Colorado and Utah by Car – Day 10 (Zion NP)

The visit to Zion National Park today was one of the great experiences that I hope to never forget.   It was an amazing day!

We have a general tendency to avoid the obviously touristy places and their crowds, but Zion was the place that showed me that it is possible to have a great experience even when the place is packed with tourists.  In this case, the park has set itself up to serve the tourists in a very effective way, dealing with the bottlenecks of crowds arriving in large numbers at peak times, and also having most of these tourists passing through a couple of points of entry and through a single visitor center.  There is a shuttle bus service which ensures that you do not have to rush through the park in your car causing unnecessary pollution and also frustration in finding places to park during the day.  Furthermore, the type of people who come to these places tend to be outdoorsy types, respectful of the space that they are in, and respectful of other people who are visiting.   They all also seemed to be well prepared for their outdoor activities with what they were wearing and what they were carrying. Once people get dispersed to the various spaces in the park and take to the longer and more challenging trails the crowds dissipate, and except for the popular trails, all is good.  The system seems to work in spite of the volumes of traffic.

The day started out with very cold temperatures.  We had packed warmly for the outing.  We need not have been concerned about the weather.  Once we got to the park and got moving everything turned out well.

We headed north out of town on US 89. We reached Zion taking Utah Highway9 from US 89.  At the entrance to the park the color of the road surface actually changed to a shade of brown. I do not remember seeing such a surface anywhere else.  The speed limit dropped as the road began to wind through the hills.  We began to see the mountains on the east side of the park.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe reached the 1.1 mile Mt. Carmel tunnel that takes you across the mountain to the western side of the park.  The tunnel was completed in 1930 and provided a way through the mountains in this section of the mountains for the first time.  The tunnel is quite narrow.  They were running one-way traffic when we arrived, probably because a bus and an RV were trying to get through.  They would take up both lanes.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the picture below you can see one of the holes that was blasted in the side of the  mountain to provide a view point from the tunnel.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs soon as the road crosses the tunnel, it switchbacks it way to the bottom of the canyon in a very dramatic way.  You can pull over to the side of the road in many places and you can get views like this.  These colorful mountains tower over the narrow canyon.  It is awe inspiring.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe went to the Visitor Center to get ourselves oriented and figure out where we were going.  We decided to take the shuttle bus to its last stop, The temple of Sinawava, to take the Riverside Walk.  You get a lot of information on the bus during this 40 minute ride, and you can enjoy fabulous views from the bottom of the canyon, including this picture of the mountains called the Patriarchs, including the three peaks, Jacob, Abraham, and Issac.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou also pass the a peak that is probably called Angels Landing.  It is the terminal point for the Angels Landing trail, a climb of 1488 feet over really challenging terrain that is not for the weak of heart.  A one point you will be climbing and walking on open rock high over this open space, completely exposed, with only a metal chain railing to grab on to.  Other younger people in the family have done this trail in the past.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAZion’s canyon was formed by the Virgin river that flows along its bottom.  Over millions of years the river has cut its way down through many layers of rock.  The place can become dangerous when the river floods.  The river was calm during our visit.  The riverside walk was very crowded, but there was always the opportunity to go off the trail and find a calm space beside the river itself.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the end point of the trail, one can proceed further into the canyon by walking in the river itself.  You can go for miles, and many young people had come prepared to do this.  It sounded like fun, but not something we could indulge in today.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had something to eat as we sat by the river side.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter this hike we took the bus to the stop for the hike to Weeping rock.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe hike to Weeping Rock was short but it was quite challenging in parts.  At the end of the hike you find yourself in a rock alcove with dripping springs.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next hike started at the same place.  We climbed up the mountain you see in the picture below on the East Rim Trail to Echo Slot Canyon.  We had to climb up to the trees that you see in the picture below.  Basically, one is going up the face of the mountain that you are looking at using extended switchbacks.  You have a view of the valley below as you are climbing.  This proved to be a very challenging effort but quite rewarding. We took it slow and easy, with plenty of stops.  Lots of young people passed us on the way up, but speed was not the goal here.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a view of the valley as we started the climb.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a picture of Weeping rock, the place we had gone to earlier, as we climbed the East Rim Trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a view of the valley when we finally reached the top of this section of the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe trail then continued on the other side, behind the open face of the mountain, in an opening between two cliffs.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou could see the slot canyon below you in places.  They looked difficult to navigate, but it apparently can be done.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter passing through the gap in the mountains, you arrive at an open space on the other side.  We declared success at this point and turned to head back to the trail head. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy GPS device was having all kinds of issues during this climb, either because of the terrain, or because of a bad software download.  So I do not know how much ground we covered.  The hike took a couple of hours. We probably walked only about three miles in all, but we might have climbed about a thousand feet.

We were exhausted after this hike, but it was quite exhilarating to have done it.  The rest of our stay in the park was just icing on the cake.

The next walk was on the Lower Emerald Pool Trail.  It was somewhat unremarkable.  The trail was crowded.

We took the shuttle bus back to the museum to watch the movie about the park, and then walked back to the Visitor Center on the Pa’rus trail that ran along the canyon floor close to the river.  These pictures are from the walk.  We walked amidst the mountains.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are plenty of camping sites at Zion National Park, and it looked like all of them were occupied.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe last stop was at the gift store to get a replacement light jacket for the one that I had left behind at the security check at Dulles Airport on the way in.

Then it was time to head back to Kanab for the night.  It took a long time to get out of the park because we were stuck in a long line of cars, slowed down because of a couple of drivers who did not seem to have the good sense to pull over when they got a chance to let the others through.

We walked over to Luo’s Cafe, close to the hotel that we were staying at, for our first dinner of Chinese food during this trip.  It all went down quickly because we were very hungry.  Back at the hotel, we took our baths and crashed out.  I, of course, spent some time processing some pictures for this blog.

We are heading north to Bryce National Park today.  It is going to be colder today than yesterday!

Colorado and Utah by Car – Day 9 (To the North Rim of The Grand Canyon)

As I mentioned before, the hotel we were staying at in Page, AZ, seemed to be brand new.  Additionally, they had a good hot breakfast. The breakfast location downstairs was crowded even early in the morning with a lot of tourists who seemed to be getting ready for outdoor activities. Lots of people from other countries! We even saw some people from India who were up early.  Page was the first place during our trip when we started seeing a lot of Indians.

We got an early start leaving for the location of Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado river, just a few minutes outside of town. Unfortunately the parking lot was already starting to get full that early.  Buses seemed to be disgorging droves of Chinese tourists, and of course there were people of all other nationalities, all climbing the hill from the parking lot to get to the spot to see the horseshoe bend.  It was a crazy scene.  People were stopping all over the place to take pictures of their families.  Folks were marching along with selfie sticks in their hand.  One guy even had a GoPro video camera attached to his head as he walked.  I took my pictures and we fled the scene!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was only then that Teresa realized that we had left our leftover pizza from last night that was going to be our lunch today back in the fridge in the hotel. Rather than waste food, we took a quick detour back to the hotel to retrieve the leftovers before we finally began our trip to the northern rim of the Grand Canyon.

We headed south on US 89. As some point the road dropped from the high plain that we were on to a big valley below through a cut in the rock.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the bottom of the hill, we turned off US 89 on to US 89A heading north through the valley.  You an see the gap in the hillside that we had driven through earlier.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were surrounded by colorful cliffs as we drove into the valley in a direction that seemed to have no way out of the valley.  Here are the Vermillion Cliffs that we were driving towards.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe road started to loop around at the end of the valley, and we crossed the Colorado river at Marble Canyon. The bridge to the left is called Navajo Bridge.  It was built in the 1920s.  The one on the right is the more modern replacement built in 1995 for handling today’s traffic.  It was deliberately built in the style of the original bridge.  The Navajo bridge is considered the 9th highest bridge in the US.  You can walk on the bridge today, and The US Department of the Interior maintains an Interpretive Center beside the bridge, which is where I took this picture from.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe road now turns south and runs beside Vermillion Cliffs.  You pass the small town of Lees Ferry.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the southern end of the Vermillion Cliffs you pass by a place where Cliff dwellers used to live.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe road then turns right and heads west through the valley towards the distant plateau and the Kaibab National Forest.  The whole time the speed limit on the road remains at 65 miles per hour, but the moment it enters National parkland and starts winding its way up and into the the mountains on the other side of the valley, it becomes slow once again.  The vegetation begins to change as you climb and you start to see evergreens all around you.  We are out of the plains!

