Today was another great touring day, with no rain at all this time. We have discovered that the evenings and mornings are still quite cool in this area (high 40s) yet the daytime temperatures usually rise to the 80s. For that reason, we begin each day with full leathers, and then de-layer as the day goes on. The lowest part of Zion Canyon is at 3,666 feet, while at its highest it is 8,726 feet. No wonder we had to start out with leathers and then get out of our heavier clothing when we reached the Visitor Center on the canyon floor. We rode to Zion National Park and trekked around its trails for several hours of enjoyment. The ride into the park was fun, with lots of twisty turns and switchbacks as we descended into the canyon, plus we traveled though the 1.1 mile tunnel that was built in 1930, back when vehicles were much smaller. For that reason, traffic sometimes backs up while the larger RVs and trucks travel through, taking up both lanes of the narrow tunnel. We were glad we only had to wait about 10 minutes going into the park and about 15 minutes when leaving, since we have heard that it sometimes is a much longer wait during the heavy season.
We hiked about a total of three+ miles today on several trails, and wished we’d had room in the tour pack for our hiking shoes, since our motorcycle boots are not really suitable footwear. At the south part of Zion, visitors view the canyon from the floor, and look up at the massive cliffs. If visiting the northern end of the park (we will do this another day), visitors view the canyon from the rim instead so the perspective is very different. While hiking, we saw several mule deer, lots of squirrels, and one three foot long rattlesnake who slithered only a couple feet from us - we counted at least 8 rattles and took some photos while he climbed the hill next to our path.
The sheer vertical cliffs at Zion are massive! Some are up to 3000 feet thick and are the tallest sandstone cliffs in the world. Carved from the Virgin River, in Zion you can find canyons, cliffs, forested highlands, and lowland deserts. We saw so many types of folds, wrinkles, bends, slopes, mesas, and canyons on our adventure today. Some of the named cliffs we saw on our hikes included Weeping Rock, the Court of the Patriarchs, the West Temple, and the Altar of Sacrifice. Many of the names were given to the cliffs by a Methodist minister, but Zion itself was named by the Mormons. We learned that the park was originally named Mukuntuweep National Monument in 1909 (Mukuntuweep means sacred cliffs in Paiute), and became a national park in 1919; this year the park is celebrating its centennial this year. We also learned about the people who have inhabited the lands here, from the earliest ancients to ancestral Puebloans (who, like in Mesa Verde, Canyon of the Ancients, and Monument Valley, moved away about 800 years ago) to the more recent inhabitants, the Paiutes. On the way out of the canyon, we stopped to take photos of the checkerboard mesa, which has unusual markings. The vertical and horizontal furrows are a result of jointing and crossbedding. The checkerboard design has been created by weathering and erosion in the upper portion of the Navajo Formation. All the places we have been so far have been gorgeous, and we are not done yet, since tomorrow we will go to nearby Bryce Canyon National Park.