Here is another of my favorite photos from my road trip.
I was in Zion National Park in October looking for Bighorn Sheep, and I found them! This young one looked so at home on his slick rock perch.
In a story that is probably familiar if you have read my histories of Zion and Canyonlands National Parks, the first inhabitants at Arches arrived about 10,000 years ago. They were nomadic, but they found deposits of quartz stone that are perfect for making stone tools; their piles of discarded quartz are still visible to the trained eye.
Next, the Puebloan and Fremont peoples moved in around 2,000 years ago to farm maize, beans and squash. They left few dwellings though, so researches suspect they may have only used the park as a seasonal residence. And like other dwelling sites in the Four Corners area, they seem to have left by about 700 years ago. Both cultures left rock art and pottery to tell the story of their existence here.
Like at Canyonlands, the Ute and Pauite peoples used the area after the Puebloan and Fremont cultures left; they were here when the first Europeans arrived in 1776. They left pictographs of men on horses, which are easy to date to after the 1500s when the Spanish first brought horses to the area from Mexico. The Utes and Pauites are thought to have only lived here seasonally as well.
As you learned in my Canyonlands history post, trappers were the next to arrive, followed by Mormon missionaries in 1855, and then finally by settlers and ranchers in the 1880s. Interest in the park grew, and the push began for federal protection in the 1920s. 4,520 acres were set aside as a National Monument by President Herbert Hoover on April 12, 1929. The area was expanded several times over the years, and in 1971, President Nixon substantially reduced the overall acreage of the park, but re-designated it as a National Park. Arches today consists of over 76,000 acres.
To be honest, I was surprised to learn that Arches became a National Park 7 years after Canyonlands, as Arches is certainly the more famous park. Over a million visitors come to Arches each year, compared to slightly fewer than a half million per year for Canyonlands. It must be the arches that are the draw.
The arches are created when a solid slab of sandstone begins to crack over time. Water get into the cracks and erodes the rocks, and sometimes freezes and expands the cracks, eventually forming fins. These fins sometimes erode in a way that leaves an arch above after the center below has eroded away. Then you have an arch. The last stage in the process is when the arch collapses. Of course, the arches aren’t the only feature of the park; Arches has sandstone towers, hoodoos and sand dunes too. They all have their own unique beauty.
To give you an idea of how remote some areas of the park still are, in 1970 the Arches official brochure indicated that Arches National Monument had “nearly 90” arches. In 1973, a geological survey team established a method for documenting the locations of all the arches in the park, and went out exploring the park to see how many they could find – there are now over 2,000 arches recorded. Since 1970 however, 43 arches have collapsed due to the ever present forces of erosion – which one will be next?
In my next post I’ll tell you about our hike out to Delicate Arch! Have you ever been to Arches National Park?
In my last post, we left off having lunch on the patio of the Zion Lodge…
After we ate, we took some photos of the Zion Lodge. The original lodge was built in 1924 with milled lumber and stonework. It was intended to provide a rustic lodge look without being over the top in grandeur and overpowering the landscape. At the time, there were still several settlers with homes on the canyon floor. Several cabins were added in 1927, and 1929, and employee dormitories were built in the complex between 1929 and 1937. Unfortunately the original lodge burned in 1966 – a replacement was built immediately, but wasn’t remodeled to look like the original building until 1990. The cabins and dormitories are the originals.
We still wanted to do a little more hiking so we checked out the Emerald Pools Trail next. There are 3 Emerald Pools – the first one is 0.6 miles out for a round trip of 1.2 miles. There is a footbridge that crosses over the Virgin River at the trail head, and a paved trail. There are some hills on this trail, but nothing too strenuous. We got to the pool and I promptly renamed it the Emerald Mud Puddle. I was not impressed – it was not the right time of the year to see this beauty in its full glory. But that’s ok, because coming from Washington, we have lots of spectacular waterfalls and pools at home.
