Utah – Zion NP

SEPTEMBER 29, 2010

Today we drive to Zion which is a 4 hour drive from Torrey. We’ll be taking Utah 24 west to Utah 64 south then US 89 south. Our routine has become smoother with each move. I had everything inside almost secured when Steve said, “I’m going to bring the car around and hitch up.” Just as I stepped outside I saw Steve back up to the trailer to our right. It was smaller than our trailer but white with the same color design. He rolled down the window and said,“I can’t see my yellow marker.” He’s been using a yellow magnet on the trailer ball to guide him in when backing up. I said,“That’s because it’s not our trailer!”  He got out and looked surprised. Then he shrugged his shoulders and moved the car to our spot. Fortunately the owner of the other trailer wasn’t home. One of the neighbors got quite a laugh out of it too. Steve said, “If it had been a better trailer that would have been good but ours is better.”

As we headed west on Utah 24 we passed through a small town called Bicknell. Yesterday as we headed there to the ABC store the speed limit dropped from 65 to 35mph. Steve saw the Sheriff’s car with someone in it and quickly slowed down. Today the car and “cop” were still in the same spot. Steve looked and laughed. “It’s a mannequin.” US 89 is a scenic byway that runs past several national parks from Arizona to Montana.. I think it would make a good trip to start at one end and go all the way visiting each park. We had reservations at an RV Park managed by Best Western at US 89 and Utah 9 called the East Zion Riverside RV Park. This would have put us about 6 miles from Zion. We were to register at the motel which we did. Then we drove across the street to choose a site. The website had described it as backing to a river and made it sound very appealing. In reality, it was a gravel parking lot not more than 50’ off the intersection for about 8 RVs. There were full hookups (services) but no picnic tables, no showers and no restrooms. We looked at each other and said,“This won’t make it for 5 nights.” I have to admit Best Western was very good about refunding the fee. The clerk said there weren’t any RV parks on Rt. 9 closer to Zion. Later, we found 3 parks on Rt. 9 and closer. We’d seen a KOA park as we came in and tried to call. We found out we’re in a Verizon dead zone. So we drove up to KOA and they did have room. This put us about 20 miles away but beggars can’t be choosers.  (It actually turned out to be a very good park…  one of the better ones we’ve been to, so nothing lost…  sm)

By then it was after 4P so we just set up camp and settled down with a beer.

SEPTEMBER 30, 2010

Again we’re lucky as the KOA is located in a country setting with a quiet dirt road behind it. This makes a perfect place for Opal to be off leash and get some exercise. We loaded up the car for the day and headed to Zion National Park. The entrance to the park is phenomenal. One minute you’re driving along through rolling countryside and the next sheer 1000’+ mountains appear. The textures and colors of the sandstone are constantly changing. Trees grow out of cliff faces and look like bonsai. The first place we stopped was called Checkerboard Mesa. Then on to another overlook where we walked around mesmerized by the swirls and shapes of the rock. About a mile from the main tunnel into the park we stopped to enjoy the view. Some people there were looking through binoculars and pointed out 2 desert bighorn sheep lying on a ledge about halfway up the mountain. We set up the tripods and spent the next hour taking pics. The sheep were watching us as much as we were watching them. Just after we put away our cameras, they got up and walked up the hill. This made my day. I had wanted to see big horn sheep on this trip so badly. I hope the pictures come out well.


Desert Bighorn Sheep


(The two sheep were a ewe and a ram… not full grown, but an adult with about a half-curl on the horns.  The first time I saw sheep was a few years ago, in Glacier.  That was three ewes and a lamb.  The next time was a few weeks ago in Colorado, where we saw a band of young adolescent rams.  This was the first time seeing an adult ram.  I hope the next one we see is a full-curl!

