For our 2 days in Malibu before Zion –OUR USA ROAD TRIP BEGINS: ARRIVAL IN MALIBU
Las Vegas to Zion National Park (160 miles – 2.5 hrs)
Stocking up in Las Vegas
An hour’s flight on Jet Blue and we landed in the stifling 40C desert heat of Las Vegas at 12.30pm. McCarron Airport was smallish and pleasant. Picked up the Nissan SUV very quickly and smoothly and headed out to a supermarket to stock up on essential extras – Chris’s wine, my sparkling wine, chocolate, water, fruit, crisps( what an embarrassing list of ‘needs’ when it’s written out like that! So much for healthy eating!) That would see us through the next 8 days without having to worry about finding shops en route – or finding that they were closed by the time we got to our next destination( we’ve a track history of missing shops being open).
There was a really lovely woman at the checkout in the excellent supermarket who got us a discount card and saved us a sizeable amount! Somehow, I thought everyone would be very impersonal and brusque in LV but the woman in the car hire had been great too, really took time, when we asked about the nearest supermarket, to point us to this shopping complex just 10 minutes from the airport.
The heat,though, was a shocker. Was a bit worried at this stage (my default position is being worried ) that we had paid a small fortune to swelter in uncomfortable heat for a week, knowing it was one of the hottest months.) Luckily, Chris rarely worries and in fact I’d say is relaxed to the point of being almost horizontal. (Except when we get lost.) The plan was to be up pre-dawn for sunrises, travel through the hottest part of the day in our lovely air -conditioned car and then watch sunset at the next destination in the cooler evenings.(this was pretty much how it all worked out.)
The road to Zion National Park was first class, almost empty and fast, taking us through bleached desert landscapes. I can’t say these were hugely interesting desert views(I love the desert) , but the two and a half hours passed quickly. On roads like that you just eat up the miles.
Zion National Park – first big mistake
Zion, Zion……..it was as we approached the tiny town of Springdale, on Zion Canyon’s outskirts that I knew I had made a huge mistake in only booking one night here. It was an ASTONISHING landscape that now lay before us – absolutely wow. Orange rock mountains, lush greenery at their base, a pale green winding river – and all lit up beautifully in the late afternoon sun. Bought our ‘America the Beautiful Pass’ at the Park entry post for $80 .Met our first Ranger, with his nice uniform and hat, very welcoming (something we found throughout our trip, people were friendly and helpful. Really lovely.)The Pass was worth it given we had another 2 National Parks after this and they cost $30 each to enter.
In minutes, we pulled in past the bridge over the Virgin River.If what we’d seen at Springdale had stopped us in our tracks , this was – well, words don’t do justice to the spectacle before us.
I recognised The Watchman mountain from poring over lots of websites – citrusmilo’s in particular was excellent and very helpful in our planning.And now here it was, one of the classic Zion views at its best in the late afternoon sun!
It has to be one of the most beautiful of all the views in Zion, a picture postcard perfect composition and the light was ….well, sublime.I took so many photographs here and we spent quite a time just looking around us and taking in the truly majestic scenery. The greenery was a real surprise too, as were the wildflowers.A beautiful contrast to the deep orange rock.
Another surprise was the lack of any others cars or people.It was quiet – something I had;t expected for a Saturday in peak season.But by 5pm (Utah is an hour ahead), most people seemed to have headed home.
As we were staying in Zion Lodge , we had a Red Pass which allowed us to drive into the section of park which only Shuttle Buses could access.What a drive that was! We just had to stop at The Patriarchs to get more photos beside the river with that astonishing rock scenery all around.We loved it all already! And again, the place was deserted.
Spent about 20mins just wandering by the river and enjoying the solitude.A couple of shuttle buses passed, almost empty.
The views we had just seen at the Watchman and here, turned out to be my favourite in the whole Park. I have to say, Zion was more impressive to me than Yosemite Valley had been two years ago.A jaw drop.
Springdale had looked a very attractive small town with plenty of restaurants (I’d expected a strip Mall type place) but we prefer getting away from it all and Zion Lodge offered that more than the town. Just us and the mountains. We paid for the privilege of course……$225 for a cabin, no breakfast. Ouch.But it was well worth it and we did feel this was one of these ‘trips of a lifetime.’ As Chris celebrated his 60th this year (and I’m not far behind) he’s become so much more conscious of time.A brother passed away at 65 , a huge shock and a real wake-up call about how fragile life is and how short.The old adage – ‘we’re only here once!’ is a common refrain in our house these days.
I did love that Lodge and our room.Traditional build, Navajo designs /artefacts decorating the walls, lots of dark pine .Beautiful.Very American. In a fine setting too, surrounded by the mountains.
