chances that somewhere an RV site with our name on it would appear. Stay tuned to see where we hung our hats.