Grand Canyon North Rim to Zion National Park, UT

Grand Canyon North Rim to Zion National Park, Springdale, UT

Friday, July 28, 2006 … 123 Camper Miles – Total 4,418

Bright & sunny, 60 deg when we left, mid 90s as we arrived at Zion, heavy rain late afternoon

This morning we were up by 5:45 and on the road by 7:00. (That’s not a usual wake-up time for either of us and we should explain that Arizona does not use daylight savings time. We were still used to it, however, so the hour did not seen so early.) We stopped at an inn/restaurant just outside the park for breakfast and were on our way toward Zion National Park.

One of our needs along the way was to get a supply of cash. We could have used some while on the North Rim but the nearest ATM is 70 miles away in the town of Kanab! While there we also picked up a few groceries and a replacement brake-light bulb for the car. Along the drive we stopped at a few scenic overlooks. It seemed that each one had at least one Navajo artist/vendor with a small stand set up. These folks are not particularly intrusive and they usually have attractive wares of their own making but seems awkward, somehow, to impose even that slight pressure to buy in those public places.

Famous Checkerboard Mesa In Zion

As we approached the eastern entrance to Zion, it was even more breathtaking than it had been along the rest of the drive. (The scenery out here is almost always amazing and it seems to change around every bend. It’s almost hard not to become jaded.) We began our descent into the canyon, passing huge slick-rock mountains with a checkerboard erosion pattern. The route then enters a long, narrow, unlit tunnel that is too small to have two large campers pass each other inside. Rangers control traffic on both ends to allow the largest campers to pass through, unimpeded by opposing traffic.

We got to the campground area and were fortunate to secure a site in Watchman Campground that had electricity! That was nice because it was pretty hot and we’d be able to use the air conditioning if needed. We turned it on immediately! Also, we noticed Mica & Emily’s VW Westphalia camper (the couple from Boston) just a couple of sites away.

Zion is following the pattern of several other busy National Parks by restricting traffic on their roads and instituting a shuttle-bus system to transport folks around the park. Their system is excellent! The roads are safe for bicycles and walkers and the busses are frequent enough, every eight minutes or so during busy times, that the wait is rarely annoying. Zion has lots of interesting day hikes of all difficulty levels with trailheads along the bus route. We first hiked the moderate Kayenta Trail, hooking up with trails to the Upper and Middle Emerald Pool Trails (they were actually more like brown pools). The upper pool has a lovely, high, slender waterfall that feeds it and the pool is big enough to swim though swimming is prohibited. 

Sandy Walks Through Slot On Way To Emerald Pools

After that, we walked the easy, River Side Walk into the fabled Narrows. The Narrows is simply where the Virgin River’s canyon becomes a slot, getting too narrow for a trail alongside the river. The popular activity is to hike up the canyon through the water, sometimes ankle deep, sometimes chest high. Outfitters in the small town of Springdale, just outside the park’s south entrance, rent special water shoes and hiking sticks for people to use on this hike. Of course, like most canyons, this one is subject to flash floods. Since it was late in the day, the skies were getting dark, there was lots of thunder and it was beginning to rain, we thought better than to attempt that hike this day.

We hurried back the one-mile trail to catch the shuttle back down the canyon. As we got aboard, the heavens really opened up and it poured. As we watched, waterfalls began appearing, pouring huge streams of water over the canyon walls. It was really beautiful. If you’re ever here and it begins to rain, immediately jump into a shuttle-bus and head up the canyon!

Making Our Way Up Toward Narrows

The heavy rain continued for about two hours and we were soaked by the time we got back to the camper. Afterwards, it cleared off and cooled down and we took a short walk along the now raging, cement-colored Virgin River next to the campground. You could actually hear boulders tumbling down the stream bed. It was hard to believe that just a few hours earlier the water had been clear and that kids had been swimming and tubing lazily down this same stream! We had to believe that some of the folks we’d seen wading up the Narrows had a dicey time getting out safely.

We saw Emily and Mica back at their camper so we invited them to join us in a chicken stir-fry for dinner. We all had fun comparing notes with the Dutch families camping next to us. Before we knew it, we’d polished off more than our share of beer and wine and had to clean up dinner dishes in the dark. It was a very nice evening.

Zion National Park

Saturday, July 29, 2006 … 0 Camper Miles – Total 4,418

Cloudy but pleasant am, mid 80s and sunny afternoon

We decided that we’d hike the Hidden Canyon Trail this day. We took the shuttle-bus up the canyon and got off at the appropriate stop. This trail climbs the canyon wall and enters a narrow hanging canyon where you can walk for another half mile or so. The trail is quite a climb, following lots of switchbacks and narrow ledges (some with long chains as hand-holds) on the way up. There are a couple of superb overlooks on the way up, too. Near the first overlook we met Donna & Bill from Houston, TX, and walked the rest of the trail with them. It was fun working our way up the slot canyon, usually on a sandy bottom but periodically having to scramble over boulders that blocked the way.

Sandy Poses On “Wide” Portion Of Hidden Canyon Trail
Climbing Bolder Obstacle In Hidden Canyon

After coming back down we decided to also do the Weeping Rock Trail. This climbs to an alcove with a large seep spring that appears to be “weeping”. It is densely covered with ferns and other water-loving plants. On the way back down the canyon, we stopped by Zion Lodge with it’s beautiful, shaded lawn. Tons of people were sitting on the lawn in the shade munching on food they’d purchased at the Lodge’s snack bar.

