Saturday, October 14, 2017

A Few Days in Zion


IMG_1911                                           Bridge over the Virgin River along the Pa’Rus trail

Without advance planning it has become almost impossible to get a campsite in Zion National Park, but I spent over a week checking the reservation site multiple times a day and finally found a cancellation for three nights. Although not very level, it turned out to be a great site with a view and an electric hookup in the RV friendly A loop.

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The price has gone up to $30/night since we last stayed here in 2010, but with the senior pass we thought $15 was a bargain for the convenience of being right in the park, since we didn’t have to use the car at all during our stay. It’s probably the nicest national park campground we’ve stayed in.

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After we arrived on Tuesday we went for a walk on the Pa’Rus trail with a detour to the Human History Museum to check out the “Artists and National Parks” exhibit. There were some nice paintings but we like our friend Bobbie’s work better.

Some scenes from the trail, one of the most scenic easy walks in the park.

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That evening we just walked across the bridge to Springdale and had dinner at Zion Brewery. Our quinoa burger was good and the beer was okay, but the service left a bit to be desired. We were sad to see that the Zion Theater next door to the brewery is now closed and will be reopened as a hotel and conference center next summer. We enjoyed seeing a few movies there on the giant IMAX screen on past visits.

On Wednesday we planned to hop the shuttle and take a hike on one of the trails in the canyon, but Jim had some issues trying to order his medication so we got off to a very late start. It was after 11 when we walked over and found a Disneyesque line. What you can’t see in this photo is that behind the vegetation on the right are probably a hundred more people waiting to board.

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After watching one bus being boarded and the line barely moving, we changed plans and decided to hike the Watchman trail, just across the road. We had only done this hike once, the first time we visited Zion, and didn’t remember much about it. It was not crowded and the scenery is pretty spectacular, so it was a good choice. It’s about a mile and a half to the overlook and uphill most of the way.

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Looking down on the trail.

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After the hike we saw that there was nobody waiting for the shuttle so we hopped on for a ride up to the lodge, where a soft serve swirl cone was waiting for us. Unfortunately there were more people waiting to come back so the buses were standing room only. After being bounced around standing on the bus we decided to get off at Canyon Junction and walk back down the Pa’Rus trail for two miles. We’re always surprised at how few people are ever on this trail.

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Knowing our time was short here, I was in the mood for a bike ride up the canyon after we got back. Early evening is the perfect time for a light show on the peaks, and with the shuttles running there is almost no other traffic so you feel like you have the road to yourself.

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Jim had some computer stuff he wanted to do, so he suggested that I take the shuttle up canyon early Thursday morning to avoid the crowds and do a hike. He must have read my mind, because I had already been thinking of that. I was out the door at 8, filled my water bladder at the visitor center and was on the shuttle by 8:10. Having previously hiked all of the trails in the canyon, I was trying to decide where I wanted to go, and remembered that we had only hiked the East Rim trail to Observation Point from the top down, accessing it from the easier East Mesa Trail, so it would be new doing it from the bottom up. I was the only one left on the bus after the others got off at Angels Landing trailhead, so when I arrived at Weeping Rock there were only a couple of other people there at the restroom.

Nice way to be greeted at the trailhead.

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Although quite cold because the sun hadn’t reach the canyon yet, the constant uphill from the start warmed me up pretty fast.

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The first mile and a half or so is steep switchbacks of broken pavement.

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This is looking down on the trail where it intersects the one to Hidden Canyon, another great ZIon hike.

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In about a mile and a half the trail goes through Echo Canyon, with its colorful swirls of rock.

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There was a couple in front of me and I kept one of them in this photo for perspective. Zion makes one feel very small.

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Finally after a couple miles of darkness there was light. On this section I hiked over a mile without seeing another person, so it is possible to get some solitude even in an extremely popular national park.

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This trail has such diverse scenery which helps distract from the 2,200’ of climbing

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It was a hazy view from Observation Point. There were only around 10 people at the top and dozens of little ground squirrels that were so bold as to climb up our boots and legs. It was hard to eat a snack and I didn’t dare sit down since I wasn’t crazy about them crawling all over me.

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Looking down on Angels Landing and the Virgin River. It’s much more impressive in person.

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On the four mile downhill trek back the sun had finally reached the canyon. I passed quite a few people making their way up, but not as many as I expected. It was a lovely morning in one of my favorite places.

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And I even found some fall colors along the way.

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That afternoon we took a walk into Springdale and browsed in some of the outdoor gear shops. I’ve been searching for a new backpack for awhile now as mine is falling apart but just can’t find one that feels as comfortable.

Our time in Zion was up yesterday so we moved down the road to a boondock site near Virgin. Our Lazy Daze friend Chris had arrived the day before, and Laurelee and her dog Libby showed up about an hour after we did. Our favorite spot was taken but we all managed to find fairly level sites across the road, where we plan to hang out for awhile.

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We spotted this tiny home on our walk last night.

