Zion National Park and Coral Pink Sand Dunes

Yesterday we made our way to Zion National Park. Zion was formed from a million years of flowing water that cut through the red and white Navajo sandstone to create the sheer canyon walls. It began as a vast desert millions of years ago. Nearly incessant winds blew one dune on top of another until the sands reached a depth of more than 2,000 feet. Unlike the Grand Canyon where one stands at the rim and looks down, Zion canyon is viewed from the bottom looking up.

The first thing we noticed as we headed off on the highway that leads to Zion is that the road is red.

It is about 30 miles from Kanab (where we are staying) to Zion. Along the way we passed the turnoff to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park and decided to stop on the way back if time allowed.

Almost immediately upon entering through the gate to Zion, one sees what, for me, is the iconic view of Checkerboard Mesa. I have driven through Zion several times, and this is the one formation that has stuck with me. It is a classic view of the weathered sandstone beds crosshatched with vertical joints. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get a very good picture of it. We drove past on our way in, and this next image was taken on the way out. The sun was in the worst possible spot so that I was shooting directly into the bright light. I've toned down the brightness and bumped up the contrast, and so I hope you can see what I'm talking about.

Here's what the sign says about Checkerboard Mesa.

We traveled on a bit to a turnout where we could get out and see the canyon.

When I looked down at my feet, I saw this in the image below. Now...ya' gotta wonder...

Yeah, we picked that up and placed it in the appropriate receptacle. Continuing on, we passed through a short tunnel.

I don't have a lot of commentary to add to these images. The scenery is spectacular. I love the ridges and swirls on these formations.

Eventually, we came to the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel. Here's the sign. Keep in mind that this 1.1 mile tunnel is cut from solid rock.

When you come out the other side, there is a turnout where the scenery simply takes your breath away. The scale is mind-boggling. I'm hoping the image below with the road and the cars at the bottom will give you some idea how enormous everything is. 

Here is a panorama. Remember to click on the image to make it larger. I think the thing I love most about the parks is that one cannot stand before such incredible sights and not be fully present in the moment. Any worries or cares of the day simply fade to the background and one stands in awe of the time and forces that created these incredible landmarks.

We were disappointed to find many of the turnouts and parking lots full. Zion has instituted a shuttle policy that is in effect between May and October. Nevertheless, we couldn't get to the visitor center because the parking lot was full. We drove around three times and finally gave up. Further, we couldn't park to take the shuttle through some of the other roads in the park without driving into the town of Springdale to park. There, yet another shuttle will take you back to the park where you can catch the park shuttle. 

Still, we enjoyed the fact that we drove into Springdale. We both waxed nostalgic about this place. Here's why: We were married in May of 1975. We moved to Phoenix, AZ, in September of that year where Mike went to school for three years, including summers, to earn his degree in engineering. I worked as a legal secretary and he worked at a flower shop. We were poor as church mice. We didn't have air-conditioning in our cars and we couldn't afford to run the air-conditioner in our apartment at a temperature any lower than 80 degrees. It was hot, hot, hot in the summer, but we knew a better life was at the end of that road. 

The time seems short looking back on it, but it was long while we were living it. Mike graduated at the end of September, 1978, and he had a job in Beaverton, Oregon. His company paid our expenses to move to Oregon. We left Phoenix on October 8th, and we couldn't get out of that heat fast enough. We drove out of town and stopped at the last overlook where we could still see the city. Heatwaves were rising over the desert. It was 8:00 a.m. and 108 degrees. We waved a fond farewell and good riddance. It was literally the first day of the rest of our lives.

So what does Springdale have to do with all of this? Well...it is the place we stayed on that first night...in the motel you see below. It wasn't "Historic" when we stayed there. We briefly mused about how old one has to be to remember a "Historic" place before it was "Historic".

In this image below, you can see the exact room where we stayed. It was the first room to the left, at the top of the stairs. We had two cars. Mike drove the car with our two cats, Benjamin and Peanut, in the back. I drove the other car which was filled with all of our house plants. It got cold at night, and so we had to carry everything up to our room...cats and plants.

So, moving ahead 35 years, we hung out in Springdale for a little bit. There were lots of fun galleries and we had lunch at the "Historic" Pioneer Restaurant (associated with the motel). Then we headed back through Zion the same way we came in. By that time, we'd lost all energy for shuttle buses. 

Here's the thing about Zion: It is one of the granddaddies of the national park system, and there is a good reason why. It is well worth seeing despite anything I'm about to say here. Still, the traffic jams at the gates, along the roads, at the turnouts, in the parking lots, and waiting to get through the tunnel somehow take away from that woodsy experience.

We thought that visiting late in the fall would spare us this sort of thing, but clearly, it did not. So here's my recommendation: Plan to visit Zion in the late spring before the madding crowds arrive. Have reservations ahead of time to ensure a place to stay, and plan to stay at the nice RV park in Springdale or one of the motels there. There is camping inside the park as well, and it was very nice. However, it was full, and it is available only on a first come, first served basis. Don't count on finding a spot there. By staying near the park, it is an easy walk out to one of the many shuttle stops lining the streets of Springdale. We will plan to follow our own advice at some point in the future, and maybe then we'll get to do some hiking.

