Stop #19: Zion National Park (by way of Las Vegas)
Our last morning in Yosemite, we woke up to a brisk 37 degrees. We tried to pack up camp as quick as possible to get back into the warm car. I tried to keep that feeling of brisk cold air as we set out for Las Vegas because it was only going to get warmer (much warmer) for the next few days.
We drove out of the east entrance of Yosemite and down past the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The temperature rose as the the trees disappeared and was replaced by scrub brush and Joshua Trees. My dad marveled at how dry and hot it was and why anyone would live anywhere in this kind of climate. 😆 Coming from living right next to one of the largest freshwater lakes in the country (Lake Erie), I think the desert terrifies my dad. We stopped for lunch in Beatty, NV and the thermometer was hovering around 105 degrees. Hot, dry heat. We ate lunch in a bar called Sourdough Saloon.
We were driving to Las Vegas not only because it was a good launch point for our next National Park stop, Zion, but also because my dad realized his cousin lives in Las Vegas. A cousin he hasn’t seen in over 50 years! 😱 I’m glad that my dad has gotten to see a whole bunch of new things with me on this part of the trip, but also that he’s been able to reconnect with old friends and family. My dad’s cousin (I guess I call her Aunt?) met and married an American military man years ago when there was an American military presence in Taiwan. They moved to Las Vegas after he finished his military service and settled there where he had a job. It was nice to see them catch up and I chatted with one of her sons, David. Sadly, my Aunt’s husband recently passed away a couple of months ago.
We were in Vegas only a couple days but decided to come back after our next two stops so we could see my Aunt again and then my dad could fly out of Vegas and onto Houston where his sister lives. The plan is to meet him there before he flies back to Cleveland.
On Tuesday, September 3, we headed to Zion and arrived in the late afternoon. Boy, it was hot. it was slightly cooler than Vegas at around 100 degrees. 😆 We went to the Visitor Center, set up camp and explored the campsite area a bit. Luckily, we were right next to the Virgin River. The park had a ranger talk every night this week so we checked out the Tuesday night program. It was about the animals in the park and how they survive in the wild.
I thought it would cool down at night like in some desert locations, but it sure did not. I spent the night sweating and tossing and turning. At Zion, they have a shuttle bus that runs into the valley and the parking fills up FAST. I was glad to have a parking spot in the campsite but still be close to the shuttle.
My dad and I took the shuttle to the end where there is a short hike that goes further into the canyon. It’s the starting point for the popular Narrows hike. where people hike in and around the river as the canyon walls become closer and closer together. Neither my dad and I had the right shoes for hiking in the water so we just went to the end of the easy hike and watched people start to wade into the river. It was nice and cool with the tall canyon walls; the sun hadn’t crested the eastern side of the canyon yet.
My dad and I took the shuttle back and stopped along the way, checking out the lodge and a few other views. We saw people hiking Angel’s Landing, the other super popular hike in Zion. You start in the valley and end up on the canyon edge, hiking along a path where there are sheer 1000 feet drop offs. Not for the faint of heart. We stopped at the Human History Museum where they had exhibits on the Native Americans who used to live in the area as well as the early settlers that came through. There was an information video also. I was extra thankful for the AC. We headed back to camp. It was still blazing hot so we went to the Virgin River. I literally just sat in the river; it was amazing. My dad and I made dinner at camp and headed to the amphitheater for tonight’s ranger talk. Tonight, it was about climbing! The ranger talked about the history of climbing in Zion and a little bit about the climbing equipment needed for Zion’s big wall climbs. Afterwards, I asked my dad what he thought about climbing and he said, “Hmph, they’re crazy.” 😂
The second night at camp was much cooler and I slept pretty well. In the morning we headed to the northern end of Zion, where the Kolob Canyons are located. There’s also a small visitor center there and a scenic 5 mile drive. This area was much less crowded and the scenery just as amazing. There are limited hikes though. My dad and I did a short 1 mile hike at the end of the scenic drive that ends at an overlook where you can see clear to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Amazing views!
We headed back to camp but stopped in town for more groceries and lunch (fried chicken!) Back at camp, we headed straight for the river, it was too hot to do anything else. My dad brought some Chinese newspapers and the folding chair, and I brought my sketchbook and swim suit. I think I sat in the water for 2 hours straight. The river had little sucker minnows that nibbled at your skin if you sat still enough. I felt like I was in one of those spas where little fish eat your dead skin cells. 😆 My dad almost had to drag me out of the river when it was time for dinner.
After dinner we went to the ranger talk of the night, this one about the night sky in Zion. The park is a designated Dark Sky Place. The ranger talked about the stars that could be seen from Zion, as well as how ancient peoples used stones and sunlight to tell the change in daylight hours such as the Summer Solstice. Fascinating!