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Today is Laurelee’s birthday and she wants to go for a hike, so we’re heading out soon.  Jim’s birthday is Monday and I have a feeling a hike will not be on his wish list for his special day Smile

Monday, October 9, 2017

Snow Canyon and Sand Hollow


Although this is the seventh time we’ve been in the St. George, Utah/Zion National Park area, we had never made it to Snow Canyon State Park, with its colorful sandstone cliffs and lava flows. So when I was trying to figure out where to go after leaving Best Friends I checked out the website. There was one site available for two nights in the dry camping area ($20) that was long enough for us to fit so I booked it. We arrived on October 6, marking our 9 year anniversary on the road. Isn’t that hard to believe!

Our site, #19, was large and private with no close neighbors. No hookups but water is available at spigots in various places around the loops. There are flush toilets and showers but you have to hold down a chain for water. That’s the first time we’ve seen a shower like that and decided ours was better.

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They do have some water and electric RV sites but they share utilities and are extremely close together. You better hope for quiet neighbors.

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It was pretty warm on Wednesday afternoon when we arrived, so we waited until early evening and took a bike ride on the paved Whiptail trail that runs just across from the campground and actually goes to St. George. It’s really hilly but a beautiful ride.

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I also rode part of the 8 mile dirt West Canyon Rd.

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Since we were only there one full day we had a hard time deciding on which trails to hike but didn’t want to drive to a trailhead. We ended up making a loop starting on the Red Sands trail across from the campground, to the Petrified Dunes, Lava Flow, Butterfly, West Canyon, and Whiptail trails. The signage is fairly good but even so we managed to get a bit lost. Of course, this isn’t such a bad place to be lost.

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Climbing up the petrified dunes was hard work so we stopped to eat some trail mix. This blue jay was obviously used to people feeding him as he came very close. We might have dropped a few peanuts.

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We passed by a lava tube on the Lava Flow trail.

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The black rocks are a nice contrast.

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As we were trying to figure out how to make a loop, we met a nice couple from Montreal checking their map and hiked the rest of the way with them. This is where we got off trail and had to walk through a rocky wash with deep sand. Jim blamed it on our conversation about politics causing us to miss our turn. It’s been interesting talking American politics with foreigners since our last election.

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With check-out being 2 pm we had time for another hike the following day and picked the Johnson Canyon trail based on Suzanne’s recommendation. You can’t really go wrong on any of the trails in Snow Canyon.

I got tired of waiting on Jim to get ready so I walked the 2 miles to the trailhead and he drove down later to meet me. It was a beautiful morning.

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The parking lot for this trail is actually outside of the park so you don’t have to pay the $6 entry fee. It’s a fairly easy but really nice hike of around two miles round trip. It boasts a natural spring (the only running water in the park), black lava flows, red-rock walls, cottonwood and willow trees, and an impressive arch near the end.

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We were searching for the arch but didn’t find it, when some people arrived and pointed it out. The lighting was all wrong so it was hard to tell it was actually open in the back. And it was too steep and rocky to go off trail and get closer.

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Canyon’s end and our turn around point.

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We really enjoyed our two nights in Snow Canyon, the only downside being the internet was very sporadic, which drives Jim crazy. He would rather have none at all.

From there, on Friday we moved a short 23 miles to Sand Hollow State Park, about 12 miles east of St.George, where we spent a night in May of 2009 on our way to Zion National Park for the first time. The West campground has full hookups for $28/night. I made reservations here for four nights since the temps have been in the 80s and we wanted A/C. Also we had some things to take care of, like shopping, laundry, and a few RV maintenance issues.

The roads are tiered so most sites have views of either the reservoir or the mountains.

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Most people here this weekend have either boats, OHVs or both. There are no trails on this side of the lake, though, so it’s quiet. There is another campground across the lake for that with primitive camping along the shore.

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On our walks we were surprised to find a subdivision right below the dam.

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Better hope there is never a breach or a lot of houses will be under water.

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This family was having a great time jumping off the cliff while dad was filming them from their boat. There were warning signs at the visitor center about swimmer’s itch from the water, but that didn’t seem to keep people out.

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We had a horrible wind and dust storm that began late yesterday afternoon and lasted through the night. A lot of blowing fine red sand found its way inside, the one thing we don’t like about the west.  An older couple came in at dusk and attempted to set up a tent but it got dark and we couldn’t tell if they were successful. Their car was still there this morning so I’m thinking they abandoned the tent and slept in the car. We would have been looking for a motel room!

Today is our 35th wedding anniversary, which is also hard to believe. Considering we decided to marry after only knowing each other for three weeks, it seems we made the right decision. It’s been a very good 35 years, especially that last nine. No big plans other than laundry and working out at the Washington Community Center. We went there on Saturday and really liked the equipment. Tomorrow we’re moving to Watchman Campground in Zion for three nights, so we’ll have a belated celebration with dinner out in Springdale. Yes, life is good.