Zion & Bryce | Southwestern Utah

Posted by on March 24, 2001
I’d heard it was possible to arrange inexpensive trips to Las Vegas, but never got around to doing it, until some friends had to go there for a conference. We decided to join them, and add some days at Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon in nearby southwestern Utah. Southwest Airlines is the carrier we chose, and we flew from the attractive and very accessible new Albany Airport, direct to Las Vegas. (Southern Utah is less than half a day’s drive from Las Vegas.)The Anasazi occupied Zion Canyon “roughly from the time of Christ to 1200 A.D.” No Europeans came until 1776, when the Catholic Fathers Dominguez and Escalante passed nearby, but had no time to explore them. Nearly 50 years later Jedediah Smith came through the area, but did not discover the canyon. You have to say that they missed the boat.No offense, but really, by any standards Zion is one of the most spectacular places on earth. But it was not until the Mormons struggled across this country that it was seen again by any but Native Americans.In the mid 1800s the Mormons, under Brigham Young’s direction, began exploring and making settlements along the Virgin River, which flows through the canyon. They were seeking the Promised Land, and they certainly found it here.Without disrespecting anyone’s religion, I must say that it is easy to feel that you are in the Promised Land, when you arrive at Zion National Park. It certainly is hikers’ heaven, with walks and hikes and climbs of every range of difficulty. We even saw rock climbers hanging far above us like specks on the 2000 foot high red rock wall, a sport I can assure you I will never try.The breathtaking majesty of the red rock canyons all around, high above, puts everything into perspective, and makes one realize one’s place in the cosmos. (And if that doesn’t work, try the Space Show at the Rose Center at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.)We chose to stay at a place I’d heard of on the Internet, through the chat room on Fodor’s Travel site. (Bookmark that, by the way) It was an Inn in Springdale, Utah, called Flanigan’s. Because we didn’t know the area, and the distances we might have to travel, et cetera, we chose to stay there all four of the days we had allotted to canyons, and to take hikes and day trips from that location.

It turned out to be one of the best decisions we made. We felt at home instantly upon our late night arrival, when someone waited up for us at this cabin complex of natural wood, surrounded by red rocks. The rooms were thoroughly modern, with comfortable beds, cable TV, large windows, and balconies. The restaurant was fun, and served good food and wine. And the price was right: $59.00 double, which certainly spells bargain to a New Yorker. When we woke the first morning, we were thrilled, but speechless at the views all around us. I would choose it again, over the Zion Park Lodge, which is right in the Park, but didn’t look half as appealing to us.

The whole town of Springdale, which is right at the entrance to Zion, exudes a sort of friendly atmosphere, which made us feel at home the entire time we stayed.

In December, when we were there, cars are permitted to drive through the park. During the high season summer months cars are prohibited in favor of official park buses. We enjoyed having a car, which gave us the ability to stop and park and walk at will. The roads in the park are macadam, with double yellows and all the rest, but it is REDROCK macadam, and delightfully in keeping with the landscape.

There is a superb Visitors’ Center where one should stop for orientation, (and the odd postcard, book or souvenir.) It is always a pleasure to see your tax dollars used well, and here is a great example. Buildings are unobtrusive, esthetically attractive, and serve an excellent educational purpose, given their ecologically favorable structure. Hiking information is excellent, with maps available for all the trails.

Disabled persons have very good access here, but I would suggest an off­season trip when the driving makes relatively remote areas accessible for viewing. (There is also a paved, red rock colored one-mile footpath along the river that is accessible, and very beautiful.)

We enjoyed three days of hiking various trails in Zion, congratulating ourselves on our choice of time to be there, virtually alone. The quiet added to the remarkably spiritual feeling I had (We met a pair of Zionists from Tel Aviv, who had to come out of curiosity, and were enchanted.)

One day we drove the 80 miles northeast to Bryce Canyon, another of the major canyonlands parks in Southern Utah. Bryce is 3000 feet higher up than Zion, and sure enough, we ran into snow on our way. Snow showers gave way to intermittent sunshine, however, so we were able to drive the length of Bryce Canyon, a distance of about 25 miles, along a ridge atop the canyon.

Bryce Canyon has a unique look, consisting again of very red and rust rocks, mostly in the form of hoodoos, which are creature like forms left sticking up after water has eroded the softer layers. Bryce is seen from the top down, whereas at Zion, the visitor is at the bottom of the canyon, looking (and hiking) up. I have to say that I preferred hiking up, so that the downhill was a breeze in comparison.

We were not able to hike at Bryce, to our disappointment, due to the time limits, and the snow clouds that reduced visibility to zero about every half hour. Again the National Park Service does a magnificent job, with good maps and friendly rangers on hand.

The accommodations at Bryce however, leave a lot to be desired. There is a huge motel/hotel complex, called Ruby’s, which is well-known and well-thought of by the Fodor’s chat room crowd, but has not a bit of the charm and down home delight that we found at Flanigan’s. There is a national park lodge at Bryce, which might be a better bet, but it was closed for the season.

Bryce Canyon is large at 36,000 acres, and it deserves a few days investigation. But Zion, at 147,000 acres, won my heart in a very special way, since, despite its size, it has an intimacy that stays with me, and I can still hear the rushing water of the Virgin River as I think about the visual impact of landscape.

Betsy Shequine was truly awed, and actually speechless, at the majesty of nature at Zion National Park, which, she thinks, most of her friends will not believe.

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