Transit to Virgin UT and Day Trip to Mukuntuweap

Saturday we got up early and by 0830 or so we were on the road for our 130 mile transit from Bryce Canyon City UT to Virgin UT…we headed back west on UT-12 through Red Canyon to US-89 then north to UT-20 where we turned west again. UT-20 was 23 miles or so of twisty, curvy road with a long uphill and then another long downhill as we got across the mountains to I-15. From there we turned south and after 25 miles or so we got off the freeway and filled up with DEF/topped off with 10 gallons or so of diesel…prices in Virgin are pretty high…then we went another couple of exits south and stopped by Walmart for some groceries. We specifically picked this Walmart since we had the house in tow and it had a big parking lot.

Loaded up with the groceries we needed, got turned around in the parking lot so we could get out…we had parked out of the way but a bunch of other RVs filled in around us…and another 50 miles south on I-15 before getting off on UT highways to Virgin UT.

We arrived around 2PM and got checked in to site 54 in Zion River Campground right on the Virgin River about 15 miles from the entrance to Zion National Park. We’ve got a 5 night stay and it was too hot to put out the flag…it’s over 100 degrees again like it was in Page…and after a quick shower headed off to St. George UT for Mass on Saturday evening. After Mass we stopped by our chosen destination for dinner…Stagecoach Grill…but it was closed for a private party. We sort of wondered why they would close on Saturday evening (gotta be the busiest day for a restaurant) for a party…but had to regroup and go to plan B. That was the Bit and Spur Saloon in Springdale UT right outside of the park. We had a really great dinner…Connie had fresh guacamole and chips and said it was really good. Neil had a Pork Carnitas  Burrito which came with some really great mole sauce…flavored with chili peppers, chocolate and coffee…and stuffed with black beans and rice in addition to the pork carnitas. It was huge…easily larger in diameter than a fully stuffed hotdog bun and about 8 inches long. He thought he would only eat a little but ended up eating about 3/4 of it and we’ll make an omelet out of the rest tomorrow for breakfast. Really, really good…hot but not too spicy and full of flavor. We had a couple of Wasatch Brewery Evolution Amber Ales to go along with dinner and then headed home.

Sunday we had an all day trip out to Mukuntuweap…which is a Southern Paiute word that means Straight Up Land…you probably know it more correctly as Zion National Park…but again although the Paiute word is much more apropos…it wouldn’t fit on the t-shirt. It’s a much better term for this park than Zion though…perfectly descriptive as Indian words are wont to be.

So…Zion National Park comprises about 147,000 acres in southwest UT…and again it’s part of the much larger Colorado Plateau. The good news is that it’s actually a canyon as it was carved by the Virgin River.

Car traffic is extremely limited in the park…since there is basically no parking. You park at the visitor center and take the free park shuttle to get to a total of 9 stops through the canyon…there are two other areas away from the main Zion Canyon…both are basically in the Kolob Canyon area in the northwest portion of the park but you have to drive in 2 different ways…we have those drives scheduled for Monday and Wednesday sandwiched around a hike along the Virgin River and a section of Zion Canyon named The Narrows on Tuesday. We got to the visitor center around 0830 and parked then stopped at the Human History Museum at stop 2 for the park movie (really great and better than most national park movies)…then stopped at all the stops except #5 on the way north. We got off the shuttle, wandered around and took pictures and then got back on for the next stop. Stop 5 we skipped until the way back as we were going to hike to the Lower Emerald Pool which has a waterfall.

Virgin UT where we are parked sits about about 3,800 feet and the elevation in the park ranges from 3,600 to 8,700 feet…so again it was gonna be an oxygen test, particularly combined with the heat which was 100+ even in the park by about 1100.

Zion was established as a National Monument by President Taft in 1909 and upgraded to National Park status in 1919. In 1927-1930 the Zion Mount Carmel Highway was constructed to provide road access to the eastern portion of the park…this included blasting a mile long tunnel which was the longest tunnel in the United States when it was completed. The road up to the northern of the canyon at the Temple of Sinawava was built between 1896 and 1906 and the trail up to Angel’s Landing was built in 1926.

In both Neil and Connie’s opinion…Zion Canyon has both Bryce, the Grand Canyon, and even Cedar Breaks beat…not because it’s the deepest, longest or widest canyon but more because of it’s relatively compact size. Most of the canyon is about 1,500-1,800 feet from rim to floor and at it’s widest point at the southern end it’s probably 2 miles side. As you proceed north/upstream into the canyon it continually narrows until it’s about 600 or 800 yards wide at the north end of the road and narrows even more than that as you walk northwards on the Riverside Walk and into The Narrows…more on those in a bit. I wouldn’t call it a hidden gem as everybody knows it exists…but it’s really, really impressive scenery.

Zion…as with a lot of the places in UT…was named by Mormon settlers and the biblical reference was because they thought it was close to God. The original settlers said the the grandeur of the canyon made it a natural cathedral which rivaled anything built by the hands of man.

Ok, enough blathering already…let’s get on to photos of our day.

Shots here taken from the Human History Museum at the second shuttle stop.

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This arch (left center) is across the road from the museum…it’s about 200 feet long and 20 feet thick…doesn’t look it in the photo but it’s about 1.5 miles away…this is zoomed in as far as the lens would go. Connie saw it better later in the day when the sun was high enough to illuminate it…we’ll try to get a better picture later on.

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The Three Patriarchs…Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob peaks…again named by the Mormon settlers.

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Ok, the next section has photos of Angel’s Landing so I guess I better ‘splain that a bit.