One of the few problems with traveling the National Parks after the major tourist season is over is that they seem to try to get most of their road construction and repairs done then.  The main road leading into the park is actually the most scenic views we had, but almost the entire ride was through a construction zone, and we weren’t able to stop at very many spots to enjoy the views.  Oh well…  guess we’ll have to come back! sm)

We went through the tunnel and wanted to turn right and head on up the scenic drive but found ourselves heading in the opposite direction and soon out of the park. We turned around and re-entered. At the gate we asked the ranger how to get to the scenic drive. That’s when we found out it was only accessible by shuttle bus. No dogs are allowed on the shuttle. It was 90 degrees so leaving Opal in the car was not an option. Change of plans, we’d do the scenic drive tomorrow. There are two other sections of Zion besides the main drive. In the western part is a backway through a remote section that eventually connects with Utah 14 a.k.a. the Markagunt Scenic Highway. This took about 3 hours to do and provided us with some great scenery and a large aspen forest. There aren’t many cities of any size in this part of Utah. We saw that we were close to Cedar City and found a large grocery store. Then we followed Utah 14 through another portion of Dixie National Forest back home.


Scene in West Zion


A quick dinner of burgers on the grill and a campfire completed the day. We had a brief talk with our neighbor who was from Switzerland. He and his wife are taking two years off to travel the USA, New Zealand and Australia. Then they’ll go back home and back to work. Can you imagine playing for two years and then returning to work? Neither can I. I’ve only been retired for a month and I can’t imagine working full time again.

OCTOBER 1, 2010


The Narrows in Zion National Park



A month on the road and we have just seen the trip odometer reach 5,000 miles. Today we left Opal in the trailer. She’s gotten accustomed to staying alone and is no longer anxious when we leave. This would be the longest we’ve left her about 8 hours in all. Back to Zion to catch the shuttle up to the last stop called the Temple of Sinawava. We planned to do a mile hike along the Virgin River which is a small river when you compare it to the Colorado. Time and soft rock have turned the landscape into this beautiful canyon. Zion is the oldest of Utah’s national parks having been upgraded from a national monument to a park in 1919. At the end of the Riverside walk is a place called The Narrows. You can hike this canyon to it’s end which is 8 miles and return the same way. The trick here is that the hike is mostly in the river. As with most canyons, it is safe only in dry weather. Flash floods change the scene from beautiful to life threatening. Today would be no problem as the skies were clear and the temperature a perfect 70 degrees. We planned on doing only a small portion of The Narrows today so we could see the other overlooks as well. It’s a very popular hike and there were at least 30 people that we could see. In we plunged and submerged our hiking boots well over the ankles. The water was COLD. I moved cautiously on the river rock making sure I had my footing and using the hiking stick Steve had made. I wasn’t so much afraid of falling and getting wet as I was of drowning the camera! We had to crisscross the river to stay in water at or below knee level. In a few spots the river current was strong. Steve mentioned that he wouldn’t want to do this in the Spring when the water level would be higher. There were some sandy places that felt like an interstate highway after the rocks. The canyon walls block most of the sunlight so it was cooler than the walk down. A few places had deep pools that were 5-6’ deep but you could see them well ahead by the blue green of the water. We only went about 1/2 mile and stopped for lunch. Then we went a bit further and found a waterfall. I would have loved to hike on but I was worried about Opal and wanted to return by 4P. We’ve already put returning here on the “list”. When we do, we’ll camp closer by and get the first shuttle up here so we can do the whole canyon. There’s no doubt that we are canyon lovers. On the way back, we passed a man who was our contemporary. He said “I’ve been waiting 35 years to do this again. The last time I was with my kids.” We both have noticed a lot of boomers out in the parks being very active. It feels good that a few gray hairs aren’t keeping people from doing what they love.


Chari and Steve Hiking The Narrows


We hiked back and took the shuttle to The Grotto and Weeping Rock. Weeping Rock is beautiful with plants growing all along the rock face like hanging gardens. It pours water constantly. The water that is coming out now has been working its way through the rock for 1200 years. We went back to the car and home. What a greeting we received! She’d done very well.


Weeping Rock at Zion NP


Last evening we had a new neighbor who was from Germany. He and his wife are on vacation for 3 weeks. This is his eighth time visiting the USA western states. He says that there is so much to see he’ll have to come back again. I’ve lived here all my life and this is only the second time I’ve been in the West.

A campfire used up the wood we’d collected while we had an after dinner drink. I was so relaxed after a day outside and a lot of exercise that I slept very, very well.

