Thursday, July 26, 2007

O Zion Haste

We are at the South Campground in Zion National Park (map).

After an hour or so on I-15, cutting through a small corner of Arizona and past Saint George, Utah, we finally turned off the freeway onto Utah 9, thus resuming our "normal" life once again. The desert is beautiful to us, and we enjoyed even the remote corner of Arizona -- but the scenery became progressively more stunning as we approached the park. I last visited here nearly 30 years ago, in the days before park service shuttles and hordes of tourists from all over the world, and it is even more beautiful than I remembered.

We arrived fairly early in the afternoon, which was a good thing, as the more developed (i.e. electric hookups) Watchman Campground was already full, and the unreservable South Campground was filling fast, with a large percentage of the RV's here being rental units. The temperature was in the low 90's, and we ended up running one air conditioner on the batteries for a couple of hours. Allowable generator hours here are only 8-10 in the morning, and again from 6-8 in the evening. By 6pm, it had already cooled off enough to do without the A/C, and we decided the batteries were not down far enough to recharge yet. These new batteries have been performing quite well -- better than the old Xantrex ones ever did. We did run the genny from 8-10 this morning to put some charge on, as we've decided to stay another day.

In the cool of the evening, we rode the park shuttle all the way to the end of the canyon and back, stopping briefly at the north end to walk the Riverside Walk along the Virgin River where it emerges from the narrows. The river, which carved this canyon and continues to do so by an inch each year, is also only a few hundred feet from our camp site, and we may take a dip in its frigid and muddy waters later, in the heat of the day. We also stopped off at the Zion Lodge, and made dinner reservations for tonight.

Our annual park pass (a must-have for full timers, and a great value at $80) waived the $25 park admission fee. Camping is $16 per night, or $18 with electricity (a real bargain at only $2 extra, but sold out when we arrived). We also paid a $15 oversize vehicle fee, which will allow us through the 75-year-old tunnel east of here on Utah 9 as we leave the park tomorrow. We will have to drive down the center of the tunnel, straddling the line, and the park service will hold traffic in the opposite direction to allow us through. During the summer months, they perform this ritual several times a day in both directions to accommodate the conga line of RV's -- even modest ones are considered oversize for the ancient tunnel, and commercial traffic is prohibited outright.

Today we will take the shuttle up canyon again, this time getting off at some of the more interesting stops. We'll likely spend the hottest part of the day lounging by the river, or viewing the air-conditioned park film, before taking the shuttle back up to the lodge for dinner. Tomorrow morning we will leave the park through the aforementioned tunnel and the town of Mount Carmel on Utah 9, then pick up US89.

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