After TonoPAH, I booked it for Utah and a state park called Snow Canyon, just off Rt 18 , NW of St George. I figured it would be cheaper than a national park (true), less crowded (also true) and a good staging ground for visiting Bryce and Zion (not quite true). What I didn’t figure on was the astounding beauty of the park itself. Coming down from the high desert that continues into Utah from Nevada, the first indication that the landscape might be changing was this cinder cone.
Yes, the whole area shows lots of signs of volcanic activity, but this one (according to the sign in the park) is figured to be about 600 years old, not 6000. The road drops off to the right after that point and starts a rapid descent into canyons galore, and a visual shift from sage green, gray and tan to RED! The park entrance is right there and you drive through lava flows, inverted topography (where the top layer is actually the earliest layer since it consists of lava that flowed into river beds. Later, the sedimentary rock around it eroded away, leaving the harder lava at the top of the stack.) and lots of white and red Navaho sandstone, frozen into dunes and cliffs of deep red, coral, bright white and tan, with black lava beds and angular boulders all through the area. The photos do NOT do it justice. The second shot is from near the entrance. From there you drove down into the canyon. Here is a shot of my campsite, in the “overflow” area. I said it was less crowded, I didn’t say it wasn’t crowded. The campground was great, with lots of friendly people, big rocking chairs on a terrace at the office where you could just sit and watch the light change on the canyon walls, and clean, abundant showers and bathrooms. Believe me, when you are living in campsites, the condition of the amenities makes a big difference
There were lots of folks my age in the park, all looking surprisingly fit and athletic. I’m used to the idea that most people are a lot more athletic than I am, but this was a noticeable thing. It turns out that they were mostly there for the Huntsman World Senior Games, a big thing I’d never heard of. The woman who camped next to me the second night had come in from NY for volleyball, the people on the other side were there for soccer and softball. Not believing the evidence of their own eyes, they all politely asked me which sport I was competing in. So kind. I resisted all wise-guy responses.
As I had booked two nights in the park, I could travel locally and not have to set up the tent again the second night. I again had failed to take into account the scale of the landscape out here in the west. I spent the whole morning walking and photographing in Snow Canyon and only after 12 did I move to visit the northern section of Zion, Kolob Canyon. I had realized by then that I would have to go through the southern section of the park on my way east, and one admission would get me both. Bryce was clearly for the next trip, the one where I convince Lena to come along and I have a Senior Pass to the National Parks ($25 a pop gets pricey after a while).
To you who will read this and say “What? You missed Bryce? After all we said to you???”, I say yes, I missed a lot of things on this trip. but I didn’t want to drive three quarters of the day just to say I’d done it. There may be a way to fit Bryce and Zion into two days, but I failed to find it, not with the entrance of either of them almost an hour’s drive from your campsite. I will return, however, for red rocks do get into your blood if you’re a visual person. The light out here is astounding.
The next day’s drive through the main road of Zion, Rt 9 was more like Yosemite than I had hoped. The traffic backed up at the entrance and even though I had a pass, I had to wait to get in. After getting past the gate, I was a morsel of food in the great alimentary track of the park, oozed along by the peristalsis of driving tourists alternately oogling and photographing whatever is at hand. The Zion River Valley itself is amazingly green and shady, with brilliant yellow Cottonwoods at this time of the year, a striking contrast to the red and white rock that rises above it in great walls and pillars, architectural studies for the creation. I was definitely one of the ooglers. I think I even said OOOO! and AHHH! more than once each. Unlike Yosemite, the rock walls are closer here, and it is a warm place, not just in color but in temperature. It was in the mid 70’s while I was there–at least during the day. Evenings were mid 50’s, so camping was pleasant as well. The warm closeness of the rocks and the places on the side of the road where you could actually walk in a bit, rather than fear you’d fall into the abyss, made us (the traveling bits of food) sometimes spill off the road and onto sandy spits that twisted down and into the canyon a ways before dropping off. All in all, it deserved a much more extensive exploration (see my comments about how these places belong to the hikers).and just to prove I was really here, the trusty Chevy!