In a short while you reach an intersection at Jacob Lake, and you turn left to head south on Arizona Highway 67 into the Grand Canyon National Park.  On the way one passes through a section of Kaibab that seems to have suffered a lot of fire damage.  You pass high altitude meadows lined by evergreens with a lot of open space beside the road.  It takes about an hour to get to the entrance of the park.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs we were driving toward the Visitor Center, we saw something happen on the winding roads that was unexpected. We were headed downhill when we thought we saw a car cross the road below us.  Both of us thought there must be another road at the bottom of the hill.  It turned out that the car had actually run off the road and down the slope on the side of the road into some trees.  I caught a quick glimpse of the vehicle as we went by.  The front seemed to be smashed in.  The vehicle in front of us had managed to find a narrow space to pull over to help, but I could see no place to pull over myself.  There seemed to be no cellphone coverage at that point.  We proceeded toward to the Visitor Center with haste to report the incident.  We were a little shaken up ourselves.  We found out later in the day that the people in the car were OK.  That was a relief.

I had managed to find a parking spot close to the visitor center. There were a lot of people visiting.  I was surprised because the north rim is considered less accessible and popular than the south rim.  (Incidentally, it is over 200 miles by road to get from one to the other, even though the absolute distance between the two spots is much less.  You have to get around the canyon!)

We found a place to consume our cold pizza near the parking lot and proceeded to the Bright Angel Point trail. This very short trail is deceptively challenging.  There are some steep slopes, but the more difficult aspect is dealing with the fear of heights.  You are walking on a narrow ledge over a very deep canyon. They have handrails in the sections where there are drop offs on both sides, but otherwise you are exposed and you have to watch out for the mind games that may prevent you from making progress.  At the end of the walk you end up standing in an open space overlooking the canyon on three sides. It is stunning!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is actually scary to see scenes like this while you are walking this trail.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou get an idea of scale when you see the people on the ledge at the upper right side of the picture below.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA few of the mountains in front of us are named after Hindu gods.  All the way in the background is the southern rim of the canyon.  The Visitor Center for the South Rim is closer to the right side of the picture.  The Colorado river flows in the canyon closer to the south rim.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are not many trails to walk on the ridge on which the Visitor Center is located.  We ended up doing a short loop going out on the Trancept Trail and returning on the Bridle path.  On the way we passed some deer (I think they are mule deer) close to the trail.  They were not afraid of us.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe aspen trees look very beautiful this time of year.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are other very challenging trails on the northern rim if one wanders away from the visitors center, including the north Kaibab Trail that you can use to get to the bottom of the canyon and perhaps cross over to the other side.  But we were done with hiking for the day! We drove out and took a side road to Imperial point, the highest point in the Grand Canyon (8803 feet).  The wind was howling as we got out of the car and the temperatures were beginning to fall precipitously.  We did not spend too much time outside.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd then it was time to head towards Kanab, UT, our stop for the night.

The sun was setting as we approached Fredonia, the town on US 89A at the northern border of Arizona.  We entered Kanab immediately as we crossed the border and found out hotel at the southern edge of town.  Once again, it looked like a brand new facility.  We are spending two nights here.

Having left Navajo country some time early during the day, we had crossed back into our original time zone, which meant that it was later in the day that I expected.

We went around looking for a place to eat and realized too late that most places were closed, most likely because it was Sunday evening.  The town looked small, but the broad roads and its wide blocks with smaller one story buildings also gave it a sense of emptiness on this Sunday evening.  We did find a Subway eventually and got some food to bring back to the hotel.

We are visiting the nearby Zion National Park today.  The temperature is below freezing right now, but there is nothing we can do about that.  It will get warmer during the day. We will head out as soon as we are ready.