We didn’t go up to the second or third pool because we had already hiked about 6 miles at that point, but I was surprised to learn that more people have actually died falling from the Emerald Pools Trail than at Angels Landing. I guess you can’t let your guard down anywhere at Zion – who would have thought?
Once we got back from the mud puddle – er… pool – we got on the shuttle back to the Visitor’s Center, got our car, and headed over to the Kolob Canyons section of the park. This section is more wooded and not as visually dramatic as the main tourist section. As a result it was much quieter and less traveled. It does have the tallest mountain in the park though – Horse Ranch Mountain at an elevation of 8,726 feet. One of the guidebooks I read before the trip suggested a hike called the Taylor Creek Trail that leads you past two settler’s cabins from the 1930s. If we were doing another day in the park, we certainly would have checked out that trail. It is about 4 miles, and looked like a nice, moderately difficult hike.
On our drive through Kolob Canyons, we even saw a wild turkey! She was just off the side of the road, but she was a little shy when I rolled down the window to get some photos, so the photo below was the best we could do. Kolob Canyons has a Visitor’s Center, but we got over there after it had closed for the day, so I don’t know if it has its own National Parks Passport stamp. I bet it does; they usually do. That just means I’ll have to come back! All in all, it was a fantastic day at Zion. We had perfect weather – the high was in the mid-60s, so it wasn’t too hot when we were hiking in the sun. I hated to leave.
Our last bit of the day was spent traveling up to Cedar City (we stayed there instead of Springdale to get a jump on the next day’s driving) and we made our way to the next Super 8 of the trip. When we checked in, we discovered that there was a smoke detector in the room next door chirping – what is it with Super 8’s and smoke detectors? I probably don’t want to know. We had a few errands to run, so the clerk at the front desk told us that he would either fix it before we got back, or move us to another room.
Then off we went to the only electronics store in town, Walmart, to see if we could get a new cord for our GPS, since ours was no longer charging the device. Kenny didn’t have a Garmin cord, but he was able to find us a universal adapter that fit into the Garmin’s mini USB port. It worked! And we were back in navigational business.
Jon didn’t feel like eating dinner out, so we got deli sandwiches, snacks and fruit, and went looking for some beer and wine. This is when we discovered a quirk that we didn’t know about Utah and alcohol. Apparently, Utah does not permit sales of alcohol with higher than a 3.2% alcohol by weight in grocery stores or on taps in bars. Apparently you also have to order food at the same time as you order alcohol in a bar or restaurant.
For those of us that live in states where alcohol is primarily measured as alcohol by volume, 3.2% alcohol by weight is equivalent to 4.0% alcohol by volume. Jon was craving a stout beer that night, but instead left empty handed because he was disappointed by the less than robust selection. There wasn’t a bottle of wine to be seen in the grocery store – you have to purchase wine at the liquor store, which of course was already closed. So we struck out…
When we got back, our hotel clerk had successfully fixed the chirping smoke detector, so we were able to eat our dinner in peace and watch a bit of TV. Then it was off to bed for a good night’s sleep and another early morning wake up.
We were headed to Canyonlands the next day!
Between March and October, visitors to the Zion Canyon section of Zion National Park are not permitted to drive into the Canyon. You can park at the visitor’s center, and get on one of several propane fueled shuttle buses that ferry visitors in the Canyon. This was implemented in the 1990s in an attempt to cut down on pollution and the effects of so many vehicles in this fragile ecosystem. The buses come along frequently, and were often standing room only. We took a bus out to the Grotto stop, which is where the Angels Landing hike begins.
I had read about Angels Landing before we left on the trip and wanted to challenge my fear of heights. It is one of the most strenuous hikes in the park, with a round trip length of 5.4 miles up a mountain on switchbacks to the top, where you are rewarded with an amazing view of the canyon below. We hiked up an unpaved trail, which then becomes paved as the trail gets steeper. Then we hiked through Refrigerator Canyon, which is a shady area which often has a nice cooling breeze. The breeze was lovely when we got there, after getting hot and sweaty in the sun on the way up.