Zion has two signature hikes…the trek up to Angel’s Landing and The Narrows…we’ll cover the latter later in the week since we didn’t go there today. Angel’s Landing is a rock on the west side of Zion Canyon that’s about 1,500 feet high. It was named Angel’s Landing by…again…the Mormons who thought it was so high that only an angel could get up to it. Looking at the photo below of the 3D casting in the visitor center you can see Zion Canyon going from SW to NE (North is at the top). Look on the east side of the canyon about half way up the photo and there’s a brown side canyon going east…ignore that canyon except for it’s the signpost. Look at about 10 o’clock from the west end of the side canyon and you’ll see a thin fin sticking out into the main canyon from the west rim…it goes up then there’s a smaller rock just to the east of the end of the fin.

The fin is Angel’s Landing and as you’ll see in a bit it’s really narrow.

Neil really, really wanted to do this hike…but it’s about 5 miles round trip, has a 1,500 foot elevation gain and loss (most of it in Walter’s Wiggles as discussed below) and starts at about 4,200 feet. Connie said…no way, I can’t do it. Neil thought he might be able to get up there…but it would be an all day hike with uncertain success given the altitude and his current state of hiking fitness…so we passed on it and just took photos from the bottom.

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Even though we didn’t do the hike up to Angel’s Landing…I wanted to show you what we (and you) missed so Neil scrounged the next few images from the internet…credit for them goes to either Photos by Tanya or Joe Braun Photography.

You start at the parking lot just to the west (left) of the side canyon you ignored in the above 3D model explanation and then proceed westward along the bottom of the fin that contains Angel’s Landing. That becomes an area known as Refrigerator Canyon as it’s cooler and after a mile or so from the parking lot you get to the back end of the canyon. From there you proceed up Walter’s Wiggles…named after the first park superintendent Walter Ruesch who had the trail constructed in 1926. Walter’s Wiggles are a series of 21 switchbacks that get you up to the canyon rim and have about 800-900 of the total elevation gain. Here’s a shot of what they look like…you’re looking directly NE up the canyon rim direction and as you can see they just climb relentlessly up the sheer cliff of the canyon wall. You can’t see the fin of Angel’s Landing in this shot…it’s just out of sight to the right but you can see Scout’s Landing which is the last hurdle before the fin. 

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From Scout’s Landing you then turn east and proceed out onto the fin and eventually after another 300 feet or so of elevation and 1/2 mile you get to the eastern most point on Angel’s Landing…it’s pretty narrow with 1,000+ foot drop-offs on both sides…definitely not for the faint of heart. Connie said she wouldn’t go out there even if there was a road to the top of Walter’s Wiggles.

Scout’s Landing

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Heading out the fin.

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And at the end of the fin at Angel’s Landing…this shot is looking north up the canyon.

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And looking south…this is probably the single most famous view at Zion.

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Three more shots from the Landing…looking south, east towards the parking lot at Big Bend shuttle stop, and then north.

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That’s all the photos we borrowed fro the net…again credit for them goes to Tanya (sorry, no last name on the page Neil found them on) and Joe Braun. Now back to our photos.

Looking south down the canyon from Big Bend…the Landing is off to the right.

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Looking west from Big Bend…The White Throne on the left, the Organ in center and the tip of Angel’s Landing behind the Organ…although it’s hard to really tell which is which in this view.

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The view from another mile or two north and a bit further west in the canyon…looking south here at the Organ and farther to the right the White Throne. You can just see the base of the end of the Angel’s Landing fin on the far right.

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Looking slightly to the right of the above shot…here’s the end of the Angel’s Landing fin. From here it doesn’t really look as narrow and dangerous as you can see it is from the borrowed images above. 

Neil was bummed that he didn’t have time to try this hike…he’s not sure he would have made it anyway but it would have been nice to try. Given our limited time here in Zion, the state of his hiking fitness, and the altitude and heat discretion was the better part of the decision here. 

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This is at the far north end of the road…right where The Narrows starts that we’ll discuss in the next couple of posts. The canyon basically ceases to exist north of this point except for the river at the bottom of a very narrow gorge. You can see both the east and west rims of the canyon in this shot…which was taken looking up at about a 45 degree angle with the widest angle lens Neil had in the bag. Simply a breathtaking view.

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On the way back south to the visitor center to pick up Big Red and head home…we stopped by the Zion Lodge shuttle stop for a hike to the Lower Emerald Pool…which promised us a nice waterfall and a deep emerald colored pool at the base. Connie got tuckered out in the heat and stopped about 3/4 of the way out to the pool (it was a 1.2 mile round trip but it was hot and uphill) and waited on Neil…she got the great shot below after she caught her breath…looking basically straight northeast up the canyon axis in this view.

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I gotta tell ya…we wuz robbed…this is the promised waterfall just a bit to right of center. It must have had a whole 2 gallons a minute flowing over it…what a bust it turned out to be.

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Likewise…Emerald Pool was a bust as well…nothing emerald like at all about this thing. There was something dead down in the rubble somewhere…it really smelled bad. Neil felt completely robbed by this one…all pain and no gain at all.

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With that our day trip to Mukuntuweap…after the above shots Neil rejoined Connie and we really struggled with the heat getting back down to the Zion Lodge shuttle stop. After a quick Coca Cola sitting in the shade outside the lodge we got back on the shuttle…they’re not air conditioned but do have open windows on the top…but it was packed to standing room only and we steamed as we made the 30 minute trip back to the visitor center. Hopping into Big Red we fired up the A/C and headed home.

Dinner was some ham and fresh corn on the cob we got yesterday at Walmart after a shower and a rest period.

Cyas.

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