Zion National Park


Waking up to rain in Mt. Carmel Junction, UT this morning, I still had not determined what I would do until late in the afternoon when I was to check into the Zion Ponderosa Ranch. I dilly-dallied, went to eat breakfast, looked over my maps and STILL I was without a plan. Most of places I'd been, Cedar Breaks, Kolob Canyons, were back from where I'd been and Bryce Canyon was an hour away, again in the opposite direction. I might as well thrown a dart at the map and picked any place nearby. 


Already having had the car packed, I went back inside and did some researching online. And then the electricity started to flicker. On and off for several minutes and then, lights out. Not much use sitting around in a motel room without power, so I walked to the office to check out. The whole complex was in the dark, so I left and decided to top off my fuel, which was very convenient with a Chevron station next door. Well, that was useless, as they had no power either. Another motorist and I waited for awhile and she asked if another station were nearby. I'd only arrived late the day before so I didn't know for sure, but then, right across the street was a Shell station and we both saw their signs were lit. We both scrambled there instead and got our gasoline. I then went into their store to shop and, guess what? Yeah, their power went out. Boy, was I lucky, or what? Those few minutes and I think the whole little burg went powerless.

Since I was at the intersection of US 89 and Utah 9, which leads to the ranch and Zion N.P. I decided that scenic route would be my outing for the day. I'd visited Zion several years ago, but had forgotten the incredible scenery as one approaches and enters Zion. Everywhere there is jaw dropping, eye popping, astounding views. Even before actually entering the park, I was stopping at the turnouts and taking lots of photos. Still, before entering the park I came upon a tunnel. Oh, cool, I read about a tunnel on this Eastern entrance. It wasn't very long but kind of cool anyway. Further up the road, still surrounded by mountains with reds, whites, pinks and in a mix of fantastic forms and shapes, I got out and walked down to a creek. With all the rain they had the night before, the water was running, and it could be seen on the mountain sides as that water made it's way down to the creek. Evidence of high water with debris being washed along was obvious near the stream.


Now that I had come this far and remembering how gorgeous Zion is, I decided that this would be where to spend my days' idle hours. Shortly after entering the park came another tunnel. THIS is the tunnel that is talked about in the literature. Not remembering about it from years ago, I was very surprised that it seemed to go on, and on and on. Every so often they had carved out large windows to let in natural light, but otherwise this tunnel is blacker than black inside. There are no electric lights either. The car lights seemed barely sufficient to light the way, as if the very rock was sucking the illumination from out of the light beams. It was an odd sensation. As if the darkness were not enough to unnerve a person, the route was not straight through. Oncoming cars became visible as they approached curves and reflectors on the walls caught their headlight beams. As a side note, I then learned that tunnel was built between 1927 and 1930, when it opened to the public. Prior to it's construction, there was no possible way to connect the west entrance to an eastern one as the mountains were impassable. So they went THROUGH the mountain. 

On the other side, wow, the scenes were even more spectacular, plus the drive became more exciting with about 6 levels of switchbacks that zig zagged down the mountain side. Every turn revealed something new and stunning to see. Several turn outs provided a place for motorists (and lots of tour buses with their cargo of tourists) to get out, admire and photograph the majestic beauty. Mentioning tour buses, in 1930 the vehicles were not as large as today's tour buses nor motor homes, which necessitates their being escorted through the tunnel, keeping to the center to avoid hitting the overhead arched opening. When escorts for those vehicles occurs, the "normal" cars have to wait.


At the end of the down drive the road leads through Zion Park and Springdale, UT on the eastern edge of the park. I drove to and parked in the visitor's center. You can not imagine the number of vehicles that were there. I parked a distance from the visitor's center and walked to it. There had to be a thousand vehicles in the park, at this location and at the lodge and the other places where cars are allowed. Many were foreign visitors. I heard a lot of German and French and others unknown to me during the day. Of course, there were many Japanese too. 

The Park Service has a great operation for getting people around to the various sites on the only road leading into the center of the Park and back again. Using clean burning buses, they make frequent stops to pick up tourists who can enter and exit at any of the 8 stops along the route. If all those people visiting the park were on the road, it would be a disaster and total gridlock. (I know that the Grand Canyon South Rim also uses a bus system. 


It runs smoothly, and allows visitors to sit back and enjoy the views, get out at the viewpoints they desire and get back on an upcoming bus when they are ready). A person can go to the end, in Zion, to The Narrows, and hike up the Virgin River into the narrowing straits, which become large slot canyons. 

Walking and wading in water (up to your waist or beyond) is to be expected. Today's rains, however, did not allow for the upstream hiking. More water from higher elevations was keeping the river at higher levels and the force of the current, also, was too dangerous for that adventure. 

At the various stops on the bus route, there were trails that can then be hiked to destinations up to the higher elevations. I got off at one stop and hiked along the Virgin River, which was brown with sediment and flowing strongly. On that hike I saw where the river had undercut along many of the banks and eroded the soil. 


Also, on that hike I saw evidence of beavers cutting down trees. Across the river I saw a long ribbon of a waterfall seeming to come right out of the mountain's rock face and it fell hundreds of feet. Then there were two smaller falls that dropped off from a level below the first one's end. 

The river flowing and the waterfalls would not have been evident if not for the recent rain. I was thrilled to be seeing it all.


The river side hike ended at a bridge which led to the trails up to the falls. The area under the falls are the Emerald Pools. So, of course, I had to check it out and hike in a mile or so to each of the three levels of water pools. 


And although climbing up, it was not a difficult hike. The Park Service has well maintained the trail with rock steps in many places to make it easier to negotiate. The trail was being used extensively today. It looked, at times, like a rush hour traffic.

By the time I got down from the falls it was past 4 p.m. and I had to get a move on to go back on U-9 to Zion Ponderosa Ranch, just a few miles past the eastern park entrance. The bus came quickly and then I rode it to the end at the Visitor's Center, and left in my car soon thereafter. Up, up and up the switchbacks and through the tunnels, then out on the road arriving at my current location.

Today turned out to be a great one. Despite the rain for most of the morning, it was a nice day and with more incredible scenery. It is quite a bit cooler here at the ranch. Tomorrow I go canyoneering into a slot canyon! OH BOY!

Here are more photos from today:    


There are three smaller waterfalls from this overhang. A walkway passes underneath them. 

Behind the smaller falls.

Waterfall hitting the rocks below.

A view of part of the trail near it's end.

Parked along the road on the second level from the top.

The hole in the middle of the picture is one of the tunnel "windows", maybe 15' - 20" wide.


Another level down on the switchbacks. Clouds hanging over the mountains.

Along the river with upper waterfall in the distance.


Me at the upper waterfall.

kdonald940@cox.net © Donald E. Kline 2012                                         Disqus Comments