The average high temperature in Zion National Park is 95º Fahrenheit in June. The highest temperature ever recorded in June was 114º. It was somewhere between these when Ruth & I arrived in Zion on June 28. The morning had been fantastic because a man back in Cedar City, who liked Kolob a lot better than Zion, told us about it.
The visitor center for Kolob Canyons was just off I-15, Exit 40. Above it was a 5 mile, mountain-climbing road that ended at a viewpoint. It’s Canyons because there are several fissures up there. Thickly forested & cooler than Zion, the Kolob Canyons northwest of Zion were carved by streams that created cracks on the Colorado Plateau. They’re accurately described on one sign as miniature Zions or finger canyons. We took an easy, one-half mile hike along Timber Creek Overlook Trail to an even more spectacular view of Kolob, the type that creates a desire to sit on a rock for the rest of the day and stare in wonder. After this almost solitary 5 compass travel experience, we went to Zion.
Humans have been living along the Virgin River under sandstone cliffs that are among the tallest in the world for 10,000 years. When Mormons came to farm, they named the canyon “Zion”. Translation: “A place of quiet sanctuary”.
No more. Ruth and I drove through the resort/motel infested town of Springdale and joined a long line of cars waiting to enter Zion. The Visitor Center and Watchman Campground were just inside the main gate. The VC had a 450 slot parking lot with a camper or car in every slot, so we joined the circling parade until someone left. In the Center, we got into a long line to get information about the Park from rangers who were calmer and friendlier than I would have been. The VC had some so-so outdoor exhibits, a busy water bottle filling station, and the 1st shuttle stop.
What we didn’t know was that Zion has become so popular that it has become necessary to use a shuttle service to access the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. There are more than half a dozen stops on the 80 minute round trip. It’s mandatory to board a bus beginning in April and lasting through October 26, at least in 2014. The schedule is subject to change and visitors from November weekdays through March still have access to the Canyon in their own vehicles without restriction.
We decided to test the system by taking a crowded shuttle up to the Zion Human History Museum, which offered an old orientation film full of clichés, some indoor exhibits mostly about canyon settlement, a bookstore, etc. ZHHM also was the start of the Pa’rus Trail that no one in their right mind would take in summer afternoon heat. It didn’t take long for Ruth & me to vow to return to Zion before April, 2015, and escape. We took the shuttle back to the main visitor center, claimed our oven-like car, and headed down the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway to the East Entrance.
To be continued after we revisit Zion on March 23. For now, Kolob wins.