This morning we drove about 260 kilometres north to Zion National Park in Southern Utah.
For most of the way along Interstate Highway 15, the countryside consisted of a dry flat broad valley between two small mountain ranges. The is the main highway to Salt Lake City and it was surprisingly busy. We were constantly being overtaken by other vehicles and passing semitrailers.
The scenery changed as we crossed a very small corner of Arizona where the road followed the steep and winding Virgin River Gorge. The speed limit here dropped from 75 mph to 55 mph to allow for the many curves.
Not long after we crossed the state border into Utah, we turned right (east) onto Highway 9 towards the little town of Springdale just near the southern entrance to Zion National Park. There has been active roadworks in this area for many months and the construction crews are working around the clock to get the road upgraded before the peak summer period. If they fail to do that, there will be lines of traffic banked up many kilometres as the busy season starts. We had read that delays caused by the roadworks mint be as long as sixty minutes but ee were fortunate to only have a very short delay. This helped us considerably, as we had already lost an hour of the day by crossing into America’s Mountain Time Zone where our watch were turned on by one hour. We stopped at a little cafe in Springdale for lunch and then continued another two miles to the park gate being very careful to make sure that we only turned back onto the main road when the one-way traffic resulting from the road works was going in the right direction..
We will be visiting a number of National Parks while we are here in America so it made sense for us to buy an annual pass for $80. This will not only provide entry to all National Parks but to other facilities run by state and federal agencies across America as well.
Zion National Park is about 500 square kilometres in area and the main feature is Zion Canyon, which stretches for 24 kilometres long along a narrow valley between soaring 800 metre deep cliffs of reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone. It follows the North Fork of the Virgin River. The road into Zion Canyon is 10 kilometres long, ending at the Temple of Sinawava – the Coyote God of the Paiute Indians. There, the canyon narrows and only a foot-trail continues to the mouth of the Zion
Human habitation of the area started about 8,000 years ago with small family groups of Native Americans, one of which was the semi-nomadic Basketmaker Anasazi around 300 BC. Subsequently, other tribes settled in permanent communities. Mormons came into the area in 1858 and settled here in the early 1860s. In 1909, President William Taft named the area as Mukuntuweap National Monument in order to protect the canyon. In 1918, the area was enlarged and renamed as the Zion National Park, a name used by the Mormons. The canyon floor was originally farmed until the National Park was declared.
We drove along the road trough the park, realising that we had missed the turn off to the Valley Drive. Instead, we ended up climbing a windy road to a tunnel that was built in the 1930’s to provide access for a state highway. There was some remarkable scenery and very interesting rock strata and textures.
We drove on for a few more kilometres after the tunnel until we reached the Chequer Board Mesa car park. We could see the criss-cross pattern in the rock face because of some remnants of unmelted snow that was sitting in the grooves of the rock.
We then backtracked down through the tunnel and spent the rest of the afternoon looking at the stunning cliffs and valley environment. Today is the last day of the year for anyone to be able to drive personal cars into the National Park. From tomorrow, it will be compulsory to leave cars in the car park by the visitor’s centre and take a shuttle bus along the main road. It will stop at nine stops through the valley and judging by the number of cars parked in many inappropriate places today, it will solve many peak time traffic and parking problems.
Our accommodation tonight at the local Holiday Inn is a lot less salubrious than the enormous and brash Palazzo Hotel in Las Vegas, but is much more in keeping with our style and comfort level.