October 2, 2010

Today was one of those days that started out well and just seemed to get better as it progressed.  We planned to drive to Cedar Breaks National Monument, which is closer to the trailer park we’re in than the one we were scheduled to stay at originally.  Since we were going to be spending the day driving locally, we were in no rush to get started and took our time with a nice breakfast.  There is a view from our park of some cliffs with hoodoos not to far away, and rather than take US89 up to Utah 14 to get to Cedar Breaks, we decided to take National Forest roads, which are dirt and twisty, and generally quite scenic.  This was no exception, and we drove past several of those red and pink colored cliffs, through pine and aspen forests, and really enjoyed the ride.  We had re-arranged the car to put in some empty tubs to load firewood in if we came across any, and saw quite a bit here that we’d pick up on our way back.


Stream Exiting Aspen Mirror Lake



Eventually we made our way back to Rt. 14, and after driving on it a bit toward Cedar Breaks, we passed a road with a sign pointing to Aspen Mirror Lake.  Well, the name sounded intriguing, so we turned onto it.  It went a little ways in, then stopped at a parking area, where there were several cars.  I asked someone, and he told me there was a hiking trail, about a quarter of a mile long, that led to the lake.  We couldn’t let Opal loose… there was a sign saying dogs must be leashed, so we put her on the leash and walked in.  The lake was very pretty, with golden and orange aspens all around.  There were a lot of people there, some walking around enjoying the view, and some fishing for trout in both the lake and the stream that flowed out of it.  We walked around for a while along the stream.  As I said there were a lot of people around, so it was hard to get nice pix, but by waiting for them to walk out of the way, and maybe positioning yourself so that they were hidden behind a tree or a rock, we did manage to get some good shots.


Cedar Breaks National Monument



Then we headed on to Cedar Breaks.  Neither of us can figure out why it’s called Cedar Breaks…  there wasn’t a Cedar to be found.  But, it’s listed as being a “mini-Bryce” with a 2000’ deep amphitheater shaped canyon about three miles across, filled with red and pink and orange hoodoos, and was very pretty.  We stopped at the visitors center and bought our obligatory hat-pin.  We drove through the park, and on toward a place called Brian Head.  This is a mountain, that apparently was named because someone thought it looked like William Jennings Bryan, a hundred or so years ago.  Well, from the angle we saw it, if I was WJB, I’d be pretty happy that the name was misspelled.  To us, it just looked like a mountain… but maybe from some other angle it may have resembled him.  There’s a road leading to the peak, so we decided to drive up.  On the way, we stopped to take some pictures of the views, and there was another car stopped  at the same spot.  The husband was out with a hammer and chisel, digging up and chipping off pieces of rock.  His wife told us that he’s a ‘rockhound’ and was digging up agate.  I went over to talk to him, and he told me that this was one of the premier spots in the world for finding agate.  He told me that in other places throughout the world where you find it, you’re lucky to find bowling ball size pieces.   Here, there is a vein that runs through the mountain for about two miles, and comes out on the other side of the mountain, with huge outcroppings on both ends,  He had gallon jugs of water with him, and he poured water on the rock to bring out the colors…  red and black and white and orange…  so that I could take some pictures.  I’m not a rockhound, but I do enjoy seeing interesting and colorful rocks, and like all hobbyists, when he found someone to listen to him, he really enjoyed talking.  We took quite a few pictures of the rocks, and picked up a few small pieces to take home (probably, after another month and a half, when we get home and I’m emptying out the car, I’ll find these pieces and wonder what they are and why I have them, and toss them away…  but I hope not.  He told me how to polish them up, and I’d like to try). When they leave here, they are going north to Delta to search for Trilobites.


Agate In Situ


Then we drove to the top of the mountain, which was about 11,300 feet high.  The views from the top were spectacular. The temperature at the top was down to 57 degrees with a wind chill about 10 degrees below that. A bit chilly for shorts! The top was scattered with small boulders and they were covered with the most colorful lichens. We even found one hardy alpine plant with 1/4 inch white flowers.


View From Brian Head at 11,303 Feet


From there, we drove to Panguich  Lake.  This is a nice sized lake where at some future date on another trip, we may do some kayaking and fishing.  I was talking to a guy who comes here from Las Vegas where he lives to fish it, as it’s one of the best spots he knows for rainbow and cut-throat trout… he’s caught them up to nine pounds. While Steve was talking to the fisherman, I was watching a group of 6 women in their thirties who had met for a day of fishing and friendship. I though to myself, you don’t see that happen very often on the East coast.