Bill Clowns Around On Eroded Sandstone Wall
Ahh, Lovebirds Together In Canyon

We returned to the camper for a quick bite and then drove into Springdale to get showers; there are none in the park. In the town, we discovered that our cell phones worked and, lo and behold, we had several messages each. It turned out that there were two very urgent situations back home!

The first was that Bill’s dad was in the hospital. His problem had been diagnosed as a problem gall bladder and he was being scheduled for surgery to remove it. Over the next few days they first did laparoscopic surgery to open a bile duct. Next day they started laparoscopic surgery which they escalated to open surgery to remove the gall bladder. Needless to say, Dad was very sore, sick of a liquid diet and, too boot, had an extremely sore, stiff neck. He was released a couple of days after surgery. What with brother, Charley, and sisters Ellen and Betsy, taking turns staying with Mom and Dad at home and with neighbors and friends contributing meals and other help as they could, we didn’t feel too bad about not being home to help. Get well quickly, dad!

The other situation concerned a huge oak tree that stood between our home and our neighbor, Cheryl’s home. One third of the tree fell into Cheryl’s front yard, doing very little damage. Each of the other thirds sagged perilously close to the roofs of our respective homes, threatening serious damage. Neighbor and close friend, Terri, immediately contacted a tree surgeon who brought in a huge crane and slings, supporting both limbs clear of the houses until the next day when they could remove the branches. Tree guys arrived the following day with another crane and huge chippers and brought down the two offending branches and chipped up the small limbs. Just the small limbs, NOT including the main trunk or large branches, amounted to nine TONS of chips! Eventually, the main trunk was cut down (with great difficulty) and the stump chipped out. Once again, we were thankful for great friends like Terri and for family, including Pam and Jackie, who handled a very difficult situation in our absence.

After all that, we spent an hour or so exploring the neat, small town of Springdale. It has lots of small, specialty shops and restaurants. We paid for showers at one of the river rafting outfitters and returned to camp for a very pleasant evening with burgers and salad for dinner. Later, we visited with Mica & Emily before turning in for the night.

We both LOVED Zion National Park. Because access to the park is through the bottom of the canyon, it makes it very easy to relate to the place. The hiking is great and there are interesting trails to suit nearly anyone’s abilities and desires. We were told that the park would be hot this time of year and it was. However, we found we didn’t mind it very much while we were hiking. Many of the trails are at least partly shaded and we had some breeze that helped. It is a beautiful place, one not to miss.

Zion National Park to Cedar Breaks National Monument, Brian Head, UT

Sunday, July 30, 2006 … 74 Camper Miles – Total 4,492

Partly cloudy am, 66 deg at noon, mid 80s afternoon, heavy rain, thunder and lightning far into the night

We were on the road by 9:30, headed for Cedar Breaks National Monument. Dad had told us that it was a “not to miss” on our way to Bryce Canyon. Along the way, we saw quite a varied landscape, including huge rock formations, heavily forested lands, alpine meadows, lava flows and cinder cones. Arriving at Cedar Breaks, we had to agree with Dad that it was a real gem. The colors and formations of the rock in the amphitheater-shaped canyon were astounding. And, at an altitude of around 9,500 feet, it had a sub-alpine type forest that we’d not experienced before.

Looking Down Into Cedar Breaks
Bristlecone Pine Drips Sap

We decided to stay in the small campground overnight so that we could take time to walk the Alpine Pond wildflower trail in the park. There, we found a profusion of wildflowers of many varieties like we’d not seen before on this trip. We loved it! In addition, we got to see several other overlooks of the amphitheater, the highest one of which was at an elevation of 10,435 feet. Each one was prettier and more colorful than the last. Bill got to saying that it was actually stupid, how beautiful the area was.

Sandy Among Flowers Along Alpine Pond Trail
A Few Of The More Colorful Rocks In The Breaks
Just Couldn’t Resist Another “Colors” Picture

Afterwards, we started to drive up the dirt road to Brian Head, an overlook just beyond the north end of the park. We were hearing thunder and seeing distant lightning, though, and decided that standing on this high precipice in the face of an approaching thunderstorm might not be prudent. So we continued north, through rain and a short bit of hail to explore the little town of Brian’s Head. We were surprised to find it was actually a ski village. Not much was happening, though, so after a short stop in the general store we returned to the campground for a dinner of Thai noodles and veggie stir-fry.

The park’s interpretive ranger stopped by to remind us of the evening’s program, “What’s Bugging the Trees?” and we decided to attend. It was just us and three kids from another campsite who showed up for the talk. The ranger explained why we’d seen so many dead spruce trees (many thousands) in the park. The problem was due to the spruce bark beetle. The long-standing policy of strict fire suppression had made this park vulnerable to problems, too. Instead of a fire, though, the crowded and, therefore, weakened trees in the forest had been unable to fight off this tiny beetle. In the extreme, the beetle completely girdles the cambium layer under the bark, interrupting water and nutrient flow and killing the tree. That happened to nearly all the spruce trees in the park.

Near the end of the program the power failed and the Visitor Center where the presentation was made was plunged into darkness. A few minutes later we learned that the two roads exiting the park to the west were closed due to landslides caused by the heavy rain. We headed back to the camper and to bed. It seemed that the extremely heavy lightning, thunder and rain continued most of the night. The next morning we each admitted about being concerned about the dead spruce trees that nearly surrounded our little “tin tent”!