Posted by Ric Garrido

Greetings from Utah. Wow. The desert scenery is captivating. My eyes kept repeating to my head yesterday one simple impression – Wow!

The drive on I-15 from Las Vegas to St. George, Utah has some mountain landscapes to admire, but the 40 miles or so through Arizona and the Virgin River Canyon Gorge was the only place that stood out along that stretch of road.

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Virgin River Canyon Recreation Area, Arizona.

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Cactus flower.

There are places to park an RV or car and about two dozen covered areas for a picnic.

The Virgin River Canyon area was wonderful in the 75 degree warmth. July would be a different story here when virtually every day is assured to be 90 to 115 degrees in mid-day sun.

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Welcome to Utah

St. George, Utah

Zion National Park is about 40 miles past St. George on Route 9. I only stopped in St. George for gas. The setting of the city is gorgeous with expansive views of desert mesa rocks and Signal Peak at 10,365 ft.

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Pine Valley Mountains seen from Hurricane.

Hurricane, almost a suburb of St. George, is the last town with major services before the Zion park district area. There is a WalMart in Hurricane for last minute supplies and the few hotels looked fine for someone wanting to be a few miles closer to Zion than St. George.

Springdale, Utah is at the south entrance to Zion. This is a quaint little town with hotels, B&Bs, restaurants and stores and a resort-style lodge Best Western.

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Best Western Zion Park Inn.

A quick walk around the Best Western had me wondering if there are rooms without fantastic views. Rates here rival the rates at the Zion Lodge a few miles into the National Park at about $180 to $200. Both the Best Western and the Zion National Park lodge had walk-up vacancy.

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View from the back porch of the Best Western Zion Park Inn.

The Hampton Inn is almost ready to open right next door to the Best Western. The building already  displays signage. 

Zion National Park

I checked National Park visitor statistics last week. Zion National Park is the most visited of the five National Parks in Utah by a factor of two over Bryce Canyon and Arches and 4x to 6x more visitors than Capitol Reef or Canyonlands. Zion gets about 3 million visitors a year and makes the Top Ten most visited National Parks in the USA.

It is recommended to catch the free shuttle in Springdale to the Visitor Center about a mile or two from the town. The Zion National Park parking lot is usually full by early morning in peak season. I arrived around noon on a Tuesday in May and the place was already crowded. In summer the park averages more than 10,000 visitors a day.

The heavy traffic means Zion Canyon road is closed to private vehicles most of the year and visitors must take a shuttle bus from the Park Visitor Center to stops at locations on the one road into the canyon. Shuttle busses continually move up and down the Zion Canyon road and pass by in both directions about every 6 to 10 minutes.

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Zion Canyon free shuttle for visitors can also carry bikes.

European Utah

Riding over a dozen different shuttle busses as I stopped at each place and photographed the scenery in between the bouts of rain revealed that the majority of visitors in the park yesterday were Europeans.

I felt like I was back in Berlin hearing more German yesterday than English. French and Italian visitors were common. I don’t recall hearing anyone speaking Spanish.

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Zion Canyon National Park view from Weeping Rock.

I hiked alongside the Virgin River at the last stop up in Zion Canyon. In good weather this hike goes miles into the canyon by hiking through the shallow Virgin River into gorges where the canyon walls are as narrow as 30 feet across and 2,000 feet high.

Yesterday was not the kind of day for the river hike. About ten minutes out on the paved portion of the trail a torrential downpour of rain and hail hit and a hundred people on the river walk trail sought shelter from the storm under any available tree foliage.

90% of us did not have adequate covering to be coated with a layer of ice.

I had a waterproof vest, but I was wearing shorts in the 70 degree temperature that quickly plummeted.  Even taking the shuttle to go directly back to my car would have taken 40 minutes. Many of the visitors committed to heading back to the visitor center to get dry clothing.

Fortunately the temperature climbed back up to the upper 60s and the chill wore off as I continued to hike around the different stops.

Be prepared for the weather changes on days when storms are a potential threat.

Speaking of weather. I am at Bryce Canyon and the skies have turned blue with the storm clouds to the north and Bryce Canyon to the south. The temperature is in the mid-30s here at 7,000 ft. elevation. Forecast for Bryce Canyon is 40s and intermittent storms today and snow tonight.

Time to get moving and see more of Utah’s natural wonders.

And today I will carry the gear to keep me dry and warm, whatever the conditions.

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Rock climbing is popular in Zion National Park.

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The tunnels on Highway 12 at Red Canyon on the way to Bryce Canyon National Park.

7 Responses

  1. That area is of our favorite places in the world. Bryce, Zion, Canyonlands, Arches, and our favorite – Capitol Reef (because it is one of the least visited and therefore uncrowded).
    If you want a real thrill go to Arches in the middle of the night. The clear skies and rock formations lighted only by moonlight will knock your socks off.

  2. My son was just there this past weekend and loved it. He and his buddies did some rock climbing in the canyons and they needed their wet suits for that since the water in the canyons was very cold. Glad to see you enjoyed it as well.

    Comment by Jane S. on May 8th, 2013 at 11:24 am
  3. I was in Cape Town, South Africa this last weekend and I kept hearing German as well as a bit of Italian and French. Some nations just travel more than others, I guess. The European economies can’t be doing that badly can they?

  4. It is at all not unusual to get a lot of foreigners to come and visit the parks in the Mountain states of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Yelllowstone. Uth and Arizona draw them out the most because of the very unique landscape.

    i could give you a ton of advice if I knew qhat your route plans were….

    May is an unpredictable weather month. Sometimes it can be warm and in the 70s/80s and other times it can be in the 30s and snow.

  5. Southern Utah is most amazing as you are seeing. I hope you have a Jeep or high clearance vehicle. There is so much more to see when you get off the main roads in the Parks. And the solitude combined with some of the most amazing scenery ANYWHERE make it a go-back-to place anytime. And I mean anytime. Jealous!

    Comment by Jeffrey C. on May 8th, 2013 at 4:13 pm
  6. You’re just getting started, from Bryce the drive through Escalante National Monument, Boulder, highway 12 up over Boulder mountain, Torrey, and Capitol Reef are great.

    Consider hiking to calf creek falls. Stop in Boulder at the world’s coolest hippy gas station, Hills Hollows, and consider an excellent, if expensive, meal at the Hell’s Backbone grill. Make sure to buy a pie or some jam at the little pioneer store inside Capitol Reef. Hike up to Cohab canyon from there. If you’re heading over to Moab from Capitol Reef, you should stop at Goblin Valley along the way.

    Comment by David Adams on May 8th, 2013 at 5:30 pm
  7. @David Adams – I drove Highway 12 today. One of the most amazing roads I’ve driven. After two rides on Radiator Springs Racers in Disneyland two weeks ago, I kept thinking today that Highway 12 is the real deal for an adult driving adventure.

    I made it through Hell’s Backbone missing all the rain showers. I made it up to the Boulder Mountain summit at 9,600 ft and then coming down the mountain hit the snow and ice.

    So glad I put four new tires on my car last week.

    All safe and sound now and Capital Reef is tomorrow’s adventure.

    The scenery is so captivating that I am thinking of repeating the route again next week on the drive back to California. The storms hopefully will have moved out of the area by then.

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