From there we were going to head on back to camp, but we had passed some lava fields on the way, and there was a National Forest road leading into them, so we decided to take a little exploring drive.  We were stunned.  As we drove into this area, there were hills, some of them a few hundred feet high, of lava rocks, kind of a reddish black in color and covered with a greenish lichen, with brilliant yellow and orange aspens growing all over.  The sky had been unsettled all day, with some places showing bright blue and other black storm clouds, and against this background, the place was a photographer’s dream.  Nowhere, in any of our maps or brochures, did we find any mention of this place, but it went on for a few miles at least that we saw, and was every bit as impressive as Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho.  Maybe even more so! We took about a half hour to load up some more firewood. Hopefully we’ll have enough for two or three nights.

We made it home by about 5:30 or so, and Chari wanted to take a little snooze before supper, so I sat outside reading a book.  After a half-hour, Chari got up, and all of a sudden, the wind started to blow.  We hurriedly took down the awning before the wind could do any damage, and decided to have our supper indoors, as it looked as if it might rain.  It never did, and after supper our neighbors, Steve and Vicky from  Eugene, Oregon, came over and we sipped a glass of wine while visiting with them for a while. They have been traveling about the same length of time as we have. Vicky and I agreed that Bryce was our favorite park. Steve also has a blog on WordPress. After I take a look, if it has some interesting information about other places, I’ll post it for you. Then it was off to bed.

Tomorrow, we’ll be going to some pink sand dunes (I forget what they’re called… Chari will know) but first it’s going to be a laundry and housecleaning day, so we’ll be getting a late start.  But then, all our chores will be done and we can forget about them for the next week or so.

OCTOBER 3, 2010

As Steve said we scheduled the morning for chores. Five loads of laundry included sheets, towels and blankets that we hadn’t done for a while. Then we had Sunday brunch.


Aspens and Lava Mounds


Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is about 20 miles southeast of Zion NP just off US 89. These are the only sand dunes of any significance in Utah. The area is 7 miles long with some dunes 100’ high. The pink color is from the high iron content in the sandstone to the south. There is a prevailing wind through the canyon that increases in velocity as it passes through a notch between two mountains. It is this increase in force that causes the dunes to build. Just before entering the park there was a spot we could let Opal out for a run. She loves sand. She ran and jumped and dug her way with ears flapping and tail wagging. If a dog could say “Yippee”, I think she would have done so. In the park we went to the observation platform and then took the .5 mile nature trail. Mid-day isn’t the best time for photos in the dunes but we took a few to show the lovely pink color against  the deep rust red of the Vermillion Cliffs in the distance. It looks like we missed bloom time for a type of yellow daisy that grew in large clumps by about a month. The park brochure says that peak wildflower bloom is mid-June. I’ve always wanted to see the desert in bloom. That’s another reason to come back to this area.


Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park


It was only 2PM so we decided to take a drive into the backcountry along Long Canyon Road off US 89. This goes through ranch country and brought us back into the Grand Staircase National Monument. We’d been on the East side before and now we were on the West side. The varying textures and colors of the cliffs were fascinating. We turned onto Skutumpah Road which is a dirt road and drove for about 45 minutes. If we’d stayed on it to the end it would have come out at Cannonville just south of Escalante where we’d been earlier. On our way back we noticed a large thunderhead building. We’d been warned that the dirt roads turn to slick, slippery mud when it rains and not to be on them or we might get stuck. So we kept a close eye on the storm. Just two miles from reaching US 89 again we hit pavement and our worries were over. We got back to camp just before a light rain began. The major storm went west of us.

We realized that tomorrow when we enter Arizona that they might not let us bring in any fresh fruits or vegetables. I’d forgotten that 30+ years ago when I drove to Las Vegas from Oklahoma that I had to go through a checkpoint and no fresh fruits were allowed into Arizona. So we ate a big salad with dinner. Then Steve thought about the firewood we’d collected and thought that would not be allowed to cross into Arizona. So we had a lovely campfire and sipped our chocolate vine. Can life get any better?


About vagabondpress

Recently retired and "hitting the road". Hobbies include travel, nature photography, kayaking, hiking, good food and good friends.
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