Saturday, May 28, 2011


May 20, 2011:  After breakfast at the condo and packing a cooler for lunch, we headed off to Zion National Park (53 degrees F under partly sunny skies).  It's about an hour's drive from St. George, passing through the little towns of Hurricane, La Verkin, Rockville and Springdale.  Taking advantage of our national park pass, we cruised into the park and found a spot at the visitors' center lots.  From April through October, private vehicles are not allowed on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive but they have a fleet of free shuttlebuses that go up and down the canyon, letting lookyloos and serious hikers off at eight different spots.

Looking out from under Weeping Rock

Our first stop was at Weeping Rock.  There's a short (.5 mile round trip) paved trail through the forest up to an overhanging rock with dripping springs cascading down the cliff faces.  In the heat of the summer, this must be a wonderfully cool and humid spot; at our visit, it was beautiful but a little chilly, especially when the droplets found their way down the backs of our necks.  Small tenacious plants cling to the cliffs, drinking in all the moisture, and it's an amazingly verdant spot in the desert.

We next got off at Big Bend.  There wasn't a walk there but an overlook of a big bend in the Virgin River rushing through Zion Canyon.  We could see large birds wheeling overhead on the updrafts: the narrator on the shuttlebus said that there was a sizable population of California condors in ZNP but we couldn't tell if those were what we were looking for or the more common turkey vultures.  Big Bend is right below the summit of Angels Landing, a trail so steep that early explorers thought only angels could land up there.  Nowadays it's a popular trail, although dangerous with long dropoffs: we've heard that someone falls off every year or so.

The cliffs above Big Bend (amazingly, not a cloud in sight)

The top of the scenic drive is at the Temple of Sinawava where the canyon narrows considerably.  There's a waterfall and a 1.1 mile paved walk along the river.  The River Walk leads to the Narrows Trail which continues along the river up the canyon, but the Narrows was closed due to high water.  We strolled the River Walk, shady and green, accompanied by the sound of the rushing Virgin River.  The clouds gathered and it rained on us just as we got back to the shuttle bus stop, so the bus was crowded and damp for several stops until we drove out of the rain.

After a quick tailgate lunch in the parking lot (quick because it started to rain again), we drove the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway, running from near the visitors' center to the east entrance to the park, marvelling at the high cliffs, numerous waterfalls and the impressive tunnel cut through the mountains.  Having gotten to see all we could from the car - it was now 48 and raining - we left the park and checked out the historic sites in nearby Leeds and Harrisburg (mostly old buildings from the mid/late 1800s) and the ghost town at Silver Reef.  Silver Reef was one of the only places where silver was found in sandstone and at the town's heyday, there were 1,000 people living there.  Now, only a few mining ruins and a couple of restored buildings are left, surrounded by some truly hideous McMansions.

Back at the condo we had drinks on the balcony - bourbon slushes! - because the sun had come out for a bit.  Not enough that anyone wanted to try out the pools, but still, the warmth and light was welcome.  We dined that evening at another pub, then returned to the condo for some highly competitive Quiddler.  Then early to bed for the next day we were off to Snow Canyon State Park.

Too cold for swimmin'

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