Our introduction to Zion was less than auspicious. At the entry station we were told that the campsites had all filled up about an hour ago. It was about 10:30 AM when we got there. However, the ranger directed us to an RV park just a half mile or so back up the road. We turned around and got our selves registered in a dry campsite ($20) instead of a hook-up site ($30) since we planned to be at the Park all day anyway.
I off-loaded the bikes and locked them to the picnic table to establish our residence while we were gone. Then back to the park we went. The first thing that happened was that the ranger measured the width of Flipper. Apparently there’s a tunnel along the way and width matters. We came in at 4″ narrower than the maximum width allowed without an extra fee. If your rig is over 94″ wide at it’s widest point, including the mirrors, it’ll cost an extra $15 which allows two trips per day through the tunnel. The reason being that the tunnel was built when rigs were much smaller and it’s only wide enough for two 94″ wide vehicles to pass each other. If you’re wider, they close the traffic off on one end while you drive through from the other end. But, no matter, we passed.
The drive into the park was pretty amazing and the rock formations and make-up were completely different than Bryce Canyon had been. It was much easier to picture this area having been underwater or as huge sand dunes at some time long ago. The rock seemed less brittle and smoother than at Bryce. The following photo isn’t really very representative of what I’m talking about but, unfortunately, we just didn’t take many photos on the drive in.
As to the drive, it was pretty spectacular. Lots of huge rock walls and hairpin turns and a couple of natural rock tunnels. But we hadn’t seen anything yet. We came around a bend and there was the entry to the main tunnel. The traffic was stopped as we waited for an over-94″-wide motorhome coming from the other direction. The sign leading into the tunnel says that it’s dark and warns you to remove sunglasses and turn on your lights. Oh, and absolutely no stopping in the tunnel. OK, big deal. Not like I’ve never driven through a tunnel before. Finally the motorhome emerged and we were free to enter. Well, right off the bat I can tell you that I’ve never driven in a tunnel like this before. Damn right it was dark! And I mean DARK! And narrow. Pretty creepy passing in such a narrow space when all you can see of the guy coming towards you are his headlights. Fortunately, there were about 3 big “windows”, probably primarily for ventilation, spaced along the length of the tunnel which turned out to be 1.1 miles long. We both breathed a little easier once we exited back into daylight. But then the switchbacks started. Not sure how many feet we dropped between the exit of the tunnel and the bottom of the canyon where the main part of the park is but it was a long ways. There were at least five 15-20 mph switchbacks on the way down and all I could think was “We have to go back up this later”. The road wasn’t as steep as it seemed, though. I was usually in 2nd gear on the way down, using the engine for braking, and we never really got wound up like we have coming down some 7% grades. So that was reassuring.
On the way down, Lulu was checking out the visitor’s guide and found that the road that led from the south entrance visitor center to most of the scenic attractions was closed to private vehicles until October 27. We’d have to take the free shuttle instead. This isn’t really that bad as it means we didn’t have to drive. However, once we got to the visitor center we saw signs that said “Parking Lots Are Full. Park In Springdale”. Fortunately, Springdale is just outside the park’s south entrance. We left the park, went into Springdale and, seeing no particular designated parking area, joined a few other rigs parked in a dirt lot that had no signs indicating that we weren’t supposed to park there. We walked a half a block to a shuttle stop and rode the free shuttle into the park where, at the visitor center we transferred to an in-park shuttle.
One of the things that struck us about this park as opposed to the ones we’ve been hitting before, is how crowded it was. Can’t even imagine what it’s like in the summer. The shuttle was sort of nice and it’s definitely a necessity. The park is located in a narrow canyon with, I believe the sign said, 450 parking spaces throughout. This wouldn’t even accommodate an hour’s worth of park entrants, much less all of them. So, the shuttle becomes more than a nicety. It takes you along the scenic road and has a number of stops along the way. You can get on or off as you please. There are various hiking opportunities at each stop. The trouble with the shuttle system is that it makes Zion seem more like a theme park than a natural wonder. I completely understand the need and the rationale but it still just felt sort of wrong.
Nevertheless, we boarded the shuttle and rode to the far end. The plan was to get out and do a couple of short hikes on the way back. At the end, we saw a couple of “canyoneers” climbing what looked to me like a completely unclimbable wall.
This guy was on his way down:
We started a short hike up the river but, partway along we both were struck by a case of what can only be called “awesomeness overload”. We had seen so many beyond-belief sights the past couple weeks that Zion just wasn’t having the desired effect. No denying that it was as awesome as anything we’d seen to-date but, and maybe it was partially the shuttle experience, it just wasn’t happening for us. We snapped a few more photos and then boarded the shuttle for a stop at the Zion Lodge for some lunch.
After lunch we went back to Springdale and retrieved Flipper. The drive out wasn’t nearly as bad as we were afraid it would be. The climb through the switchbacks wasn’t as steep nor the tunnel nearly as long as they’d seemed on the way in. On our way back to camp we decided that what we needed was a couple days of rest from all the eye candy we’d been experiencing. So, next stop would be Kanab where we’ll stay at a full-hookup RV park through the weekend to recharge our batteries (both literally and figuratively), do some laundry, get some groceries, do some research and then push on to the Grand Canyon.
Bryce Canyon to Zion National Park, including some driving in Zion: 34 miles
Total to-date: 4,121 miles.