arly on in my planning for the St. George marathon (for which, see ), I thought that if we were going to fly all the way out to Utah to run a marathon we really should take advantage of the natural beauty of the area and spend some time in some of the nearby parks. Susan Snyder, my running partner (who was also running the St. George Marathon), insisted that we must visit Zion National Park, about 45 minutes east of St. George. She had visited it with her family 2 or 3 times previously and said it was one of the most beautiful National Parks in the country.
My wife, Joy, said she really wanted to visit the Grand Canyon, and the North Rim was only about 2 hours south of Zion so that got put on the list.
And lastly, we discovered on our own, the lovely Snow Canyon State Park just 5 miles north of St. George, which we could fit in the day before the race.
So we made reservations far in advance for 2 nights at Zion Lodge in the heart of that park and 2 nights in the Kaibab Lodge in Kaibab National Forest, just a few miles north of Grand Canyon National Park at the North Rim.
We were not disappointed!
n Friday, the day before the marathon, my wife and daughter and I met with Susan Snyder and her husband for breakfast. Her husband wanted to do some hiking that day, so we split up and Susan came with us. In the morning, we decided to check out Snow Canyon State Park, a few miles north of the city, and then we would go to the marathon expo, pick up our stuff and check out the vendors.
None of us had ever heard of this park — we just saw it in the literature about attractions around St. George. Well, what a little gem it was! In the southern section. there is a park road that traverses the park and ends up on Route 18. That's as far as we would go. Interestingly, north of that point Route 18 actually cuts through the park and the marathon route follows the canyon for several miles. We would experience that the following day duriung the race.
It was an amazingly beautiful area whith mostly flat low lying stretches interspersed with high craggy mesas made of multi-colored sandstone. It was very dry, with desert shrubs and little sign of water. The gradual erosion of the canyon walls was evident, due, perhaps, primarily to wind erosion.
There were numerous small trail segments leading off the road on both sides. One short hike brought us to a sandstone wall where early Mormon explorers had carved their names on a small patch of the wall. It was eery to see the 19th century dates next to the names, looking very fresh.
Another short trail brought us to a slot canyon ("Jenny's Slot Canyon") which gradually narrowed to just a few feet, before pinching off.
The slideshow above shows in pictures better than my words, the beauty of the place. Just click on the picture and the show will begin.
n Sunday, the day after the marathon, we drove northeast to Zion National Park. This had come highly recommended by Susan Snyder who had visited 2 or 3 times in previous years with her family. We would be staying in Zion Lodge, right in the center of the lower section of the park. It was sold out in May when I first tried to get reservations, but later some space opened up and we would stay there 2 nights. Susan and her husband were also heading there, but they had a favorite motel with a pool just outside the park.
The main road through the park is open to shuttle busses only (plus cars belonging to those straying at the Lodge like ourselves). Cars were banned there in the year 2000. Prior to that there were thousands of cars, bumper to bumper on the park road, clogging it up all summer. The switch to shuttle busses (free all day long with recorded narations and staffed by rangers) have been immensely popular, even with hard-core autophiles. Other U.S. Parks have seriously looked at Zion's success with traffic overcrowding and the idea is sure to spread. To illustrate the utility, Susan and her husband could either bike from their Motel up the park road (without competing with cars), which they did most days, or walk a few minutes and catch the shuttle bus to any of the popular spots in this section of the park. You can even put your bike on a carrier on the bus.
The morning we arrived, we strolled along a stream-side path (The "Emerald Pools Trail") across from the Lodge. The stream (The "Virgin River") is the life blood of the valley and provides water and soil to the ecosystem. The pictures will show this nicely. That afternoon, after an outdoor lunch at the Lodge's Cafe, we took the shuttle to the north end of the road and then walked along the stream ("Riverside Walk") to the point where the path moved into the river. This continued well beyond, and in places the canyon walls come to within arm's reach of the trekker — who would be walking waist deep in the stream (called the "Zion Narrows"). Awesome!
The next day we explored the lower section of the park along the road by shuttle, then drove up another road that tunnelled through the canyon walls and then perigrinated through a dry upland portion of the park. It was otherworldly: you almost wouldn't believe it was part of the same park. That night we met Susan Snyder and her husband for a sumptuous dinner at the Lodge. Yes, life was indeed good!