Our cabin was a short walk away from the main lodge and we had a small sitting out area. I’m at the stage in life now too when having somewhere really lovely to arrive at , at the end of a long day is important, somewhere peaceful and lovely, not just a bed for the night. Great accommodation is a big part of our trips.It doesn’t have to be pricey either.We also wild camp regularly in Scotland so luxury isn’t really what we want to pay for. We usually steer clear of big expensive hotels(and hotels in general).Charming and in a beautiful (and quiet) location is the thing.
Got the luggage into the room and popped open the Cava to celebrate our arrival. Sitting outside on the porch, we watched as daylight finally left the valley and darkness descended around 7pm.
We were pretty tired (again). After snacking on crisps, getting mildly squiffed on the wine and then (me ) having endless cups of tea neither of us felt hungry. ( We had a small travel kettle with us, UK teabags and some milk. It was a rare event to have kettle in any of our accommodation in the USA. Usually there was only a coffeemaker, not much use to a Scot who mainlines tea!
By 9pm we collapsed into bed.Alarm was set for 5.30am so that we could walk to see the sunrise at 6.50am from the famous Canyon Overlook viewpoint. Reviews suggested that the problem was parking which filled up quickly and then you were stuck, basically and the walk was ‘aff’ as we say.
A Scary Walk to Canyon Overlook
Up at crazy o’clock. No shower, that could wait till later.Just plenty tea to stir us into what passed for life at that time in the morning.
In the pitch dark and cold, we loaded rucksacks, cameras and general gear into the boot of the car, not a soul about. I’d expected a bit of activity, people getting ready , like us, to watch the sun lighting up the mountains. A bit of a bun fight perhaps as we all jostled to get a parking spot!
Of we went in the pitch dark on the short drive back towards Watchman Bridge before turning left and heading up the zig zag road that climbed high above the Canyon. It only took us about 15 minutes.Got to the car park at 6.40am and there was ONE other car there. A greyish pre-dawn light now meant we could at least see our surroundings and they were VERY impressive. Slick rock and mountains. Big wild country. Got the walking boots on and crossed the road to the start of the walk, taking a moment to read the Info board. ‘To be avoided by those who have a fear of heights….’ A reminder that I shouldn’t be here! My tendency towards vertigo has only got worse in recent years but I really wanted to get some walking in and the website I’d used for research said this walk was fine and a great walk for kids too. I could feel doubts building but ignored them. It was only half a mile, for Pete’s sake…get on with it!
Well…… I hated that walk.Almost immediately, I was aware of vertiginous drops to the left and sheer rock walls to my right.The path was narrow and uneven.It was like being on a ledge in places, a leg –wobbler for someone who freezes at sheer drops. One narrow corner came up and the chasm yawned just inches away. I really thought I’d have to go back. Feeling a complete failure, I tried not to look down and stepped carefully round the blind corner , concentrating hard.
For many people, this walk would be nothing , albeit needing care, but with a fear of heights, it was a bloody nightmare. Anyway, it didn’t get any better with various heart stopping points to come.I had no problem with a wooden platform section built onto the rock face and taking us airily round another corner of the rock wall.It had a good protective rail, but the rest…Honestly, the thought of anyone bringing kids here made me feel ill: I could never have brought my two boys along this when they were young. It beggared belief to be labelled on that citrusmilo website as ‘a family walk.’
Was it worth it? The Overlook is quite a spot but it wasn’t my favourite view in the Park.I actually thought, on the way back down, that the Canyon views from the zig zag road were better.
It was around 7am by the time we arrived at the Overlook itself. It’s only half a mile (albeit of sheer hell for me.) Although sunrise was at 6.50am, it took another twenty mins for the sun to rise above the mountains and light up the peaks in front of us. It was wonderful when it did finally happen, the top of the orange rocks turning pink while the lower half were in shadow.Great colours.
But I never fully relaxed enough to enjoy it. The thought of the return journey just churned my stomach. There were only another 6 people in the 40mins or so that we stayed there. A boy of about 12 was playing around the area – which is mostly unfenced with awful drops – and his father did not look happy at all and spoke sharply to him several times.Chris asked if he wanted their picture taken together but he sounded very tense and just shook his head.I really understood how stressed he must have felt having his son jumping around up there.
Going back was just as bad but at least it was nearly over. Chris was, as ever, very understanding.Although he’s pretty good with heights, he was also surprised at how exposed it was.
There were only another two cars there when we returned at 8am.So much for panicking over whether we’d get parked – as often happens with my worrying, it was needless.
What I found far more breathtaking was the drive back down.The early morning sun had now lit up many of the sheer rock slopes and it was absolutely stunning. We spent about half an hour stop – starting down that road and I have to say, I found the views here more beautiful than at the Overlook.
The contrast between the greenery and the orange rock was the thing for me, as was the addition of the pale green Virgin river winding its way through all.
Back to the Lodge by 9am or so.Time to shower and get packed up, get more tea and vacate the room. Then catch a shuttle to see the rest of the park.We planned to leave early afternoon for the 2 hour drive to Bryce Canyon and hopefully arrive by 4pm ish.
