Zion National Park

Featured image: I wish I could claim credit for the photo, but that goes to Wolfgang Staudt. Thanks be to him for making this photo available via Flickr Creative Commons. 

One of the best things about a road trip is stumbling onto things you didn’t even know existed – and loving them. Of course, on the other hand, you spend the following five years of your life kicking yourself for not seeing what was right in front of your face.

I’ve mentioned our serendipitous journey to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon when we intended to go South, but that wasn’t the only twist of fate for the day. When we left the wrong rim, the route we had planned to take to Las Vegas obviously wasn’t going to work. So we fired up the GPS – dubbed Sheila – and followed her lead.

Now, you have to know this was the most ridiculous GPS unit I’ve ever used. She was something built into the rental car that they threw in for free. It was nearly impossible to tell it where we were going unless we were headed to something preloaded, and of course nowhere we went was loaded in the thing. We didn’t call on Sheila and her split personality much. When we did, she got us lost more often than not. But on this day, Sheila came through in a big way: She introduced me to Zion National Park.

Our path from the Grand Canyon took us along State Route 9, which cuts across the southeastern corner of the park and takes you to the main entrance. Honestly, I had no idea we were passing through another park. For once, I wasn’t looking at the map; I was just letting the GPS do its thing. I can’t remember if I picked up the camera before or after I realized we were in Zion, but I know I couldn’t put it down the entire drive through.

As we passed through canyons in just a small corner of the park, our breath was constantly taken away by the view. This section of highway will take you through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, a 1.1 mile tunnel that was completed in 1930, according to the Park Service. This tunnel was created to connect Zion with Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon. Its long. It feels long when you’re going through it and if you’re like me you have to push that panicked feeling to the back of your mind when you start thinking about how much is on top of you. This tunnel kind of skirts the edges of the rock and you get gargantuan windows that let in blinding natural light, providing a glimpse of the vista outside.

As with everything else in the Gypsy Trip, we only got a tease of what the park had to offer. Since then, I’ve been dying to get back and explore more. Zion offers backpacking, hiking, bicycling, camping, canyoneering, boating and more. When you go – because you know you want to – you may as well hit up Bryce Canyon and Monument Valley.

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Serendipity

New Gypsy Trip TagIf you haven’t realized from my previous blogs, I’m a planner. Everything I do is premeditated, with backup plans for my backup plans. Well today that all went right out the window.

Our diversion occurred first thing in the morning when I directed Cory to go the wrong way on 89A out of Flagstaff. And then I passed out. (These early mornings and long days are beginning to wear on us all.) We intended to go to the South Rim. I woke up about an hour later, just before we passed a sign directing us to the North Rim.

I immediately panicked. Cory and I have been to the South Rim a couple of times before, and it is mind-bogglingly beautiful. My mind has a difficult time processing the depth of the canyon, the distance it spans and just the sheer magnitude of the entire canyon. I knew what to expect at the South Rim, and I knew Amanda wouldn’t be disappointed there. But by misdirecting us to the North Rim and then falling asleep before I realized my mistake, I was worried I had ruined the experience for us all.

My worry was in vain. The North Rim is arguably more beautiful than the south. Geared more for hikers than your average tourists, the North Rim is considerably less crowded. The temperature was much cooler than the South Rim (I dehydrated at the South Rim once) and the landscape was much more green. You pass through Kaibab National Forest on the way into the park and get to see the remnants of a forest fire and pass through a long meadow full of tiny purple, yellow and white flowers.

There are no trams or trains or any transportation past trailheads; you’re hoofin’ it anywhere you want to go. The difficulty of the hiking trails vary greatly; there was something for the average person in flip-flops (me) all the way up to eight-hour hikes for the professional outdoorsperson.

We took the Angel Fire Trail. We were all amazed by the canyons, and could have spent all day just sitting on a rock staring. But we have a reservation in Vegas waiting, so we couldn’t stay.

Sheila took us out of the Grand Canyon along 89A, then up into Utah to catch Highway 9. It turned out that Hwy. 9 runs through a corner of Zion National Park, a collection of mammoth rock formations on the Colorado Pueblo. We took the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway and had our minds blown as we snaked around the mountains of rock.

Days like this remind me what this trip is all about. It was definitely not meant to plan every step of the way. It was meant to see, explore and go where the road takes us.

The remnants of a fire.