On Tuesday morning we reluctantly left the park, dropped our daughter off in St. George where she would take the bus back to Las Vegas and her flight home, then we headed for the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
f the three parks we visited, we found the climate got progressively cooler as the elevation got higher. Snow Canyon was around 2500 ft. in elevation and hot. Zion (at the canyon floor) was about 4000 ft. high and wetter and more temperate (the upper portion is another story). The North Rim was nearly 9000 ft high, was heavily forested and was cool. In fact the day we left it was 25° with snow and ice on the ground.
The Grand Canyon is big. It's over 200 miles long, more than 20 miles wide and up to 4000 ft. deep. I was showing a friend my pictures and she kept asking "Where's the Canyon? All I can see is rocky peaks all the way to the horizon!". Look at the picture below and you'll see exactly what she meant. Here's the thing, the canyon is so big it goes to the horizon, and the rocky features within it — the product of millions of years of erosion — are thousdand of feet in height and interconnect through side canons and stream tributaries ad infinitam. You literally "Cant's see the forest for the trees", or rather you "Can't see the canyon for the rocky peaks.".
Approaching the North Rim from the north, we passed from desert prairy to forest land. When we finally arrived at the Kaibab Lodge, a charming Lodge about 5 miles from the Park gate, we were in a mature forest of Ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir and Engelmann spruce with numerous stands of Quaking aspens where there had been fire (a common natural occurance). The first 8 or 9 pictures in the slideshow will make this clear.
We were told by folks who have been to both, that the North Rim is almost 2000 ft. higher than the South Rim, it's cooler, it's heavily forested (as opposed to hot and arid) and it's much less crowded with tourists. Sounds like the place to be!
During our stay at the North Rim, we visited 3 major destinations. When we arrived, since we were too early to get into our room, we took a gravel Forest Service road near the Lodge to a place called the "East Rim Lookout" I don't know why it was called this since it was on the west rim of a forested valley called the North Canyon Wash. It was rather windy and we didn't stay long, but the views were good.
Then we drove down into the National Park (my "Golden Age Passport" got us in free) to the Grand Canyon Lodge at Bright Angel Point. There were a number of rocky points that one could walk to out past the rim for viewing the canyon. These generally had hand rails and lots of tourists. I went to the farthest one which actually went out to the extremity of Bright Angel Point. The views were impressive but it was a bit hazy, so you could hardly see across the 20 odd miles to the South Rim. Joy was getting chilly so we went into the Lodge which is a magnificant structure. We were tempted to stay for dinner, but we wouldn't get back to our own Lodge until very late, so we went back, checked in and had a rest. Joy had a bit of high altitude sickness — luckily just shortness of breath. Thank goodness that abated by the next morning.
The next morning we got an early start to avoid the predicted rain, and went down into the Park and took the road to Cape Royal. This was IMHO more impressive than the view we had the day before at Bright Angel Point. The air was clearer, there were fewer tourists and there was a lovely, well designed nature trail leading to several viewpoints. This part of the North Rim is the only spot on the entire North Rim where you can see the Colorado River. And in one spot, there is a rocky point called Angels Window where you can actually see the River through a hole in the rock. Very cool. Check the photos for that.
Then we drove up to Point Imperial which was likewise impressive. Each locale had a distinct personality both at the rim, and in the particular canyonscape viewable below. The pictures show it better than I can explain it.
Along the road itself we could see the effects of fire on the forest. Fires, often caused by lightening, recur periodically. After a burn, aspens start growing and we could see trees of various ages from mere shrubs to mature trees 30 to 40 or more feet high. Incidently, mature aspens look very much like birch, with pure white bark punctuated by black scars. Then slowly the pine, fir and spruce start growing in, and you will see a mixed forest with the yellow/orange Aspens interspersed with the dark green of the conifers. Eventually the slower growing trees will tower over the Aspens and they will disappear. Along this road, you could see examples of every stage of this natural succession.
We ended the day's trek with another quick visit to the Grand Canyon Lodge and then got back to our own lodge before the rain started. It rained all night, but by morning it had turned to freezing rain and snow. When we got out to get breakfast it was a winter wonderland — tough on driving. Not just tough driving on frozen mud and ice, but tough to actually get into the car through about a half inch layer of ice. But get into the car we did and left for Las Vegas (a 5 hour drive) by 9:00 AM. By the time we got on the major road and down off the Kaibab Plateau, the ice and snow was a distant memory and folks who saw it on the roof of our car at a gas station were a bit incredulous.
By midnight, we were back in good old New York City, wondering when we could get back to this beautiful part of the country.