Zion National Park

Last week we traveled down to southern Utah to visit Zion National Park. From Idaho Falls it’s about 500 miles straight south. We stayed in St. George for several nights and visited the park on Thursday, September 11. – ‘9-11’ – We saw a lot of American flags at half-mast.

We’re on Highway 9, close to the park entrance now.

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Visitors used to travel by car to the points of interest along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. But because of the crush of traffic, in the year 2000 a shuttle service was implemented. Now you park near the Visitor’s Center and catch one of the many shuttles that give you a guided tour with several stops. You can pick and choose where and when you want to get off the shuttle, and which trails you want explore. (Leave your pets at home if you want to ride the shuttles, by the way.) Here’s a photo of the map with the shuttle routes:

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Shuttles arrive at each stop about every 12 minutes – round trip to the last stop and back to the Visitor’s Center takes about 60 minutes. Easy!

We decided to ride the shuttle to the last stop – the Temple of Sinawava – and work our way back – Here we are on the hike. It’s about impossible to capture the magnificent rock cliffs with an I-phone camera, but I give it a whirl:

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That’s David ahead – with the backpack. You can see the walk is paved – many of the trails and all the shuttles are wheelchair friendly.

There are signs posted everywhere: “Do not feed the wildlife.” Okay, okay… But then we run into this squirrel perched up on a fence post alongside the path. He stops several tourists in their tracks. Including me. Look at him!

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Posing for photos, pouring on the charm; one tourist actually reached over and scratched him on the head. (Stupid tourist.)
We can’t feed him? Are you kidding? Awwwwww. Look how fat he is.

A few steps further and another throng of tourists are stopped in their tracks. Oh, no big deal. Just a really big, thick, hairy, creeping ….

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Tarantula? You’re kidding! In these parts? There was a ranger beside him on the path, specifically to give the tarantula safe passage across the walk. Turns out, it’s mating season for tarantulas, as the ranger explains. This is a male, probably 8 or 9 years old. He has been hanging out in his hole all these past years, molting, maturing, and now that he has finally reached full maturity he has crawled out of his hole to mate. Over the next month he hopes to get ‘lucky’ about 4 times, that is, lucky enough to mate without getting devoured by any of the females he gets lucky with. Soon after he’s done mating, he dies (of exhaustion, one would presume). I Googled tarantulas to verify the ranger’s facts – here’s a link, and an additional link, if you want to read more about tarantulas.

They are actually quite gentle and peace loving critters who are only interested in injecting their venom into beetles, grasshoppers, caterpillars, cicadas and other things tarantulas eat. The venom liquefies the insides of these creatures, concocting a tasty ‘bug soup’. YUM! Although if provoked enough, tarantulas will bite humans, but the bite hurts less than a bee sting and poses no serious hazard. This is why they make such great pets (yeah, right). Females make the best pets, as they can live up to 25 years while males live about ten years. You go, girls!

David was interested in a much more strenuous hike than Megan and I (you go, girls!) so he got off and we rode on to the next stop. I took a picture of the map of the area so I can show you how cool and accommodating this worked out for all of us.

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The destination was the Emerald pools – David got off at the Grotto stop and hiked the upper Kayenta trail, while Megan and I got off at the Zion Lodge, took a bathroom break, sat and shared a big fat chocolate muffin, and a beverage, took a photo….

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then moseyed over to the lower Kayenta trail…. where, sure enough, we very quickly met David. Meanwhile, David had encountered a, uh, 30″ rattlesnake along the upper trail- who slivered away before he got a really good picture. (What? I would have gotten the picture for sure, come hell or high water, and likewise, been bitten and nearly dead by now, so it’s a good thing Megan and I opted for ‘plan B’.)

I took a video of the scenery on the hike to the Emerald pools.

It’s just about impossible to capture the scenery in photos – but I’ll post the best of what I took:

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It was difficult to capture the Emerald Pool in a photo, here is my best effort:

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The Virgin River is still flowing fast and muddy today, two days after the biggest rain they’d had in this area in 30 years, associated with tropical storm Norbet. (check out this link). The park was closed this past Tuesday due to flooding and debis on the roads.

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I took one last short video of the rock formations while waiting for the bus back to the Visitors Center.

In our car now, checking out more of the park on the Zion Mount Carmel Highway (pictured on the first map above) –

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crisscrossing up the side of a mountain into a one-mile tunnel carved through the rock –

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and a second, much shorter, tunnel.

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Headed back down again

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One last shot of the peaks as we head out of the park back to St. George.

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We have one more day left in St. George before we hit the road back home to Idaho. David drove like a bat out of hell to get us home and I captured photos through the buggy windows from the front passenger’s seat as the scenery flew by. (Hey, that’s how we roll.) You’re just chomping at the bit to see my next blog aren’t you?

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