Though we initially planned on just driving through Zion on the way to Las Vegas, our plans changed when I looked up hotel prices in Vegas. Turns out, hotels are 6-8x more expensive on the weekends than during the week. If we waited a day to check in, the room would be $170 less. Seemed worth it to me, as the only reason we were even going to Vegas was for a few days of cheap air conditioning and easy living to break up the otherwise exhausting adventure we were on. At first I was a little frustrated that the day wasn’t going to go as planned, but when I realized it meant I could actually spend a full day in Zion National Park, I became quite excited. The last time I had been in Utah, we had driven through the park, and I remembered it being pretty spectacular.
The grocery store was across the street, so we walked over to get some bacon and eggs for breakfast. After a nice hearty breakfast, it was time to go check out our third national park for the trip. We were really getting our money’s worth out of that annual pass. We’d only paid for one night at the hotel so far, and the woman from the front desk was attending the parade that was going through town. I left a note on the office expressing our desire to stay an extra night. Then, off we went for another day of grand naturing.
A medium size herd of American Bison roamed about in a field off to the left as we approached the park entrance. Like many national parks, Zion’s roads form a popular cut-through between major highways. They take advantage of this by only selling 7-day passes for entrance to the park, for the low per-day price of $25. What this means is that if you’re just driving through, you will still pay a $25 toll, unless you have a pass like we do. Honestly, these tolls are always worthwhile anyways. The drive through a national park is guaranteed to be scenic as fuck, and that money goes directly to maintaining and improving the park you’re driving through. We finally made it through the toll booth, and into the park. I handed the camera back to Gianna, and we began the gorgeous windy descent into the canyon.
Big desert canyons were really starting to become a theme. Palo Duro, Rio Grande Gorge, Canyonlands, Moab, and now Zion…and yet, they were all completely different from one another, and offered a totally unique experience. Zion, for instance, contains several springs which nourish a vibrant oasis within it’s mighty walls. It sits at the intersection of the Colorado Plateau, the Great Basin, and the Mojave Desert. It is a diverse cornucopia of unique microcosms, and many areas of the park are quite distinctive, even from other portions of the park. Hundreds of plant and animal species make the park home, including the Desert Big Horn Sheep, which we were really hoping to catch a glimpse of while we were here.
After a beautiful 30-45 minute ride down into the canyon floor, we arrived at the visitor center. It appeared that most of this park was off limits to private vehicles, as they had put together a free shuttle service. At first I was kind of disappointed at not being able to ride through the park, but looking at the massive amount of people here, I was overall happy to see they were taking measures against the park being damaged by high traffic.
We hopped on the shuttle and began the long ride deeper into the park to where more trails began. Thankfully, we had thought ahead enough to pack ourselves a lunch before heading out, so we sat down in a nice grassy area to enjoy our lunch before heading out on the Emerald Pools trail. The trail was somewhat more crowded than I really like, but it was very beautiful. The trail takes you up around a series of spring fed emerald pools to a large source pool up at the top. We spotted a couple really cool looking frogs along the way. The trail frequently hugged the edges of cliffs, affording spectacular views of the canyon in all it’s splendor. Due to the crowds, it was actually somewhat difficult to find an opportunity to sneak off trail and smoke a bowl. I’m not really used to my nature experiences having quite this many humans around. I guess it was Saturday, after all. All the parks are much, much busier on the weekends than during the week.
We headed down from the pools to the shuttle stop, and picked up some soft-serve cones to eat while we waited. I have really mixed feelings about how developed this park is. On the one hand, it’s kind of nice to not have to keep up with a vehicle, and to be able to buy food and drinks inside the park, and to have plentiful bathrooms and water spouts. The water spouts here pour natural spring water from the park itself, and it tastes pretty good. On the other hand, it’s very hard to get away from the people. I personally do not embark of nature quests in order to spend more time around people. Frequently the opposite. I appreciate that the level of development attracts more visitors, increases awareness of the park, and provides many important revenue streams to the park. Tragically, it seems to come at the cost of any sense of wilderness while you are there. They do offer back-country permits, but it seems that is the only way to really feel like you’re in the wilderness while in the park. In the end I was left feeling like I had gone to a really amazing desert canyon theme park, which while cool, isn’t why I wanted to go.
Our next trail took us to the weeping wall, a place where water seeps out from the rocks, nourishing a natural hanging garden. The result is an impressive population of plants clinging mightily to the bare rock walls. The tenacity of desert life never ceases to amaze me. We had arrived in flower season, and many plants were exploding in vibrant blooms. Still, it was sometimes hard to pause and appreciate things on the trail, as there was such a crowd of people all around. If I return to this park, it will be to go backpacking, and I will do my best to avoid all the development.
We finally wound our way back around to the main visitors center by way of shuttle, and it was time to go. We had seen frogs, birds, and lizards, and some really amazing rock formations, including the checkerboard mesa. What an incredibly strange thing for rocks to do. Up the walls of this mesa there is a very clearly defined checkerboard pattern formed from different colors of rock. As we rode past it on the way out, we spotted a young bighorn sheep grazing on a shrub right by the side of the road. It may not seem like much, but we were really excited to see it. Many parks we had been in so far had advertised the existence of bighorn sheep there, but we had yet to actually see one. Even in national parks where the wildlife is much more prevalent, much of it still wisely avoids the roads and developed areas.
It had been a beautiful day, and we were tired and hungry by the time we made it back to the motel. We prepared our meal on the picnic table as before, and head to bed. Tomorrow was Sunday, and Vegas hotels would be return to their weekday insanely low prices of $25-$35/night. Ideally, it wouldn’t even be that long of a ride, though it would be through some incredibly hot desert. I feel asleep easily that night, anticipating a relatively easy next day.