Zion National Park protects 229 square miles and is known for its steep Navajo Sandstone cliffs and narrow canyons. It is hard to believe that 250 million years ago those same cliffs were sand dunes in a vast desert.
The Virgin River and its tributaries meander through the park. Other features created by water are the hanging gardens. These grow when water that has collected in pools starts to run along the top surface of Kayenta shale, an impermeable gray rock, and then drips down. Thirsty plants begin to grow amongst these tiny cascades. And of course this diverse landscape, which spans 3,000 feet in altitude, supports many animals as well.
While driving to the park, our RV dashboard warning lights started flashing and all of the dashboard instruments failed. That had happened previously, with everything returning back to normal almost immediately. But this time, the problem continued.
Since we knew the problem would recur, Hector had identified a Freightliner “Oasis” dealer near Zion. He immediately made an appointment for Monday (it was Friday) hoping that when we took Island Girl in the electrical problem would still be observable.
We then headed to Sheep Bridge Road to find a campsite. But the road was closed for a bike race, so we perched at Virgin Dam Road in a site near the main road so that we would have easy access on Monday to get out and get to the dealership. Check out my review of our Virgin Dam boondocking site here.
As we settled in, we realized that our refrigerator was not working. After checking all of the obvious things, Hector found a mobile RV guy who agreed to come over Friday evening to look at it. Ernie diagnosed the problem as a failed cooling unit. And we had to wait until Monday to order a new cooling unit or a new refrigerator – the two possible fixes. So off we went to buy coolers and block ice. When it rains it pours.
Since nothing more could be done, on Sunday we went for a drive on the Zion Mt. Carmel Highway (SR9), the main road through Zion that is open year round. This road goes from the south end of the park to the east end of the park.
In Zion, we were immediately surrounded by immense red rock cliffs with budding trees sprinkling their bright spring green across the red landscape. Many of the imposing rocks have names, and one of the most prominent as you enter from the south entrance is The Watchman, rising to 6,546 feet.
As we approached the East Canyon, we were told that there were several condors in the distance and we saw three of them. Condors almost went extinct in the 1980s but an aggressive recovery effort which combined captive breeding with reintroduction into the wild saved them. They were reintroduced in California and Arizona and are now present in Utah as well. We heard that there are nine in the park.
We were so excited! Later though when we were able to take a closer look at Hector’s photos, we discovered that they were turkey vultures. Rats. It is still very nice to know that these giant birds are making a comeback.
But we were also rewarded by finding lots of bighorn sheep in the area. There were no big rams (males) in the lower altitudes, but we saw several mommas (ewes) with little ones (lambs) and even one nursing. Watching the lambs testing their footing along narrow rock ledges can be nerve racking. But they sure are fun to watch as they hop along some “easier” terrain.
After watching the bighorn sheep for a while, we continued to the Zion-Mt Carmenl Tunnel. AT 1.1 miles long, it was the longest non-urban road tunnel in the U.S. when it was completed in 1930. The reason for its construction at that time was to connect Zion National Park to Bryce National Park and the Grand Canyon (a pretty fabulous threesome if you ask me).
Anyone planning to drive a vehicle 7’10” or wider and/or 11’4″ or higher through the tunnel should check this link prior to entering the park and they will need to have their vehicle measured at the entrance. If allowed, they will also need to purchase a $15 permit to be escorted through the tunnel while two-way traffic is halted.
We drove through in our car while touring but did not need to take Island Girl through.
The tunnel has a few windows that provide brief glimpses of the beauty outside. I drove through late in the day and there was no one behind us, so I was able to slow down enough for Hector to take a photo out one of the windows.
On our return drive, Hector stopped to take some photographs of the Virgin River and the Watchman from the bridge at Canyon Junction. Just as he got to the bridge, he spotted a deer swimming across the river and managed to get one capture.
There are a number of hikes in this part of the park, but we had Angel with us and so were limited to walking around developed areas. But I had a rewarding first glimpse of the park.
Monday arrived, and we drove Island Girl in to the Freightliner shop in Hurricane, Utah, next door to Zion. Oasis dealers have technicians who specialize in motorhomes as opposed to being focused only on trucks.
We dropped Island Girl off and drove to St. George, the second largest city in Utah. Ernie had mentioned that an RV service shop there was selling a used refrigerator and we went to take a look at it. Getting a used refrigerator would have been cheaper than replacing the cooling unit, and also faster since we would not have to wait for shipping. Unfortunately, we found out that neither our refrigerator nor the used one would fit through our door, even if we took the door off its hinges. So we ordered a new cooling unit from Oregon.
Now we headed back to check out the original boondocking area that had been closed on Saturday and found a great spot high on the plateau with 360 degree views. Check out my review of our Sheep Bridge Road boondocking site here.That day we found out that a lovely couple we met last year in Anza Borrego, Kerry and Tim, had arrived in the area. They spotted Island Girl by the road while we were scouting a campsite in our car. And we made plans to meet them for happy hour the next day.
Kerry and Tim found one of the most beautiful spots that we have ever seen to boondock in. The way in was not Island Girl friendly though. We were pretty surprised they were daring enough to get their Airstream down by this cliff but they did and it was awesome.
Kerry makes really unique and delicious cocktails from their bar stocked with many exotic ingredients. She treated us to a cocktail made with Mescal whose name I forget. But it was complex and very yummy.
Byron and Moose, their dogs are adorable and Moose is a big flirt with all of the women he meets. We also met some of their friends who were camping nearby, including Kelly, who we first met at Quartzsite at Chris and Cheri’s movie showing.
The next day, Hector’s ankle was feeling better and we went on a short 2-mile hike by the Virgin River. Zion Canyon Road, which accesses many of the park’s trails, is only accessible by shuttle bus from March through October – and no pets are allowed on the bus nor on the trails.
The trail we were headed to, the Riverside Walk, was at the end of the shuttle bus run, so I got to see lots more of the park on the way.
The Riverside Walk is an easy paved trail that follows the Virgin River along the bottom of a narrow canyon. It is also the access to the Narrows, a slot canyon trail which is a “wading hike” through the river.
I always try to find the areas in National Parks where dogs are allowed. In Zion National Park it is the Par’us Trail, which runs past the campground along the Virgin River for about one and one half miles each way. Biking is also allowed on this trail.
The day had warmed up and the trail has almost no shade, but it does have many spots where you can walk down to shady areas by the river. Angel and I spent a lot of our time right by the river. She did her normal “dipping of the paws” in several spots where we could find eddies in the river.
When we returned, Ernie had just begun the process for the installation. And there was a windstorm. So Island Girl was getting flooded with sand. We had dinner plans and plans to watch the full moon rise, but had to nix everything as the repair ran quite late.
Ernie had trouble with parts of the install, so we agreed to have him quit for the day and return the next day to complete the install. So our refrigerator “slept” on the floor that night. Angel was a bit confused, but she did ok.
The next morning Ernie completed the repair and we had our refrigerator back! And we made a good effort to clean up Island Girl as best we could in the windy desert.
We were very grateful that we were able to get both of our technical problems taken care of and still enjoy some of the beauty of Zion National Park.