There are three primary sections of Zion to experience: Zion Canyon Scenic Drive (accessible only by park shuttle from April through October), Zion-Mt. Carmel Drive, and a road tour of Kolob Canyons. We decided to start with the Zion-Mt. Carmel Drive, so we could bring Sadie (our doggy) with us (because we had just arrived in the area yesterday and we don't like to leave her home alone the first day or so).
Zion National Park is located in southwest Utah at the intersection of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, and the Mojave Desert. The elevation in the park ranges from about 3,600' to 8,700'. There is a wide variety of wildlife and vegetation due to the four life zones found here: desert, riparian, woodland, and coniferous forest. The primary feature at the park, the Zion Canyon, is 15 miles long and up to a half mile deep. It was formed by the North Fork of the Virgin River cutting through the Navajo Sandstone over millions of years. Zion was established as a National Park in November of 1919.
As we were making our way to the Visitor Center, we saw several mule deer. We always enjoy seeing wildlife!
Our first stop, as always, was the Visitor Center. A wide array of programs are offered by park rangers and backcountry passes can be acquired here. There is a a very nice bookstore as well.
There are many outdoor displays around the Visitor Center that provide information about the park such as trails, wildlife, geologic history, etc.
The Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway follows UT 9 to the north in the park and then makes a right turn heading east. The scenery along the way is breathtaking.
The Great Arch, 400' long, can be seen to the north. It is called a blind arch because it is recessed into the cliff wall. Much of the landscape is covered with slickrock as shown in the next and subsequent photos.
There is a 1.1 mile tunnel with six large windows, built in the late 1920s, through the massive sandstone cliff. Special permits are required for large-sized vehicles (tour buses, motor coaches, etc.) to travel through the tunnel. One-way traffic through the tunnel when these large vehicles arrive causes delays (10-15 minutes).
East of the tunnel we made several stops along the highway to enjoy the scenery.
Next stop was at Checkerboard Mesa. The Navajo sandstone has two sets of lines forming the checkerboard pattern (called crossbedding). The vertical lines are caused by moisture freezing and thawing in the sandstone.
When we reached the Eastern entrance to Zion, we turned around and drove west on the highway to return to a trail located near the Visitor Center. We were thrilled to see a small herd of desert bighorn sheep near the road. Can you see the two males behind the females?
We stayed in our car to snap more photos, careful not to frighten them.
We returned to the Visitor Center parking lot to find the trailhead for the Pa'rus Trail. This is the only trail in the park that permits dogs. It is a paved path that runs along the North Fork of the Virgin River on the right and South Campground on the left.
River access paths take you to sandy beaches along the river where we saw both dogs and humans enjoying the water.
Continuing on the trail, below are scenic views to the west, east, and north (towards Zion Canyon). This is an easy trail that was convenient to access and fun for us all.
We will be returning to Zion while we are in the area to see the two other areas: Zion Canyon and Kolob Canyons.
Admission to Zion National Park is $30/vehicle. Our senior pass gets us in for free. Be sure to pick up a newspaper that has more detailed information about hiking trails when you enter the park. Lots of folks park in Springdale and catch the free shuttle as the parking lot at the Visitor Center is frequently full between 10 am and 3 pm. Rangers will give parking tickets to vehicles that are illegally parked. The shuttle departs from the Visitor Center frequently and can take you to the Zion Human History Museum and Zion Canyon. Zion is one of the most visited of the National Parks with over 3.2 million visitors in 2014. For additional information, check out their website.