Saturday, February 6, 2016

Zion & Bryce National Parks

I had wanted to see Zion, and many other National Parks in Utah, for a long time. It's a long way from home, so flying there is easiest, but I don't have a lot of extra time. I decided to jam a full day in Zion with a visit to Bryce Canyon and Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument. These are trips that one could spend weeks on, so I know it was a bit much to do in a few days, but these are also places I want to experience and photograph very much. And I still had time to do some hiking.

I flew into Las Vegas late on a Friday night in May, and immediately went to the airport rental car facility. I got a little compact car and set off to Zion around midnight. I knew I wouldn't make it all the way and wanted to get a really early start. I got to Hurricane, Utah and took a nap in the parking lot of the Walmart. I woke up just before sunrise and headed into the park. It was immediately stunning and amazing. 

My little rental, alone in the wilderness.

Since it was so early, very few cars were around and I had the place to myself to stop freely. I must have been very distracted by the sights around me, as I missed the sign for the hike I was planning to do - Canyon Overlook. Instead I kept driving until I reached the end of the park - which is not a long drive. All of the ranger stations were still closed, so I just pulled into the closest parking area, got out of the car, and started hiking. It turned out to be the East Rim Trail, and I spent hours on it, alone almost the entire time. It is a place of staggering beauty.

It was time to take a rest, but on the drive out I saw some bighorn sheep, not common but not super rare. They were right by the side of the road. Learn about Zion fauna here.

Some are on the red ridge above.

One of Zion's road tunnels

After a long afternoon on short sleep, I headed to my room at Flanigan's Inn. It is located practically at the entrance of the park, and it was luxurious. They have a nice design that blends well with the natural surroundings After my previous night in a parking lot, I had deserved a treat (and honestly, all of the hotels near Zion are extremely expensive, so why not pay for a nice place?) I loved my stay here. It had such a great location, later that afternoon I headed back out to catch the shuttle to Zion.

It's a great plan for the park: they've closed the main road of the park during busy months to all but a shuttle bus. This way people can just sit back and enjoy the view, and don't have to worry at all about creating, impeding, or navigating traffic. 

There are lots of stops and you can just hop on and hop off. At the end of the road, you can take the trail that leads to the world-famous Narrows. I would like to return to Zion and do more hiking there.

Another trail I enjoyed was the short one around the Emerald Pools waterfalls.

The next morning I woke up early and drove to Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument. There is also a lot to see on the way to this impressive place, like Red Rock Canyon, seen below. A small parking lot is here, right on the road where I-89 meets Route 12 - the way to Bryce and Grand-Staircase, and you can get out and hike for a bit.

Route 12 was awesome.

Kodachrome Basin, a Utah state park with a fabulous name, is also on the way. It charges a small entrance fee but the road down is also lovely.

Back to Grand-Staircase, it's apparently the last place in the continental US to be mapped, and it is wild. There are many hiking trails here as well, including forays to slot canyons. I'd like to see some of those when I can hike with a partner. 

On my own, I decided instead to see some hoodoos. They are so cool and made the long trip down the mostly-gravel Hole-In-The-Rock Road worth it. This place is called Devil's Garden. If you go, don't forget plenty of water. It gets hot out here.

It's hard to burn rubber on a gravel road, but it was time to get hightail it back to Bryce. 

On the way, I saw a trail to a waterfall and of course, had to check it out.

Bryce is a very easy to park to navigate, with just one main road in and out, and tons of turnoffs to park and soak it all up. It's simply spectacular. I was blown away by the awesome landscape.

I even got to see some wildlife.

At some popular viewpoints, some crowds had gathered. These people were enthralled not with the sight, however, but with this Golden Retriever.

The ampitheater was unlike anything I'd ever seen, and I couldn't seem to stop taking photos.

 The sun set on my day and it was time to get to Panguitch, where I'd spend the night before the drive back to Vegas. It's a very quaint and cute little American town.

After a little breakfast of toast and hash browns, I drove back to Vegas, returned the car and flew home. It was a whirlwind, and worth every effort it took. I never regret spending a short time doing because like this, because for now, the only alternative is not doing the trip at all. Life is way too short to not take time to see places like this, even if only for a moment.

Zion National Park Trail Map

Bryce Canyon Trail Map

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