Road Trip! Friday, September 9, 2011-Zion National Park

I am standing in a red slot canyon that used to be a huge dune-covered desert that made the Sahara look tiny 250 million years ago.

Today, the dunes have been compacted, lifted, and folded into great sheets of twisted rock, then cut by water, wind, and rain until the surfaces are striated with deep cuts at all angles.  Sage brush and the odd shrub live oak eking out a meager existence in an area that only gets 15 inches of rain a year, but they hang on in the cracks of the rock and in the sandy river banks.  Yet here, hidden deep down the park’s trails behind tall cottonwoods, maples, and alders lining the Virgin River, you’ll find grottos with hanging gardens of ferns draped over cliff tops moist with a constant flow of crystal clear drinking water that pours like a shower into an green pond called the Emerald Pool.

Zion offers quiet pleasures like the tinkle of water or the sight of wild turkeys, bighorn sheep, and deer grazing along the roadside, its tall towers of red sandstone giving mute testament to the forces that made them.  Even though we are seeing this on a rare day when there has been some very light rain and a whole lot of cloud cover, the sculpted vertical walls glow white, red, gold, silver, black, and grey in the dying september light.

We started out our day in Las Vegas, and I won $40 playing roulette and blackjack, but the rude behavior of my fellow gambling mates at the table ruined the experience for me.  I hadn’t played in the US for a long time and had forgotten that you can only put one hand on your cards and then you must place them under your chips, which I was mildly rebuked for, but the coup de grace was when I had the temerity to double on tens that actually drove one of the other patrons away “I can’t stand to play like this”, and another to exclaim, “You never double on tens”, to which i replied, “Yes, I do”, and proceeded to win, which is what I think really pissed them off.  But in any event I don’t need pissed off people at 10 in the morning, and it’s just another reason not to like Las Vegas, where the ugliness of the city and the people goes all the way to the bone.  We left immediately through a lobby full of at least 300 Mexicans lined up out the door.  Good riddance!

The highway to Zion is boring until you get to about 4000 feet elevation.  that’s when the desert cacti and brush give way to mesas and buttes flat and blue against a clear sky, and the road descends into a fantastic series of raised graceful arcs through the Diablo Range before ascending into the park itself.

We pay our $25 entry fee and drive through the main entrance all the way through to the eastern boundary immediately on the Zion Mount Carmel highway.  This isn’t a big park, so this doesn’t take long, but it’s an incredible journey, as it traverses two tunnels, one a mile long, and a series of switchbacks up a slot canyon carved into geometric slabs and arcs, and if you don’t have the top down you should, and I’d highly recommend a little ZZ Top on the way.

You can’t drive the most scenic road yourself, so we park our car and take a free shuttle to see the bulk of the park, and this is easy to do, since it stops at every major attraction and trailhead and i never waited more than ten minutes for the next bus.  Besides the Grotto and the Emerald Pools (Upper and Lower), you can see such colorfully named rock monoliths and formations as the Great White Throne (I thought that was my toilet?), the Checkerboard Mesa, and the Three Patriarchs.  The road ends at the Temple of Sinawava, where the 2000 foot deep canyon narrows to 20 feet in a river gorge.

Zion is colorful and unique, and the temperature this time of year was a perfect 75 or so degrees for us.  I’d go, if I were you.

And I’d stay at the Rodeway Inn, even though the Internet is slow and they need spelling lessons, because the price is right at $77 and it is right across the street from JR’s restaurant, where Jonathan and I have dinner.  I am a little hungry, so i have the salad bar, which is good and fresh, a cheeseburger, and some onion rings.  Everything was good except the onion rings, and this surprises me, because they brag about them and feature them everywhere (not to mention charge you extra for them), but what you get are 5 average to tiny size rings, and the waitress tells you that’s all you’re going to get, because she is the Onion Ring Nazi I guess.  But for $26 with a diminished tip it’s not bad.

I am up too late again writing this. Today was also laundry day, and Jonathan handled that chore before we hit the malfunctioning hot tub, which we shared with a couple of Muslims who are no doubt plotting something for the 11th.  Good night!

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