Welcome to Part 2 of our November visit to Zion National Park in Utah. If you missed it, here’s a link to Part 1.
Before I take you back to the park, I’d like to show you where we lodged for the three days we were in the vicinity of Zion. Before leaving home on this journey across the plains and over the mountains into Utah, I did some basic research on places to stay along the way. I sketched out a travel plan leaving room for flexibility for weather events, car trouble, or the need to stay one more night in a place we found special. I would make a hotel reservation a few days ahead of our arrival to ensure we didn’t have to spend the night camped out in the Red Rover.
There are lots of choices of places to stay around Zion. I first checked the Zion Lodge located in the park along the scenic drive, it was booked. Then I looked at the many choices of lodging in Springdale, the tourist town just outside the park entrance. Some were booked, some had rates above our budget, and the affordable choices either came with poor reviews or were dumps, or both. Then I looked at AirBnb. Again, there were lots of choices in Springdale, nice but out of our price range. Location, location! I broadened my search and found a place in the village of Virgin about 15 miles west of the park entrance. It fit our budget and had just the right accommodations for two people.
The 101 Rancho hosted by Gene and Ronda is a recently rehabbed studio apartment on the lower level of a former general store and auto repair shop. It doesn’t look like much when you first drive up to the place. I wondered if I made the right decision.
Our instructions were to drive around back where we saw the sign for reserved parking. We approached the apartment curious how it looked inside.
Once inside we were delighted. It was nicely decorated and had all the amenities we needed for our stay. I don’t have any photos of the interior but click on this link to learn more about The Rancho 101. We highly recommend this location. Gene and Ronda were delightful hosts. Gene was a butcher, Ronda a stay-at-home mom. A couple of other families lived close by, a daughter and her family and the family of their business partner. There were goats, chickens, and a few steers grazing on the property just above the Virgin River. They shared tree ripened pomegranates with us, a delicious treat for us. Gene told us that the general store where he and Ronda lived above the apartment was used in one scene of the 1979 film “The Electric Horseman” starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. An interesting story for an interesting historical place. Now on to Zion.
Zion National Park
It was around 8:30 AM on November 11, Veteran’s Day, when we returned to Zion National Park. The traffic through Springdale was steady, there was a line up at the admission kiosks to enter the park, even though admission was free on this federal holiday. We found a parking spot in the visitor center lot, grabbed our day packs and camera gear, and boarded the shuttle bus that would take us through the fifteen-mile Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. The shuttle service was very efficient, running about every five minutes so it was never a long wait for a ride.
We got off at every stop that was open along the Scenic Drive. We would walk over to the Virgin River that flows near the road and a few times on one of the many less strenuous hiking trails in the park. I took a lot of photos of the river and the surrounding mountains. Here are a few for your viewing pleasure.
This is my favorite photo of our visit to Zion. The reflection of the mountain in the ripples of the Virgin River.
The last stop on the Scenic Drive is the at the Temple of Sinawava. From the bus stop, it’s about a one-mile hike on the Riverside Walk to the entrance to The Narrows. As we hopped on and off the shuttle, we noticed several passengers outfitted in dry suits, sealed canyoneering shoes, and carrying a walking stick. These were rented outfits for walking a couple miles in the river to the scenic Narrows, one of the most iconic spots in the park. When we reached the end of the Riverside Walk, there were folks preparing to head into The Narrows and some returning. We noted that several were dressed in shorts, flip-flops, or sneakers. The water is very cold, but most of them were young, their brains still developing!
There was a large group of school kids at the end of the trail supervised by their teachers. They were having a ball checking out the cold water, sliding down a slippery rock, and generally goofing off. It was good to see kids enjoying nature.
We watched the hikers go to and from The Narrows for a while then walked back to bus stop. We’d spent about four hours in Zion Canyon, it was enough to get the flavor and see the sites. Back at the visitor center, we stopped at the restrooms where there was a long line at for the women, no potty parity here! There was no line in the men’s restroom.
