Day 26

On my own again, with little agenda other than “get to Zion,” I slept in, repacked the car to be accessible for one, and headed off farther south.  I was honestly sad to leave Salt Lake City behind, and not sure how the next few days would go.  It was heatwave time in the Southwest, and 101+ temps were forecast, in addition to a number of forest fires already happening.  Camping and hiking in those conditions can be as dangerous as the colder temps were annoying.

Still, I was excited to get going.

Driving through Utah is… dry.  It’s pretty, but I have to say I missed the effusion of roadside wildflowers I’d been seeing.

Day 27

Knowing the heat was going to be an issue, I got up with the sun, made breakfast, and headed into Zion National Park from my campsite just a few miles outside the park boundaries.  The park had been full when I’d tried to book ahead of time, so I’d gone with a nearby private campground, glad once again for hot showers and other amenities.

The drive into the park from the west side is incredible.  Mesas of white, red, orange, and yellow rock rise up from the canyon floor.  Sheer cliffs, up and down bracket the road, and the striations in the rock from wind, water, and wear create fascinating patterns. Though Checkerboard Mesa is the first “site” to see, it’s not the first amazing rock formation, by far!

IMG_3369Soon, the road passes through a pair of low, narrow tunnels.  Finished in the 1930’s, these tunnels aren’t well-equipped to handle the size and numbers of today’s cars, and so passage is monitored by rangers on either end.  Only one side of traffic is allowed to go at a time, unless you hit the tunnels before 8am, as I did.

IMG_3370Inside the park, there’s a long, sinuous road down into the Virgin River valley and the more established part of the park.  Again, the sights are breathtaking.  The eastern entrance to the park is busy, and often packed by 9 am, and the line for the tram that takes visitors up the canyon proper is almost always long.

Not wanting to wait for 2 hours in line, and end up hiking in the heat of the day, I opted for some of the hikes centered at the visitors center.  I hiked up the steep, relatively short, Archaeology Trail to find outlines of early Native American buildings, and spent a good bit of extra time just trying to find the trail.  Once on the ridge-line, it blended in with the other bare, natural paths between clumps of desert plants and disappears at times. Still, the views from the ridge were amazing, and I always love a good pre-historic ruin.

After a little break and a water refill, I headed up Watchman Trail.  3.3 miles of steep, hot, nearly-shadeless canyon hiking to reach an overlook into the canyon.  So. Beautiful.

IMG_3397At the bottom again, I found a perch on the edge of the Virgin River and soaked my hot, tired tootsies in the chilly water while I finished off my 3rd liter of the wet stuff .  By then I’d done 4+ miles and the sun overhead was blazing.  I decided it was time for lunch, a quick foray into the tourist town of Springdale, and then back to camp.

Springdale was adorable, and the little, local supermarket boasted the friendliest staff I’ve met in a long time.  And on the way home, I saw bighorn sheep on the cliffs above me.  Yay!