I was concerned when I read about the massive rock slide that closes 2 miles of Zion Park’s Scenic Drive just about 2 weeks ago. Luckily the road was cleared and reopened just after a few days, and I remembered my visit to the park when I was in Las Vegas. It was always news like this that reminded me of a place I have been to and then I was inspired to create a new blog post.
It was in December and I was in Las Vegas for the week with friends. Apart from walking down the Las Vegas Strip, playing slots, watching shows, visiting the Grand Canyon, the Hoover Dam and the Fremont Street… (which I will write about Las Vegas in the future) I wondered was there somewhere outside the city that we could see. I was not aware of the Zion National Park until I was researching in my Palazzo hotel suite, and seemed the place has quite a lot of good reviews on TripAdvisor. So, we drove there on a Saturday morning.
The drive took a little bit more than 2 hours and we arrived at the South entrance of the park. I supposed the park would be much busier in the summer as it would be much warmer and the park has wonderful campsites and facilities along the Canyon (like the Zion Lodge). Visiting in December though, there was no crowd and we kinda had the park all to ourselves. However, some of the activities and services (like shuttle bus) may be closed in the winter time.
The weather was nice with a clear sky and we had a nice good view of the entire site from ground level; after a quick visit to the visitor center, we hit the ground and go up, up, and up. There are quite a few walking trails along the canyon, and it’s impossible to finish all of them in a day. We selected a few and the trails usually take about 1-2 hours to complete.
Zion-Mount Carmel Highway
Before entering the scenic drive, we turned to the Zion-Mt Carmel highway. The highway connects Zion’s south and east entrance. It was built in 1930 and it consists of a series of steep switchbacks, a tunnel and lastly a highway that was constructed on eroded sandstone slopes. The colors and the shapes of the slopes were spectacular and there were occasional turnouts that allow drivers to pause safely and enjoy the scenery.
On our way back to the south entrance, we entered the Overlook Trail. We saw a giant arch, called the Great Arch of Zion, on our way up to the tunnel and the Overlook Trail ends on top of this Arch. At the overlook, a thousand feet above Zion Canyon floor, you saw patterns that were not evident before: the greener world along the river and the sheer volume of the canyon the streams have excavated. The viewpoint looks across at a panorama of classic Zion cliffs and sandstone towers – from there, the Pine Creek Canyon could be seen and we could look all the way to the Bridge Mountain, Canyon Junction and beyond.
The trail took about an hour to reach the overlook and it crosses slick rock slabs of the high desert. The trail was generally flat but some parts could be rocky and uneven. It could be slightly challenging to those afraid of heights as it passes some drop-offs (although most of them are fenced) and some connections are merely wood boards.
The fear, though, could be distracted by the joy of seeing the bighorn sheep, peacefully running around on the rocks as they were looking for food.
Afterward, we returned to the Zion Scenic Drive. The Zion Canyon is the most well-known feature of the national park and it’s the largest canyon that covers 147,000 acres of sculpted sandstone canyons and high desert plateaus. The scenic route stretches through the canyon from the south entrance to the Riverside Walk in the north with a paved drive following the path of the Virgin Rover along the canyon floor. Scenic spots include Weeping Rock, Angels Landing, Temple of Sinawava and Great White Throne. Zion is an outdoor laboratory where researchers and visitors alike can find remarkable biological diversity and observe geological processes in action.
The Watchman Peak is another overlook in the south end of Zion Canyon as if a standing guard of the entire ground. The trail offers a panoramic view of Zion, including the Watchman Trail, Zion Canyon, West Temple and the town of Springdale (a small town outside the south entrance of the park). It is recommended to hike early or late in the day to witness sunlight that illuminates the canyon walls and casts dramatic shadows.
Weeping Rock Trail
Weeping Rock Trail climbs through forest to a natural alcove eroded into the Cliffside. Here perpetual springs nurture lush vegetation, and the plant community that lives on a sheer rock surface formed a “hanging garden”.
Court of the Patriarchs
It is a popular year-round destination. The trail ends at an overlook with stunning views of Birch Creek Canyon and its towering sandstone walls. These peaks were named “Abraham, Issac, and Jacob” after the Old Testament patriarchs in 1916 by Methodist minister Frederick Fisher, and his guide Claude Hirschi.
Emerald Pools Trail
The algae in the pool give the water a distinctive hue and hence, give the name for this place. A series of basins have been carved into a rock ledge in the canyon wall by flowing, falling water.
Riverside Walk is a beautiful shaded walk meanders through forested glens along the Virgin River. While the river could be quiet or raging, it’s a pleasant walk to witness the different moods of water that stream through the cliffs and go deeper into the canyon. The paved trail ends at a river, and it’s possible to tread into the water if current condition permits, and go further into The Narrows.
Hidden Canyon Trail
The secret at the end of this trail is Hidden Canyon itself, a deep, narrow chasm separating the Great White Throng from the Table Mountain. The Great White Throne could easily be recognized based on its distinctive feature: a gigantic, steep and smooth cliff that stands among the eroded rocks and canyons.
The magical moment happened by the end of the day as we were chilling at the Great White Throne viewpoint and we were chatting with 2 rock climbers who just finished climbing the rocks and loading their cars with all the professional equipment, it began to go dark and suddenly the canyon were changing colors dramatically as if there was a multi technicolor light show – If only a man-made light show could have such a scale. The color changed from pink to orange to white and then purple… I was too busy turning my head around in amazement and luckily I took a few photos (while my jaw was still dropped) that captured the moment that ends my visit to the national park perfectly. #jawdropped.
Lastly… our dinner in Utah!
Before heading back to Las Vegas for the night shows, we stopped by at the Cracker Barrel in Utah for some American classic country meals!