Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Zion National Park

Blind Arch, Zion National Park.The stay in Ruby’s Inn at Bryce Canyon was the only 3 night, 2 day stop during our trip. We assigned the first day to the exploration of Bryce Canyon National Park and the use of the second day was to be decided upon the arrival of the said day.

At first I (and others seemed to agree) thought that maybe we should have spent that extra day in Moab, but when the evening rolled around and the day was behind us we knew that we did the right thing. In the morning it was decided that Zion National Park was too close for us not to explore it.

The plan was to go to Cedar City first, through Route 14, which lies close to Cedar Breaks National Monument. I have to say that Bryce Canyon official driving instructions page notes that “this route is not advisable during winter months due to storms, as it involves travel over steep twisting mountainous roads with a summit of 9,200 feet elevation.” Cedar City itself places us within 20 miles of Kolob Canyon entrance (much less explored location then the main one) to Zion.

Road through Red Canyon.That was exactly what we did. On our way to Route 14 we passed through the Red Canyon which had some great looking passes through the mountains. We noticed that the visitor center was closed due to off-season, but that the new schedule was just starting and that it would be open during weekends, which, luckily for us, included Fridays. That meant more stamps on our way to Salt Lake City.

The road passing by Cedar Break resembling landscapes of Kyrgyzstan.Route 14 itself passed through parts of Dixie National Forest which lies on top of magnificent mountains. My dad told us that all those views remind him very much of his youth years spent in the high mountains of what now is called a sovereign country of Kyrgyzstan.

Road to Cedar Breaks National Monument.Most of the mountains surrounding us were covered by a thick layer of snow. So was the route to Cedar Breaks National Monument itself, which was expected. It was funny to see a 40 miles per hour speed limit sign sticking from a snow covered field.

Welcome to Cedar City.Soon after that we arrived to Cedar City. We were pretty surprised by its size. Normally placed that we passed had a total of 10 houses and not a single person on the streets. Cedar City turned out to be a university town with a nice center and lots of people. We stopped by the visitor center, walked around the downtown for a short while and proceed to drive to Kolob Canyon.

Kolob Canyon at Zion National Park.We got our passports stamped at the ranger station at the entrance, showed our National Park pass and drove off into the park. This side of the park has a relatively short paved road going through the mountains. What stood out the most was the road itself or rather its color. I’ve never seen pavement that was brownish red. I guess they used something from the local mountains for building material.

At Kolob Canyon, Zion National Park.When we reached the end of the road we took a short hike up the mountain for a scenic overlook, taking pictures on the way and enjoying Utah’s beauty. When we were done with the walk we figured that we were too close to the main entrance of Zion (about 30 miles) not to go there. Plus this way we wouldn’t have to return using the same road, which gave us a chance to see more.

Route 9 is the road that you take to get to Zion’s main entrance. It passes right through the park, and everyone traveling on it has to pay $25. Luckily for us our NP pass worked here as well. Before it the road reaches Zion it goes through the a town called Springdale. Zion being one of the most popular parks in the nation provides a lot of tourists, so Springdale had a lot of little restaurants. However before eating we passed through Zion visitor center to get our stamp. And a good thing that we did. Right after we go into the building the doors were looked, since it was already 4:30pm and the visitor center was closing.

Blooming Cactus on I-15 down to Zion National Park.After having a dinner in a nice place after all the Burger Kings and other, nastier places we went back to Zion to check the park itself out. We found out that you can’t drive your own car through the park (that’s a first one like that on our route), but they provide free shuttle service with tour guides. We thought we would go for 2 stops or so, since it was getting late and we had a long drive back to the hotel, but we ended up going all the way to the end.

When we got into the bus the driver asked us where we were from. “Brooklyn, of course. And Russia before that,” we gave our standard answer. The driver told us that he’s been to Russia many times and that he’s actually been to many places before. Turned out that he’s a retired (at the age of 48) owner of a tour company. His company does about 2,000 tours a year and he has other people running it at this point. He told us that he understood very quickly though that doing nothing is really boring after a short while, so he gives tours of Zion when the park needs more drivers.

Zion National Park.I really thought that we’ve seen everything there is to see in Utah before Zion, but I was wrong. As the tour went on I was more and more impressed. First of all you get a feeling that you’re driving through the mountains, when in fact you’re on the bottom of the canyon. What makes it different from other places is that you seem to be surrounded by walls as opposed to mountains that gradually get higher. These were going straight up from the bottom of the canyon at 90 degree angle. And most of theme were higher then Sears Tower, the highest building in USA.

I actually checked Wikipedia and Zion Canyon is over 800 meters deep in certain places. Sears Tower is only a bit higher then 500 meters. I wondered if Zion was close to the size of Grand Canyon, but was astonished to find out that Grand Canyon is 1,600 meters deep at some places. Holy crap!

Sunset at Zion National Park.Back to Zion. We saw male turkey trying to attract female turkeys with his big tail (and I do mean tail). Our tour guide told us a story that several years ago a full bus of tourists saw a porcupine trying to cross the road and mountain lion jumping down, turning the porcupine over with its paw, grabbing it with his teeth and running off. We also saw a lot of deer again. Turns out that their huge ears serve them the same way tongues serve the dogs — heat regulation.

Then we saw 2 people, which appeared to be like tiny dots, climbing one of the mounts. It takes them 2 days to get to the top and their are forced to spend a night, sleeping in a hanging position — there are no ledges on those cliffs. Turns out that spring and fall are the only season when those rocks can be climbed. During the summer mountains heat up to over 20 degrees over the temperature of the air and air reaches 100-110 degrees during summer.

Zion National Park.All of this was impressive, but the experience of being surrounded by these ancient monoliths probably was the best part for me.

After we were done with a tour we hopped into our car, drove through an enormously long tunnel inside a mountain and were on our way back to our hotel in Bryce. Now that’s what I call a day well spent.

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