Then we got to Walter’s Wiggles, which are a series of steep, paved switchbacks cut into the rock. Walter’s Wiggles are a series of 21 steep switchbacks that are named after the first superintendent of Zion National Park, who helped engineer the switchbacks. To be honest, I don’t remember there being 21 of them! After tackling Walter’s Wiggles, we made it to Scout Lookout, a beautiful area at the top of the rock.
Here, at Scout Lookout, you have to decide whether you are going to continue the last half mile out to Angels Landing. The last round trip mile of the hike, for those who are not faint of heart, is a part-hike, part-scramble up a slick rock slope, across a narrow ridge of rock, onto Angels Landing. There are chains embedded in the rock to help you out, but it is still a narrow, exposed section of rock with drops of 1400 feet. In case you weren’t already nervous, the Park Service has this sign posted…
And in case you were still gung-ho about doing it? They have this one posted, telling you how many brave visitors have fallen to their untimely deaths here lately…
So, why did I want to try it? A couple of bloggers had written about hiking Angels Landing, young women like me who are fit but not super athletes, and they had both said that the hike was less scary than they had been expecting. So maybe it wasn’t so bad. After all, there were lots of people up there making the attempt the afternoon that we were there. Thousands hike Angels Landing each year, and live to tell about it. Many love the experience!
We started out up the cliff, holding onto the ropes and putting our feet into the depressions of those who had gone before us. Based on the steps that have been worn into the sandstone over time, most of the adventurers were much taller than me, because there were some large spaces between steps. I got about 20 feet up the cliff, and then decided abruptly that this was not for me. I was getting really nervous, and this was just the beginning. I didn’t want to have a panic attack and find myself stuck on an exposed cliff. Not to mention, there would be lots of waiting in line to go up or down because of the numbers of people there that day.
My fear of heights was not going to be conquered; at least not that day. I scrambled down and Jon came with me. He later told me that he could see it clearly on my face at the exact moment that I decided I was not up for the challenge – a look of doubt had washed over me and he knew I was going to turn around. He didn’t give me a hard time about changing my mind, but I knew he was disappointed because he did want to go to the top.
After basking at Scout Lookout for a little while longer and talking to a woman – she had done the hike before and said that it just got worse from there – I felt better about my decision to not go. So, I didn’t succeed on this hike, but hey, sometimes that’s the way it is. Sometimes you find out what your limits are. Sometimes you find out that there are things that you just aren’t good at – things that just aren’t for you. And that’s ok. I can do lots of scary things – ride a bucking horse, speak in front of crowds, be brutally honest with a problem employee, but hiking Angels Landing is not one of them. That doesn’t mean that I will stop trying, stop testing my boundaries, stop challenging myself. And who knows, maybe one day I will hike Angels Landing.
After turning back from Angels Landing, we hiked back down to the bottom and then walked the 0.5 mile Grotto Trail to the historic Zion Lodge for a late lunch. It is an easy path that runs parallel to the road – and was a nice relaxing walk after our strenuous hike. Salads (with ham and chicken chunks on mine) a fruit cup and some beer made for a perfect afternoon break on the patio at the Lodge. Hey, maybe defeat isn’t looking so bad…
Have you ever hiked Angels Landing? Have you ever decided not to?
Shortly before noon, we reached Springdale, Utah, the small town just outside of Zion National Park – the gateway to the park. They had lots of cute rock shops and places to sign up for tours and rent bikes and climbing equipment. They even have an IMAX Theater that shows IMAX movies on Zion. It would be a great place to spend some time, but we wanted to maximize our time in Zion National Park.
The entrance fee for one car and its occupants for one week is $25, but since we were going to visit several parks during our vacation it made sense to buy an $80 annual pass. There are discounted or free passes for seniors, military personnel and disabled people too. We stopped by the Visitor Center and got my National Parks Passport stamp – the first of many for the trip! And, some postcards. Because a trip to a National Park Visitor Center wouldn’t be complete without postcards… they even had those cool wooden ones!
