Day 9: Zion
(This is the final installment in a 9 part series. Click here to go back to day 1)
Our last day of touring National Parks started again before sunrise. This morning greeted us with a thick frost on the car, which looked like a dusting of snow. We were half way to Zion National Park before we started seeing light in the sky to our east. By about 8 am we turned west on Utah Route 9 and started the 24 mile drive into our final National Park. At about the 12 mile point you reach the gate for the National Park. From this point on the road becomes very narrow and curvy.
And the views get better and better. With about 4 miles to go, traffic stops at a tunnel. The tunnel is 1.1 miles long and was bored through a mountain. Since it was constructed some years ago it was not designed for large RVs and buses. So the road has become a one-way, switch-sides road. It was early in the morning and our wait was minimal. When you exit the tunnel you immediately start going down the side of a steep mountain via numerous switchbacks. As you exit the last switchback the road straightens and soon enters the access road to the Visitor’s Center. Zion does not allow normal car traffic, except to go to the lodge, so most of the tourists are bused along the scenic drive between the seven major drop-off points.
Our main target was to hike the popular and treacherous Angel’s Landing. To our grave disappointment, the only trail that was closed in the park was the Angel’s Landing trail, due to maintenance. Bummer!
Instead we chose the Emerald Pools Trails. The route we took started on the Kayenta Trail, which paralleled the Virgin River up above the river on a trail cut into the side of the mountain. It eventually joins the Emerald Pools trail and this trail traverses uphill for another ½ mile until it dead-ends at a beautiful reflective pool at the base of a 500 foot sheer wall of sandstone.
After viewing the Upper, Middle and Lower Emerald Pools we hiked back to the Zion Lodge then took the Grotto Trail back to the point where we started our hike. Since we knew our day would include a 6+ hour drive back to Phoenix, we nixed starting along any other trail and instead chose to take the shuttle bus all the way to the end of the park and back to get a lazy man’s visual view of the canyon. By this point we had already hiked about 60 miles in the previous 8 days, visited 6 National Parks, traveled 1100 miles (with 400 more to go) and were looking forward to getting back. We started our trip back by driving up the steep switchbacks on Route 9 but never got to the tunnel. Traffic was stopped dead and no cars were seen moving in either direction. After waiting for 15-20 minutes we decided to turn around on the switchback and drive 75 miles out of our way to detour Route 9. Moving forward was better than sitting and waiting an indeterminate amount of time on a steep switchback leading into a one-way tunnel.
We made it back to Phoenix a bit after sunset. Our bucket lists now had some new check marks, and we were filled with a lot of great memories. This was a trip of a lifetime and a great personal experience. Six National Parks in Nine Days and a trip down to the base of the Grand Canyon (and back!). Eat your heart out Chevy Chase!
Want to see more from my trip? Here are the links to more pictures I took at each park: