Zion National Park, UT.  March 2017. Part 1

If you have not been to the five major National Parks in Utah you should make the effort to get there.  These Parks include Bryce Canyon, Zion Canyon, Arches, Capital Reef and Canyonlands.  These as well as several National Monuments are all part of the Grand Staircase, layers of sedimentary rock extending south from Bryce Canyon through Zion and into the Grand Canyon.  For probably more than you need to know about this amazing geological structure see 


We have spent many months in the Utah Parks over the years and are drawn back to Zion in the SW corner of Utah near Springdale. Unlike the Grand Canyon where one stands on (near) the edge and looks out and down over the vastness of the canyon, Zion is a narrow deep canyon with almost vertical rock walls. The visitor to Zion is at the bottom of the canyon looking up and out.  The canyon is perhaps 3/8 miles wide at the Watchman Campground and the Visitor’s Center, maybe 1/4 mile wide half way up the canyon at the Lodge and at the far end of the canyon at the Narrows you can touch both sides at the same time as the Virgin River comes through a slot in the rock.

Zion has been known by the Southern Paiute Native Americans and others before them for centuries. They call it Mukuntuweap, “the land with straight up walls”. Mormons first came here in the 1850’s and settled here in the 1860’s.  For millions of years as this entire region has been rising the Virgin river has been cutting through thousands of feet of sandstone and other rock layers to form Zion Canyon. The sides of the canyon are more than 1/2 mile high in places and the peaks of the mountains along the edges of the canyon are more than 4,000 ft above the canyon floor.  And all of this is very close.  On any average day the Virgin River moves almost 3,000 tons of rocks, sand and sediment out of the canyon.

We stayed in Watchman Campground right along side the Virgin River.

Watchman is the mountain to the right. Big, high and right next to us in the campground.

Looking the other way is the opposite side of the canyon. The light here is amazing. The top of the mountain is shrouded in misty clouds while morning sun finds a hole in the clouds on the other side to light up a patch on the side.

We had a nice roomy site with electric hookups (rare in National Parks) for only $18/night with the all powerful Geezer Pass.

Cool nights and mornings (usually in the 30’s) warmed up quickly to about 70°.  Lots of shadows though made it feel cooler at times.  If you were in the sun, warmer.  Most days were sunny to partly sunny.  We had one late afternoon series of thunderstorms with wind and rain and hail.

Yes, that is hail.

The Virgin River was 40′ away.  This was a pretty calm day.  After some rain up in the very large watershed it could quickly rise a foot or so and become much more agitated.

We were here for two weeks and drove the Jeep only once when we went into St George on a technology hunt.  All of the rest of the time it was walking, bike riding or taking the free shuttle busses that run all the way up the canyon from the visitor’s center.  They make several stops, you can get on or off at any of them and bring your bike if you want.  There are also shuttle busses from near the park entrance that head south through Springdale and back.  So pretty much anywhere you want to go you can get there easily without driving.

The last time we were here was in 1999.  The shuttle busses were just starting service here after getting some experience in Yosemite and Mesa Verde.  These keep the cars out of areas with very limited parking and reduce pollution. And with the shuttle busses running into Springdale it reduces the parking requirements in the park.  There were several days where access to the park was only on foot. All available parking was full.

I talked to a park ranger one day and she told me that these busses running today are the same busses they started with in 1999.

More later,

Roger and Susan

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