The temperature had really got up now so the trousers and fleeces were packed away, clothes we’d needed earlier and the shorts were back on.I was keen to see something of the main Lodge itself and its lovely shop. I don’t shop much , but I’m a sucker for postcards and fridge magnets and they had some really nice stuff.I’ve also got a bad habit of buying unsuitable t-shirts for the boys (now 28 and 25 years old) which Chris reminds me they will not wear (the t-shirts being very uncool).That’s not quite true – they put them on under overshirts (to hide the naff logo/wording/picture) or use for jogging or lounging about the house when only we can see them. As I hold up another unsuitable one to admire it, blinded by past mistakes, Chris will saunter over with the quiet suggestion that I put it back.
The Riverside Walk and a Flavour of The Narrows
The shuttle bus system is excellent, with one every 10 minutes and the stop was right outside the Lodge.It was busier now at 10.30am. We wanted to go all the way to the Riverside Walk at the Temple of Sinawava at the end of the Canyon road.It was also the start of a famous walk ‘The Narrows’though I couldn’t understand the appeal (initially)of walking up a river for 8 miles or so.
I wished I had the nerve to do the Angel’s Landing walk but I knew that level of exposure would defeat me completely. Luckily, Chris is never too worried about doing any particular walk so I never felt I was holding him back. I did ask him if he fancied doing it and I would just enjoy taking some photos along the riverbank , but he wasn’t interested. His job, he said, was to keep an eye on me and stop me doing anything too daft! If we’d had more time it might have been good to try to get as far as Scout’s Landing which looked ok.
The Riverside Walk was mobbed.It was a nice shaded walk by the river and very scenic. I loved it actually, even though busy routes like that don’t usually appeal.The landscape was spectacular, the big rock walls lit up by the sun all around but the walk was shaded and cool.
It’s a short walk and suddenly it’s over.The end of the line.We were now faced with lots of people wading across the river , boots were coming off, serious hikers had strange waterproof boots on and were obviously gearing up for the famous hike itself.The views up the river were superb – a big rock peak was straight ahead and the water was very clear and clean.Suddenly, it all looked too good not to go further and I said to Chris – why don’t we try it, just for a bit?’ A roll of the eyes said ‘do we have to?” Five minutes later, after much discussion about whether our leather hiking boots would actually survive being immersed so long, off we went, splashing through the ankle deep water to the other side.And so began one of the most fun walks we’ve ever done; it was almost knee high deep in places.
There were hundreds of other people, all loving this unique wade surrounded by high rock walls.It was very cool here too – no direct sun until we finally, about 40 minutes later, decided to call a halt at a beach area and where the Canyon walls narrowed quite a bit.You are, I think , supposed to have a Pass to walk the route and there were warnings at the start that flash floods were ‘probable.’ Not a place to be caught when a flood (usually after a thunderstorm in the afternoon) rushes down through the canyon, filled with tree debris and resulting in the past, in fatalities.We could see where the river did occasionally rise,about4-5 feet above where we now were.Not that we were in any danger here, at this moment around mid-day.It was just a glorious spot to be.
Splashed our way back through the river to the Riverside Walk area again and found a nice wee beach area to sit and relax.Poured what seemed like gallons of water out of the poor boots and rung out our socks.It was hot now in the full sun but lovely to feel the warmth too.A truly delightful walk in a gorgeous area.Very relaxing compared to this morning’s escapade!
Walked the 10 mins or so back to the shuttle stop, then hopped on and got off at Big Bend, a few stops away , a really impressive spot which had grabbed our attention on the way out.There wasn’t another soul around.It was very hot now and there was little shade here.Saw tiny dots of people traversing Angel’s Landing above us; it’s not that high, 1400 feet I think, but knife-edged in places.Must have quite a view of the Canyon walls.A wind had got up now, a hot wind and though we’d thought of walking back from here to the Lodge, it would have been like walking in a fan oven.
Got back to the Lodge via Shuttlebus and I was now starving.No dinner last night, no breakfast, some walking – my bad habit of skipping meals can lead me to feeling I’ve hit a brick wall, desperate for food.Had a quick snack of pizza and coffee at the Lodge’s cafe and it was broiling even in the shade.Bought a few things in the shop (no t-shirts) and then at 2pm we headed off. Had a last look at The Watchman and strolled the Pa’rus trail for a little bit , then it was time to make for Bryce Canyon.
Such a wrench to leave it all!
In all, we’d had about 22 hours in Zion, a tiny amount of time.It’s not a huge area though so you can certainly get a flavour of it quite well if you do some of the walks.But another day would have been ideal.So many walking trails, beautifully done. Hiker’s heaven.Would love to see it in winter.
Next BRYCE CANYON AND CAPITOL REEF