We had three lovely days at Zion National Park. It has been many years since we’ve been there because it’s a little bit out of the way for us – too far south for our usual route into Utah and too far north for getting into Arizona, and it’s difficult to find a campsite there. But it’s a beautiful park. We drove in from the east and I was struck by the amazing variety of rock formations contained within the park. I think that the east side of the park is more striking than the west, but overall, Zion matches Yosemite easily in the drama of its canyons.
We had to pay $15 to drive the Lazy Daze through the 1-mile-long tunnel in the center of the park. It was never made for big vehicles and when a big rig goes through, traffic must be stopped the other way. So it keeps several park employees busy doing vehicle control. At the end of the tunnel, the driver descends into the valley on several short switchbacks with incredible views. At the campground, there are two loops with electricity, and we got the very last site available, though we had to move the next day because it was reserved. The great thing about the Zion campgrounds is that in the morning and evening, the sun turns the surrounding cliffs an amazingly vibrant shade of orange.
We wanted to do a hike on Friday, and the ranger suggested one on the east side of the park. So we got to drive back through the long tunnel in our spry little Rav4, stopping often to photograph the rock formations. Though they are difficult to photograph, it’s fun to wander around, looking at everything. We took off on our hike under cloudy skies, and though it was a gradual ascent, it wasn’t an inspiring walk. We tired after a couple of miles and decided to turn back. The sun came out during our return and the same trail looked quite different under bright light.
Zion has two roads, accessed by leaving the park, that go into it from the west. On Saturday, We drove the Kolob Terrace Road, which took us past more great rock formations. On the way back, it was mid-afternoon light that lit up the Zion cliffs from a distance. The view, in my estimation, is more spectacular than the close up view from within the valley, because you aren’t looking straight up all the time. We also went down the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, a road that has so much traffic that cars aren’t allowed on it most of the year. We walked the trail to The Narrows, to the point where the canyon closes in so much that there is no room for a trail, and you must wade through the Virgin River with the high canyon walls looming above. (No thanks!) In summer, waders must be careful of flash floods, because there are few places to scramble up to safety – the cliff walls go straight up. In winter, the water is cold and has some deep spots. A couple of wader-hikers walked out of The Narrows when we were there, and they wore full-body wetsuits with waterproof packs. (No thanks!)
On Monday, we regretfully left Zion and started the long trek across Nevada. After driving 315 miles, we spent the night at a nice rest stop, about 30 miles east of Tonopah, Nevada. The next day, it was a short 150-mile cruise to Lee Vining. We were pleased to be going across the Sierra Nevada on Tioga Pass in Yosemite. The pass is often not open this late in the year. After dropping the RV at a closed gas station, we drove up for a look at Tuolumne Meadows and Olmstead Point. Although dry and brown, it still looked beautiful to me. The next day it was up and over and we ended the day in Merced, with friends Jeff and Betty. They have a lovely home in Merced and the weather was balmy enough to enjoy some wine and goodies in their yard. They are now retired and Jeff spends a lot of time tending his fruit trees and vegetable garden. He then conserves a lot of it, along with other valley produce, making pomegranate juice, jelly and syrup, fig conserves and our favorite – limoncello. (What a heavenly use for lemons!) During breakfast (Jeff made popovers), we were entertained by Mac, their Cockatiel, a gorgeous bird who has a large vocabulary. It was a lovely way to end the trip.