Kolob Terrace Road
Back at the Red Rover, we scored one of the many picnic tables situated around the parking lot. After enjoying the warm sun, the temperature was in the upper 50s, we decided there was enough daylight remaining to take a drive on the Kolob Terrace Road into the backcountry on the west side of Zion. The turnoff was just a few miles west of our AirBnb. There were very few cars, it was nice to be away from the crowds at the park. We stopped several times to view the scenery, especially enjoying the backside of Zion from a distance. We drove as far as Kolob Reservoir, a man-made lake with a few brave fisherman out in their boats. To get there we passed through a remote section of the park where very few of the four million annual visitors see. It had its own beauty and serenity, maybe that’s why we liked it so much. It was nearly dark, when we pulled into the AirBnb. A good day indeed.
The Kolob Canyon Section
Our last full day in Zion started out with disappointment. Our plan was to take another look at the sites along the east entrance on the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway. When got close to the Springdale entrance, we saw the large sign indicating the road was closed due to a rock slide. Shucks! I may or may not have said something more colorful that that!
Ok, on to plan B. We turned around and headed back through Springdale, whence we just came. We had laundry on our list of things to do and pulled into the laundromat on Main Street. All was quiet in the laundry, we were able to quickly wash and dry our clothes and catch-up on some correspondence. After dropping the clean clothes off at our AirBnb, we made our way to LaVerkin then to I-15 north for about fifteen miles to the Kolob Canyon Section of Zion National Park.
Kolob Canyon is connected to the Zion Canyon section by the narrow strip of land that we crossed the day before on the Kolob Terrace Road. After a stop at the small visitor center to stamp our Passport to National Parks, we started out on the six mile scenic drive. Again, there weren’t many cars, there was plenty of parking at the turnouts along the way. More photos were snapped of the red rock formations.
At the end of the scenic drive, we parked and walked the Timber Creek Overlook Trail. Proper footwear was required, the trail was rough, an errant slip might land you in the abundant prickly pear cacti that lined the path. But the air was fresh with a hint of cedar, the sun was bright and warmed our faces. A nice afternoon constitutional and plenty of photographs.
At the end of the trail, we saw this woman seemingly sitting on the edge of the world. It was at least the edge of a cliff!
On our way out of Kolob Canyon, we stopped at one of the turnouts for another look at the beautiful scenery. There was a van in the parking lot with the door open. As I was taking a look at the tall peaks, a fellow about my age emerged from the van. We struck up a conversation and introduced ourselves. Meet Ryan from Vermont, he’s traveling around the country living in his van while visiting national parks. I told him, I’d never been to Vermont. He regaled me with stories of it’s beauty especially in the fall. Before we parted ways, he gave me a page from a small calendar from his wife’s work place. It was the month of October 2022 with a photo of the changing colors along a river in Vermont. Now I have this stuck in my mind as a place to go next fall. We’ll see. In return, I asked if I could take a photo of him. It was one of those chance encounters that makes travel memorable.
A Last Look at Zion
We still had some daylight so made the half hour drive back to the main section of Zion for a walk on the Par’us Trail. This trail follows the Virgin River from the visitor center to entrance to Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. We walked a leisurely pace, in no hurry so we could soak up the atmosphere of the flowing river and surrounding peaks. As the sun began to get lower in the western sky, the golden hour light became more vivid. This is the kind of thing that gets a photographer excited. Add in a half moon rising over the top of the mountains, it becomes even more special. A perfect ending to a memorable visit to Zion National Park.
I’ll be the first to admit, that Zion wasn’t our favorite park or monument we experienced on this trip. Don’t get me wrong, the scenery is awesome. It was the crowds and the fact we had to ride a shuttle bus to see the most scenic section of the park. I understand why it’s necessary for the Park Service to provide this service, there are so few parking spots in Zion Canyon, the daily traffic jam would be even more aggravating. We’ll come again, maybe in the winter when there are even fewer visitors. For more information on Zion National Park, click here.
Next up Death Valley.
Until then, happy travels!