Wednesday morning: I drove the 75 miles from Bryce to Zion, arriving while it was still morning. I entered the park through the East Entrance, which includes a 1.1-mile tunnel through a sandstone mountain, which, when completed in 1930, was the longest tunnel in the U.S. The tunnel and the road were actually constructed to make it easier for tourists to access Zion from Bryce and from the Grand Canyon.
The tunnel is rather narrow and has no lights, so if a wide RV wants to go through, they make the tunnel one-way until it passes through. But the tunnel wasn’t that intimidating for a car.
This feature is called Checkerboard Mesa. The pattern is natural. (I actually took these East Entrance photos on Friday morning.)
Passing through the tunnel and looking back:
Another shot from the eastern side of the park. [That’s Datura inoxia in the foreground, a plant native to South and Central America, but introduced to Utah by the Mormons.]
I arrived at the campground and quickly confirmed that there were still camp sites available, as I had guessed from my conversation with the ranger at Bryce. I selected a site and set up my tent.
Unlike Bryce, Zion did not have a camp store and did not have showers in the park. A store was located a short distance outside of the park, and showers were also available outside the park. I have no idea how a park decides what amenities to offer visitors/campers. I can imagine that the businesses outside the park would not be happy if Zion granted a license for someone to open a camp store/shower facility within the park, but at Bryce, there were also businesses located a short distance outside the park, which no doubt lost business to Bryce’s camp store.
The road that enters the park through the East Entrance, State Road 9, continues on through the park and exits to the west, continuing on to Interstate I-15. Branching north off the east-west State Road 9 is
the park’s Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, which runs into the canyon. For the Spring through the Fall, this road is only open to the park’s shuttle service, to minimize vehicular traffic in the park. Bryce Canyon had a voluntary shuttle service, but it was of limited scope and I did not use it. That is, it traveled between the Visitor Center, Lodge, and the Bryce Amphitheater, but did not travel to the southern terminus of the park road, and thus did not visit many of the overlooks that I enjoyed, or the trailheads at Bristlecone Loop Trail or into Swamp Canyon. However, at Zion, the shuttle service ran from the Visitor Center (which was close to my campsite) to the far end of that Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, which was where the most popular hikes are.
I checked in at the Zion Visitor Center to learn what ranger-led programs were available. There was a ranger-narrated shuttle ride at 6:00 that evening, so I signed up for that. I also learned that there had been a rock slide that morning that had wiped out 50’ of the Weeping Rock Trail, a short (1/2 mile trail), and so the rangers had closed it for repair.
While only 75 miles away from Bryce, Zion is very different. Geologically, there has been more erosion here, so a deeper strata of rock is exposed here than at Bryce. The Grand Canyon is a lower strata than Zion. These stepped-down rock layers from Bryce to Zion to the Grand Canyon are referred to as the “Grand Staircase.”
Whereas Bryce had red Navajo sandstone, Zion had darker rock. At first I didn’t think that Zion was as pretty as Bryce, but it grew on me. Zion does have a river, the Virgin River, running through the canyon, which is also different from Bryce, which is typically dry. Another difference is that at Bryce, the park road runs along the top of the canyon, and hikers hike down into the canyons. At Zion, the park road runs along the bottom of the canyon, and hikers hike up to the tops of the cliffs. The elevation at the campgrounds was probably around 4,000 feet, about half the elevation of the campgrounds at Bryce. This led to a much warmer environment. Whereas temperatures dropped to 42 a couple of nights at Bryce, the temperatures were around 70 or in the 70s during my two nights at Zion. I did not think the days were much warmer, though.
I rode the shuttle to the most northern stop on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. This was the “Temple of Sinawava,” the trailhead for the Riverside Walk. The trail appears in the lower right of the photo below, and there are not many elevation changes.
Moving down the trail, I spotted a non-venomous gopher snake. They eat mice, rats and other rodents. Unfortunately, the photo isn’t focused that well.
At the end of the Riverside Walk, the canyon becomes too narrow to have a dry trail running alongside the river. This was the end of the hike for me, but not for others. “The Narrows” continues to run for 10 miles or so. Visitors were welcome to wade through the river a while if they wanted to, though if they intended to hike the entire distance through The Narrows, they needed to register with the Park Service, and arrange for a ride at each end.
The park recommended waders and also a staff or poles if one wished to go into the Narrows, and lacking either, I passed. If I’d had more time there, I would have loved to continue. I didn’t see anyone with waders. I guess people didn’t mind getting their boots soaked. As I only had one pair of boots with me, I wasn’t about to do that. Many people had staffs or poles; I don’t know if they all had joint problems, or if there’s a belief that such equipment can help prevent such problems. I can understand having such equipment in a river, where you can’t necessarily see every rock or know how stable the rocks are, but people were also using staffs and poles on the other trails at Bryce and Zion, and it seemed odd to me.
Here are some people who don’t mind getting their boots wet:
This was a shot looking up between the canyon walls along the Riverside Walk. There might have been a bit of an overhang here.
At Bryce, I had seen many chipmunks, but few squirrels. At Zion, this was reversed. This squirrel was standing on top of a rock, and was chirping loudly and repeatedly. I’m not used to squirrels being vocal and shot a couple of seconds of video of him. I’ll have more to say about this guy a little later.
This is another view from the Riverside Walk, showing the Virgin River and Zion Canyon.
I then rode the shuttle back four stops to the Zion Lodge, a beautiful place for people who don’t like sleeping in tents:
A ranger was giving a talk on the lawn about different mammals that may be encountered in the region, and he had a number of pelts with him. The talk was very interesting. If I remember correctly, the pelts represent: wolf, coyote, badger, fox, beaver, skunk, bobcat, cougar. He said that coyotes were brilliant, and that skunks were very sweet animals!
I returned to my campsite for dinner, then went to the Visitor Center at 6:00 for the ranger-guided tour. We rode a shuttle back along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, repeating the same trip I’d done on my own a couple of hours earlier. We stopped a few times and she spoke, but I was not that impressed with that program.
Here are random photographs that I took along the way.
One of the other tourists told the ranger that he had seen a big fat squirrel sitting on a rock along the Riverside Walk. She said that the rangers called that squirrel Buddha. I showed her the video in my camera of the chirping squirrel, and she thought that was Buddha.
After the tour, the shuttle returned to the Visitor Center, and I went back to the campground, watched some video and eventually went to sleep.
Next: Angel’s Landing.