The History of Zion National Park
Zion National Park began as Mukuntuweap National Monument in 1909, designated by proclamation of President William Howard Taft on July 31. At that time, the area was virtually inaccessible to tourists, as passable roads did not exist and the nearest rail line was nearly 100 miles away. Improvements were made to the roads to make the area more accessible, and tourists began to visit within a decade.
Zion’s designation as a National Park came on November 19, 1919; at that time the name was changed to Zion. It was believed at the time that tourists would not bother to visit a park with a Native American name they could not pronounce – it was a general bias at that time. The Kolob Canyons section of the park was established as a separate National Monument – Zion National Monument – in 1937, but was incorporated into Zion National Park in 1956.
The first human presence in the park was about 12,000 years ago; they hunted mammoth, camels and sloth in the area. When these large animals began to die off, they began hunting smaller mammals before gradually changing to a farming culture between 2,600 and 1,100 years ago. These Anasazi people, as they became known, had left the area by about 800 years ago, probably due to drought. The Paiute people moved to Zion shortly after and thrived. Mormon settlers arrived in 1847, and began farming the area – the Canyon floor was farmed until the park’s designation as a National Monument in 1909.
The park has a significant elevation change within its boundaries, with the lowest point at Coal Pits Wash – elevation 3,666 feet and the highest point at the 8,726 foot Horse Ranch Mountain. The park consists of several sections; the Zion Canyon area, the Kolob Terrace area, and the Kolob Canyons area. Zion Canyon is the most visited section; it is a 15 mile canyon on the North Fork of the Virgin River, and the canyon has depths of up to 1/2 mile. Horse Ranch Mountain is in the Kolob Canyons section of the park.
One of the most popular features of the park is the Zion–Mount Carmel Highway, a scenic drive that provides a direct route from Zion National Park to both Bryce Canyon National Park and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The highway has a 1.1 mile long tunnel carved through the sandstone. The tunnel was constructed beginning in the late 1920s and it was completed in 1930. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.
You could spend days in the park, visiting the Human History Museum, hiking the numerous hikes within each section of the park; anywhere from 1/2 hour to 4 hours for each hike, driving the scenic highway, and just relaxing. I’m not a big fan of camping, but I think it would be pretty awesome to camp here. I’ll post next about our adventures at Zion!
When: April 22, 2014 – April 23, 2014 (morning)
Where: Seattle, WA to Long Beach, CA to Barstow, CA to Zion National Park, Springdale, UT
Our first day on vacation was largely one of travel and logistics. Jon had to work and we weren’t flying out of Seattle until 5:15 that afternoon, so I considered working a half day, but in the end, I decided I was burned out and didn’t want to work. I spent the morning clearing my camera memory cards because I decided not to bring the laptop.
We drove down to Seattle in the early afternoon and met Jon’s friend Tyler, who had graciously agreed to take us to the airport. Once there we bought an airport dinner of Wolfgang Puck’s deli sandwiches to take on the plane with us. I had the Turkey Club with avocado – it was decent but the avocado spread was a bit too spicy for me. Jon didn’t like his veggie sandwich at all. It had eggplant, which would have been good but he hated the pesto spread on it. He did eat some of my sandwich instead. I guess that leaves us still looking for the perfect SeaTac airport “to-go” food. If you have any suggestions, let me know.
On the plane, Alaska Airlines was serving complimentary local beer and wine, so we had a Pyramid India Pale Lager. It was very good, tasting more like a Pale Ale than your typical lager. After an uneventful, smooth flight, we landed in Long Beach, picked up our wonder car for the trip – a teal blue Nissan Versa – got some coffee and tea, and began the last leg of the day’s travel. It was about 8:30 pm when we headed away from the airport.
