Wednesday, 7 May 2008
Zion National Park, Utah
Finally, after days and days of no internet connection we are in an RV park that has sporadic connection possibilities. It has taken me no less than 4 hours to upload the photos from the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park onto Facebook. What with getting disconnected every 5 minutes. Ahh, what I wouldn't do for some reliable internet connection right now. Anyway, there are new albums in the sidebar now. One for the Grand Canyon, two for Zion (yes we went a little crazy with the photos there). New photos from Bryce will be loaded into Utah Album 2 at some point. There are a few new photos in the last Arizona album too (which go with the post below this one).
Well, blow me down, I think we went and found paradise! I had been warned about the beauty of Utah, in particular Zion. But the entire family was just blown away as we drove through the east entrance into the park. The scenery here was totally different to anything we'd seen so far. Mountains carved out of ancient sand dunes, the Virgin River coursing through the middle, alpine trees growing out of orange and pink rock. Zion was so beautiful that even the photos I took from the passenger seat of the RV whilst driving look spectacular.
All three kids sat with their noses to the windows as we drove forty minutes into the park. It was like a magical wonderland, like nothing we'd ever seen before. To my horror we discovered we had to drive through a one mile mountain tunnel to get into the centre of the park. A one mile unlit tunnel, that was only just tall enough for our RV. In fact, for RV's to pass through the tunnel, the road has to be closed at either end, so that the RV can drive in the centre of the tunnel without tearing its roof apart. Well, being extremely claustrophobic I don't like tunnels. I particularly don't like one mile long pitch black tunnels where the roof is inches from the top of the vehicle1 We waited at the tunnel entrance for the road to be shut at the other end (we paid $15 for the privilege) and eventually we led the way through. It was at this point that we discovered one of our headlights wasn't working. So the pitch black drive was not easy. Dan was stressed about trying to stay in the middle of the road, so as not to rip the roof off the RV, and I was holding my breath and talking myself out of hysteria. Nevertheless we made it through in one piece (even if I had to lie down for a few hours with an awful headache afterwards).
We couldn't sleep in Zion the first night as it was a Saturday, we'd arrived late and the camp sites were full. But the ranger there told us about a free place to stay just outside the park - land that belongs to the DLM or something. We headed there expecting to find an old car park or wasteland, but instead found a beautiful sandy riverside campsite. At first we got stuck in the sand. Thelma II's wheels got burried deep and I thought we'd never get out. But Dan got us out eventually and we parked up right by the river in a lovely secluded spot. It was great to hear the sound of the rapid river gushing by all night long.
The following morning we headed back to Zion and booked three nights in one of the campgrounds there. The campground itself was surrounded by spectacular orange coloured mountains. Jimmie and Barney spent many happy hours playing outside there. They have a new game where Jimmie digs the tracks of an RV park into the soil and Barney fills it with various cars and trucks. He spends hours playing with those miniature RV parks. The campground had more caterpillars than I ever knew existed on the planet. Every where you stood, you were treading on them. We'd find them crawling up our shoes, up our arms, on our wheels, on our seats. It was quite amazing. Also, because of all the Cottonwood Trees in the campground it seemed as if it was gently snowing all the time. The soft cotton blows in the breeze and you'd swear it looked like snow.
I have to say that one of the most spectacular drives you could ever take is the drive through the east entrance into the park. But many of the visitors to Zion miss that, as they enter through the south entrance and use the park shuttle bus to reach the various hiking areas. Because of the sheer amount of visitors and the congestion caused by their vehicles Zion has started to operate a free shuttle bus service throughout one route of the canyon. Much like the Grand Canyon does. We made a lot of use of the shuttle. The shuttle stops at various points of interesting for views and hiking. As usual the kids completed the parks junior ranger program, so we were always busy at every stop looking up information and answering questions.
Over our four days in Zion we made several stops, had lovely picnics beneath the mountains and went on many hikes. The first hike we took was the trail up to the Emerald Pools, at the Zion Lodge stop. It was an uphill trail, so Barney got tired quickly. I walked with him to the first pool and waterfall, then we headed back to Zion Lodge for an ice cream whilst Dan, Jimmie and Annabelle carried on with the hike up to the upper pools. This is one of the more popular hikes on the shuttle route, but we discovered much nicer hikes later on. The emerald pools weren't that spectacular, but the hike followed the line of the river, up to some small water falls and some amazing rock formations. There is no where in Zion that isn't extremely beautiful, so it's impossible to be disappointed.
We took another hike from The Grotto stop to Zion Lodge. We had intended to take 'The Grotto' trail, but we took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up taking a scenic walk along the river side. We saw lots of evidence of the beavers that lived there. There were trees that the beavers had knocked down, trees that they were in the process of chewing, and beaver dams at the sides of the river banks. The Virgin River is too rough for the beavers to build their dams in, so they build them on the banks instead.
Dan loved Zion so much that he got up early every morning to go on hikes before the rest of us awoke. Some of the hikes are very strenuous and can't be made with a four year old. The third hike we took as a family was up to the Weeping Rock. This was a lovely, paved, easy walk. Uphill on the way there, and down hill on the way back. It was only a half mile walk but the view at the end was worth a ten mile walk! The weeping rock seeps drips of cooling water out, and when you walk under it, it feels like a waterfall. The kids all got drenched by standing with their heads under the drips. I could have sat at the end of that walk for days just looking out at the view.
Perhaps the most memorable hike for the kids was the walk to the 'Temple of Sinawara'. A walk along the river that gets narrower the further you proceed into the canyon. It was strange to be inside a canyon looking up at the extremely tall cliffs and wondering what the view was like up there, when only a few days before we had been at the top of the Grand Canyon, looking down and wondering the same thing. Along our riverside walk we stopped to catch our breath. Dan sat down on a rock there and put the ruck sack on the ground. From out of no where arrived this cheeky little squirrel. He could smell something and was desperate to find it. He ran all over Dan sniffing for food until he discovered our ruck sack. Without hesitation he rummaged right into the ruck sack and helped himself to hand fulls of popcorn! It was such a funny sight that some Japanese tourists started filming the whole thing! But it made a great memory for the kids. This little squirrel wanted popcorn, and took pop corn. It's something the will talk about for years to come.
Later on that same walk we stopped at a little beach side area. The kids and their Dad spent some time throwing stones into the river, while Barney spent some time covering his legs with mud. We all sat around and had a good family chat here about all sorts of things. It was one of the real special family moments on this trip. On our way back to the shuttle, walking past huge rocks, vast canyons and the river, our day was just made perfect as we spotted our first snake! Yes, for three months we have wanted to see a real wild snake, and finally we have seen it! You can see a photo of it by clicking here.
On one of the days we took a trip outside the park to get a few necessities. As we pulled into a gas station a man from the garage next door came over to tell us that one of our wheels was a bit flat. He was a mechanic and as he examined the wheels he was horrified to discover that we needed 6 new wheels. He phoned Cruise America and told them that they'd rented out an RV for two months that had cracked wheels. I thought he might just be touting for business but Dan looked at the tires and they really were cracked. Cruise America agreed for him to replace the wheels, at a cost to them of $1800 ! I was more than a little angry that Cruise America rented us an RV with both a broken headlight and 6 dodgy wheels. I mean, its not as if we are only hiring it for a week, we are here for 5 months!
The highlight of our last night at Zion was having a camp fire and roasting marshmallows. The kids always enjoy that. This morning we said goodbye to paradise and headed eastwards to Bryce National Park. Tonight we are staying just outside that park and will head in there tomorrow. It's much colder here and there are still patches of snow about the place. Tonight we have had rain for the first time since we drove through Houston in Texas.