(Note: this is a re-post after I had technical malfunctions with photos for my last 3 posts)
So begins our whirlwind tour of some of the Nat’l Parks in southern Utah, first stop, Zion Nat’l Park. We found Sand Hollow State Park for our home base in the hustle-bustle megalopolis (sarcasm intended) of Hurricane, UT. The campground is right on the Sand Hollow reservoir, a very popular water sports destination, made even more popular during our stay since we were in the middle of the Labor Day Weekend. I have to say, I will no longer take much stock in the ReserveAmerica reservation website that most of the state park systems are utilizing. We are not big on making reservations most places we go, but heading in on the holiday weekend we thought better safe than sorry. So when I pulled the park up on ReserveAmerica, punched in the 6 day period we wanted to stay, it showed exactly only (1) site available. Thinking how lucky I was, we jumped all over that site and reserved it. When we arrived during the week prior to the big weekend, the campground was near empty. I was not concerned, knowing the holiday crowd would probably all show up for the weekend. Well, it never filled even half-way throughout the entire weekend. I will now eschew the ReserveAmerica system, and we will continue to just show up and see if there are vacancies or, if concerned over big events or weekends we will call and talk to a human. It is not worth the $8 reservation fees they charge for on-line reservations, especially when reservations really are not needed. Gotta love them government scams!
We stayed at this particular park for the FHU’s. We knew that there was only (1) dog friendly trail within Zion, and dogs are not allowed on the free shuttle into the park, so we need to run the AC while we were gone for Woody. There is quite a bit of BLM land closer to the park, perfect for boondocking, but the temps got up in the high 90’s while we were here and it would not be nice for Woody to bake in the MH while we were gone for hours at a time. As it was, we were about 30-40 minutes outside the visitor’s center, but it was still conveniently close to Hurricane and St. George.
Our first run into the park was on the Thursday before the big weekend. They advertise that the parking at the visitor’s center is always full from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. We got to the gate at about 10:00 and gave it a shot at finding parking at the center. We found it was nearly full, but there was still spaces at the back in some shade. The alternative is parking in the town of Springdale (just outside the gate by a matter of feet) and riding the free shuttle into the park. But we got our spot, loaded up our camelback packs, and caught the next shuttle up to the Zion Lodge for a short 3 mile roundtrip hike to the Upper Emerald Pool (there are 3 pools, the Lower 1.2 miles roundtrip, the Middle 2 miles roundtrip, and the Upper). The hike was fairly easy along a well worn trail, not a huge gain in altitude, and even though it was not the holiday yet, there were many folks on the trail, many of them non-English speaking European tourists. The Emerald Pools at this particular time were nothing close to resembling what we had seen in literature and on the web, the water level was pretty low. But it was still very spectacular, scenery-wise. I took a lot of photos of the various mountains throughout the valley, many of which have specific names, but there is no way in Hades I would be able to identify any of them here.
On Friday, we decided it was Woody’s day in the park. We loaded him up and took him to the only trail that is K-9 friendly, the Pa’rus trail. That is a fully paved, easy 3.5 mile roundtrip trail that follows the Virgin River up into Canyon Junction. Nothing but spectacular views in every direction! After the hike, we took the drive up Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway (still Highway 9) through the 1.1 mile tunnel through the mountain and out to the eastern gate to the park. Again, nothing but spectacular scenery!
Driving into the park we noted the town of Hurricane was having their Peach Days celebration on Friday and Saturday, apparently a yearly fair-type of atmosphere they put on downtown, so we decided to check it out that night. We wandered amongst the craft and food booths and checked out some of the performances at the two stages. The headliners for the night were a local band called the Houston Brothers. They were actually pretty good despite some of the technical difficulties, playing a mix of some country, some rock, all of it fun. It was interesting to see them arrive prior to the gig—a large flatbed ranch pick-up truck with a large drum set strapped in the back among the generators and whatever else ranch equipment was there. Only in Smalltown, USA!
Saturday was goof off day. We putzed around St. George and Washington (both towns jammed together, no telling when you leave one and are in the other). We may not have made it into Zion Park for the crowds, but the crowds certainly showed up at the Sand Hollow Reservoir, boats and jet skis were ankle-to-elbow!
Sunday we chose to do the Angel’s Flight hike, a 5 mile roundtrip trail rated difficult. We planned it right; got the backpacks done the night before, got up at 5:00 am for an early start to beat the heat, and arrived at the visitor’s center at about 8:00 to catch the shuttle to the Grotto where the trailhead is located. We started the hike at about 8:30 and the number of fellow hikers did not appear to amount to much. The trail gains nearly 1500’ in elevation and thankfully, a lot of it is in very steep crevices out of the sun. Much of the trail is paved/concrete and it gets very steep in some areas, especially in the zig-zags near the top. We made it to Scout Lookout to find that part of the hike and up to Angel’s Landing was jam packed full of hikers. Unfortunately, from there to the top (another half mile climb) included steep climbing with intermittent sections of chain for a hand-hold and LOTS & LOTS of human obstacles moving in both directions, and nowhere to go but DOWWWWNNNNNNN if you have slippage. But, hey, they have only killed (6) humans since 2004, falling off this mountain. We started up the chain and made it about 400-500‘ when the mass of humanity started to unnerve us. Jeanne worried she was going to get the leg-wobbles, so we terminated our ascent and returned to Scout Lookout. That decision did not break my heart, I have to say. (This getting old is killing me. There was a time in my younger years I could hang out of the open door of a helicopter at 2,000’ or rappel down a 100’ rope and not bat an eye.) There were several others who had terminated as well, a couple of whom looked like and felt like they were going to regurgitate some incredible colors. A helpful hint for anyone interested in doing this hike: don’t go during big weekends/holidays/peak season. The last half mile can be unnerving, especially when surrounded by crowding hordes climbing around and over you in both directions. But, the hike to get there is awesome, even if you do not make it to the top. A must-do in anyone’s book…What really gave me an “oh, my” moment was when we got back to the visitor’s center near noon. The line waiting to catch the shuttles into Zion Canyon was stretched out into the parking lot and beyond (probably a minimum 2 hour wait), and the line of cars to get into the park stretched all the way into Springdale to the post office (despite all the signs that said the parking lots were FULL). I could not imagine how many of this throng were headed for Angel’s Flight as well, what a nightmare just thinking about it.
Well, time is nigh to find a new home. We’re aiming for the area of Cedar City and Cedar Breaks Nat’l Monument. Until next time…