Bryce and Zion National Parks
Sep 28, 2014
Never heard of it?…..we hadn’t either, but found a great little RV park there that also had a small motel (6 rooms). Since Therese’s brother Bernie and his friend Jan were joining us for our tour of SW Utah National Parks, it would serve as a good base of operations. Also, it was located in between our first two target parks – Bryce and Zion. We had a welcome dinner (steak on the barbie) that evening, and planned our strategy for touring these two iconic national parks.
Bryce Canyon National Park
The next morning, we arrived at Bryce Canyon National Park and went directly to the Visitors Center to watch the introductory movie, which provided some interesting history of the park. Bryce is located on the Colorado Plateau, a massive area (130,000 sq. miles) that was raised up nearly 2 miles by tectonic plate activity 15 million years ago. This area has 10 National Parks, the greatest concentration of U.S. National Parks in the country.
The park road in Bryce is 18 miles long, and follows the plateau rim. There are free shuttle buses that serve the most popular facilities and overlooks, but we wanted to be free to explore at our own pace, and instead drove our own vehicle. The rangers at the Visitors Center gave us some good advice on which overlooks were best seen in the morning sun, so we headed for those first, and drove to the end of the road at Rainbow Point. We spent the entire day stopping at every overlook and taking short hikes for the best views. As we enjoyed the views, we noticed how walking a few steps dramatically altered the scene below, and as the Sun arced across the sky, it resulted in slowly altered hues and shifting shadows over the land. The elevation ranged from 7200 to 9100 feet, and clearly affected our breathing as we climbed the inclines. As we toured Bryce Canyon, we noticed our viewpoint was consistently from above, looking down into the rough and craggy red cliffs.
Zion National Park
We approached Zion National Park from the East Entrance, and followed the twisting Zion-Mount Carmel Highway to the Visitors Center. This twisting, winding road with many spectacular overlooks was a highlight of our visit. The road was 7 miles as the crow flies, but probably double that with its switchbacks. This entrance to the park also includes going through the The Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. Construction of the 1.1 mile tunnel began in the late 1920's and was completed in 1930. At the time that the tunnel was dedicated, on July 4, 1930, it was the longest tunnel of its type in the United States. Traffic on both ends of the tunnel are controlled by Rangers. Larger vehicles (like our big truck) cannot negotiate the tunnel safely in 2-way traffic, so we paid a $15 tunnel permit fee and the rangers converted the two-way tunnel traffic to one-way for our transit.
Unlike Bryce, Zion National Park does not allow visitors to drive their own vehicle, so we parked in the Visitors Center parking lot and used the free shuttle which runs along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, stopping at 8 attractions and viewpoints along the way. We noticed that Zion gave us a different perspective from Bryce: while it is also located on the Colorado Plateau, our viewpoints of this park were mostly from the bottom of the canyon, looking up to the cliffs. We took the shuttle to the far end of its line, the Temple of Sinawa, and from there hiked along the Virgin River (which created the canyon walls as it cut through over many years). We stopped about a mile in, and observed the entrance to the granddaddy of all slot canyons - The Narrows, where the walls rise nearly 2000 feet and are only 30 feet apart at the extremes. Our day of exploration drew to a close, and we said good-bye to this beautiful park.
Utah’s Patchwork Parkway, Cedar Breaks National Monument
It was another gorgeous sunny day, perfect for more sightseeing, so we drove Scenic Byway 143 (Patchwork Parkway) , which offers one of the great scenic byway experiences in the western United States. This beautiful roadway follows a 55 mile long course that rises from 6,000 feet on the western slope to elevations over 10,000 feet on a majestic plateau, and eventually descends again to 6,500 feet along the eastern slope. This roadway follows ancient migration routes used by Native American clans. It took us to Cedar Breaks National Monument and Brian Head. These two viewpoints are high spots on the plateau, offering spectacular views stretching more than 100 miles in all directions. The forests of Bryce Canyon National Park and the rock formations of Zion National Park are each visible from this elevated spot of 11,307 feet. The aspen trees were turning bright yellow, and offered a breath-taking contrast to the evergreens. We found a lovely spot next to a stream for our picnic, and resisted the urge to take a nap next to the bubbling stream.
Our next destination was calling, and we had seen all that we came to see here in SW Utah. So Bernie and Jan packed up their car, and we hooked up our home, and we left for Page, Arizona.