Just an FYI – if you have the opportunity to fly into Long Beach (LGB), I would choose it over Los Angeles (LAX) in a heartbeat. It is way smaller, with only about 10 gates in the main terminal, and has a beautiful outdoorsy layout. To pick up your rental car, you just walk across the street to the car rental building.
Two hours of boring, freeway driving later, we found our palace for the night – the Super 8 in Barstow, California. No frills, but a clean, warm place to sleep and shower. And best of all, cheap. We would only be there for 8 hours – the luxury would come later in the trip. It was very cold and windy that night, but the skies were clear.
On the plus side – I fell asleep right away and slept really well… until 3:30 am… Jon got really restless then because he was still hungry from dinner the night before, because he didn’t really like his sandwich, and we didn’t get any snacks for the road on our way to Barstow. So, we were both tossing and turning until we finally got up at 5. Which is fortunate, because at 5:15 am, as I was in the shower, I heard a noise. It was the smoke detector chirping! Good thing we hadn’t wanted to sleep in!
We had a Super 8 breakfast of cereal, oatmeal and yogurt, and took some coffee and tea and apples for the road. We were back on the road at 5:50 am, to continue the long drive to Zion National Park. We drove through Las Vegas right about 8 am, and felt very thankful that we were driving in the opposite direction as the morning rush hour.
We stopped for gas and snacks in Primm, Nevada, and discovered that they carried scorpion suckers – lollipops with an actual scorpion inside. You could have apple or banana flavor. I’m sure you’ll be surprised that we didn’t buy them. They also carried gusanos (the same worm they put in the mezcal bottles) and crickets as treats. We didn’t buy those either. I don’t think I’ve ever seen treats like that in Washington!
The route also took us through a small corner of Arizona, before we drove through the Virgin River Gorge, and this was when we first began to appreciate that we were getting into some beautiful country. The Gorge had some wonderful scenery and amazing rock formations. We were getting excited to see the Park!
We got there a little before noon – the drive was almost 5 hours from Barstow, and there was an hour time change as we moved to the Mountain Time Zone from the Pacific Standard Time Zone. Plus, by the time we reached Zion that morning, we had already been in four states!
I’ll be posting about Zion next!
So, did you miss me?
Jon and I arrived home early this week from our action packed road trip through the Southwest! We took two planes, set foot in 6 states, stayed in 9 hotels, and put just over 2,300 miles on the rental car. We visited six National Parks – Zion, Canyonlands, Arches, Mesa Verde, Petrified Forest, and the Grand Canyon. We visited one National Monument – Petroglyph, and one National Historical Park – Chaco Culture.
We saw lots of rocks – in all different shapes and sizes and textures, and hiked through all kinds of spectacular country. We saw amazing stars and the heavens through a telescope. We saw lots of wildlife, and lots of people, and enjoyed every second of it. We visited several new cities, sampled lots of beer, a little wine and had some great food. And we wrapped it all up with a family wedding – where we got to spend lots of time and celebrate new beginnings with family.
Stay tuned for my posts about the trip – I can’t wait to share it all with you!
Jon and I are in the process of planning our next vacation. We are combining a family wedding with a road trip around the southwest to visit several of our nation’s National Parks. We are departing from Long Beach, California, on a big loop and visiting:
Then after this action-packed itinerary, we are returning to the Los Angeles area for the wedding and the flight home. Here’s the visual version.
I would love your suggestions for the best things to do in these parks and towns/cities. The itinerary already includes quite a bit of driving, so if it is very far off the route, I’m sad to say we probably won’t make it there. And we only have a day or two in each place, so as much as I would love to hike down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, that won’t be happening on this trip (plus the hostel at the bottom was already full, and we won’t be lugging camping gear on the plane). As my mother pointed out, we could spend a whole week in each place, but until we get to retire, that won’t be happening…
I would love to hear from people who have been to these places – what are the best things to do, and what is worth skipping? Museums, restaurants, scenic viewpoints, places in the parks to see? Thanks everybody for your suggestions!