The drive back looked different even though we were seeing the same sights. The position of the sun had changed, and of course, we were seeing everything from the other direction. Even though we didn't manage to do any hiking, it was a wonderful day. And, of course, any trip like this is about the journey, not the destination.

Come back in a million years or so, and we're betting this will be an arch.

While we waited our turn to go through the long tunnel, I snapped this image out my window.

And this was the parting shot as we left the gates of Zion.

It was still early enough in the afternoon, that we decided to turn off to see Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. We've been through lots of "open range", but this is the first time we saw cows along the road. These were the first two we saw, but there were a lot more along this road.

Admission price was $6 for day use, and we just wanted to see them. One can walk out on the dunes, but the folks approaching us who had done that were huffing and puffing. We decided to forego that experience because, honestly, my knee can't take walking on soft sand.

Here's a panorama. It isn't as spectacular as Zion, but we were glad we drove out to see it.

Here's what the sign had to say about this.

Beyond that dune is the notch the sign refers to.

And from there we drove back to the trailer. We discovered a "fabric" store in Kanab and we stopped on the way back. Their "open" sign was on, but when I tried the door, I discovered they were closed on Mondays. It wasn't a "quilt shop" per se, but it still would have been fun to look.

In any case, we came back to the trailer and Smitty got a good walk in the afternoon. From here, we are starting our journey home. We are planning to spend the next two nights at Great Basin National Park just inside the Nevada border, and then we will spend the next three days heading home. We are hoping to stay inside the park at Great Basin tonight. More later.

20 comments from clever and witty friends:

Pattilou said...

Oh, you've hit all the spots I remember from my youth. We used to live close to Zion's Park too, and we'd go occasionally, but like you noticed the traffic is so horrendous. You've captured it all in pictures really well! Love those sand dunes. Many in Southern Utah! We've been to all of them I think.

Diane Wild said...

You had two cats wayyy back then and two cats now. Did you ever think it would be different? Wonderful scenery and I bet it conjured up a lot of memories. Why so much traffic this time of year? Kids should be in school.

Lyndsey said...

What amazing rock formations. I love the scenery but don't fancy the traffic jams.

Teresa in Music City said...

What a wonderful feast for the eyes!!! Loved all the gorgeous shots and the opportunity to share in all that glory through your lens Barbara! I'm sorry you didn't get to do all you had planned, but I bet you did all that was really best for you to do :*) I'd love to see all that with my own eyes someday.....

WoolenSails said...

The scenery is so amazing and love those tunnels under the rocks, so cool.


Dana Gaffney said...


Becky said...

Thank you for sharing your vacation pictures. I almost have the hubs convinced to vacation in Utah next summer. I figure if I keep showing him your posts then it's all good. Again thank you.

Dasha said...

Stunning scenery! And great photography. Thank you again for sharing

Deb@asimplelifequilts said...

OK... Utah has jumped to the top of my Trip List. Traffic and all!

kc said...

Fascinating scenery & love the backstories to go with. I don't think we'll ever get to see these for ourselves, so THANK YOU for taking us along on your journeys. What a wonderful guide you've been!

Debbie said...

I have so enjoyed your adventure.
I've been following your blog for a little and love your projects and cat stories.

I've been living through your trip since I am pretty sure we'll never in our life get to go there. It's been awesome and I've enjoyed the trip with you. I've looked forward to your emails every day. Your writing is excellent and so are your photos.

Thanks for sharing.


Jacque said...

Oh. my. I can just say, it's amazing. What a wonderful journey.
Love the way someone corrected the sign. LOL My alternate reality self, maybe.
Do you think they called it historic cos y'all stayed there way back when? Hehee!

quiltzyx said...

Wow! So much beautiful color & texture - just amazing what nature has to show us.

I wonder when they added the "Historic" to the motel? ;^)

Brown Family said...

We have sand dunes in Texas that are almost pink and then there is the White Sands National park. I have seen both of those and played in them as a kid, but love to see these!

LynCC said...

How crazy that it was so crowded at this time of year. Good to know to plan for that when we get to go.

Lou said...

Thank you SO much for taking me along on your trip! I am enjoying every beautiful picture and every kitty escapade!

Kirsty said...

Wow! These formations are just awesome. You are so lucky. BTW, Zorro and Lil' Fluff asked me if I would ask you to pass on a message from them to Smitty and Gracie. They say "Glad you are having a good time looking after your hoomins. Careful you don't get lost chasing lizards. It is very windy here at our house today. We are chasing blossoms and watching noisy birds. You should come to NZ one day. We have good rocks and stuff here too."
Happy trails.

Beth said...

About the white glove: I'm betting it was worn for an after-prom outing. Maybe one of those ultra-romantic-gestures in which the guy sets up a fancy table in the middle of a picturesque scene? I hope that the memories the young lady took with her make up for the lost glove.

Kate said...

An absolutely beautiful place! Thanks so much for sharing.

We went to Glacier National Park this summer and had the same issue with all the parking lots and visitor centers being so packed that you couldn't stop at any of the hiking trails. The only way we were able to do any hiking was get to the park when it opened at 6 AM and go straight to where we wanted to hike that day.

Sarah said...

I have loved your summaries of this region of the States. I have even showed my husband some of the formations. It is a region we Australians have not heard of often before. Thank you for sharing.