My love affair with Sedona turned out to be more of a fling. That is because not long after leaving, we entered Utah, specifically Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. I thought Arizona was an impressive state for the variety of natural wonders, and it is, but Utah is in another league.
We entered Zion from the east via Utah State Route 9; I cannot recommend this route enough because it is a spectacular introduction to one of the most visually stunning places you will ever see. Unfortunately for us, we arrived just after sunset, so we didn’t actually see the amazing sights until a few days later. The narrow, twisty road was a treat unto itself (when I wasn’t preparing to dodge wayward deer), especially the tunnel. Crystal has finally come around to what driving a high-power sports car with a great exhaust through tunnels requires, and her inner hooligan has arrived. I’m pretty sure animals were frightened for miles as we drove through; the Z06 is one loud beast.
Staying in Springdale, UT, is one of your only options if you want to be close to the park as the only park-run lodging facility fills up rapidly. That’s not a big deal, though, because the town is right at the entrance, and it’s a pretty cool place to be. There are some great places for coffee, food, and adult beverages, plus many galleries and shops to explore. There are truly talented artists in the area, and it’s great to see their work and maybe even buy some.
While Zion is a stunning place, the park is not perfect. To get into the canyon, where the trailheads you want to hike are located, you have to either walk (dumb idea), ride a bike (better but not great), or ride the park shuttle. Fantastic, a shuttle to take us to the trailheads; this must be better than the Grand Canyon; spoiler alert, it’s worse. You have to buy a ticket to ride the shuttle, and it’s $1, no big deal. But there’s a catch; you must log in to their website at exactly 5 pm and reserve your spot; tickets typically sell out by 5:05 pm. Cue the inadequately structured government website that crashes in the middle of your ticket purchase and doesn’t reload until all tickets are gone.
Soooo, we decided to rent some e-bikes to ride into the canyon. Several companies will happily provide a bike in exchange for around $100 for the day. We found one who had a different version e-bike for $75; a great deal, done. The catch is that these are “peddle assist” mountain bikes versus the Rad Power bikes the other companies rent which requires virtually zero effort on the part of the rider; more on that later. All reservations for the next day were taken, so we had to reserve them for the day after that.
With no way to get into the canyon, we hiked some of the trails in Springdale and drove back into State Route 9 to reach the Canyon Overlook trail for a spectacular sunrise. Once again, the early wake-up and quite chilly air were worth it to watch the canyon come alive as the sun’s rays reached the rocks for the first time that day.
The canyon overlook trail is short but fun, and the view is a treat as you look over State Route 9 and the mile-long tunnel through rock and the towering mountains that make up part of the Zion canyon. The trails on the park’s outskirts are fun and give a good perspective of the area around Springdale, but they’re nothing compared to what was in store in Zion canyon.
The next day was time for our e-bike adventure. While our bikes certainly took a load off versus a traditional bike, it wasn’t exactly a relaxing cruise to the trailheads. We chose to hike Angel’s Landing and then ride to the canyon’s end to walk the mile or so path along the river, leading to the trendy (and very cold) walk through the river at The Narrows. Angel’s Landing is one of the most famous and, it turns out, most deadly trails in the park. A 1500 foot climb in elevation in less than two miles punctuates it, and the last bit is a narrow “trail” where you need to hold onto chains that have been drilled into the mountain so you don’t fall to your death. Did I mention the trail is deadly? Apparently, 14 people have died on the trail since 2004. While that may sound a little gnarly for a national park, it’s a very, very small percentage compared to the people who hike the thing every day.
Climbing the trail was a real workout; our calves sang as we went up, up, and up. When we finally reached the first summit, we saw the line of people waiting to climb the final bit via the chains and decided it wasn’t worth it. Once you climb up, you must go back the same way, so it’s essentially a half-mile traffic jam on a narrow ledge. We’ve been at National Parks long enough now to be thoroughly sick of waiting in lines; there could’ve been free beer and tacos at the end of the trail; we weren’t waiting in line.
Instead, we climbed part of a connecting trail that led to a massive ledge where we had a beautiful view of the people climbing the top of Angel’s Landing. We enjoyed a few snacks and some much-needed water and let our legs rest a bit before we began the climb down. As much as our calves burned on the climb up, our knees and quads took the brunt on the way down. The term “sewing machine legs” should be familiar to anyone with some steep trail hiking experience; that phenomenon was in effect in spades for us that day. The hike was worth all the sweat and muscle soreness though, it was a great workout and provided some spectacular views of some of the park’s most amazing features.
After riding the bikes to the Narrows trail, we watched folks in rented dry suits navigate several miles of the river leading you into the canyon. Deciding we were glad not to have opted for that adventure; we rode the bikes out of the park. All told, we rode about 18 miles and hiked about 6, not a record for the trip by far, but not a bad day’s work. It was more than enough exertion to earn a good meal at MeMe’s Cafe.
Our stay at Zion wasn’t all fun and adventure, though. While our last leg saw the Boxster have a shifter cable become detached while I was driving, this leg saw a problem occur that was not easily repairable. I have known that I would eventually have to replace the convertible top on my Porsche for some time now. After driving it for a summer, I noticed the adhesive attaching the rear glass window to the convertible top was deteriorating. After speaking with an automotive upholsterer, I knew this was a sign of the top shrinking, and the only fix was a full replacement of the canvas. Fast forward to Zion, and the combination of sub-freezing days with snow in the Grand Canyon and the sunny and 60+ degrees in Zion were enough to convince the remaining adhesive to give up, the rear window became almost completely detached from the roof. Not what I wanted to see when I went to get something from the car after exploring the town.
After some expert internet searching, I had the names and numbers of a few shops in the greater Denver area that might help me. An astute reader will realize that Denver is not Zion. The truth is that most National Parks are located in pretty remote areas, and, strangely enough, there were no Porsche specialists near me in Springdale, nor would there be in the next few towns we would visit. But we will be in the Denver area in two weeks, so that’s my best bet. An afternoon of phone calls and messages later, I had a shop ready to install a new top on my car. It’s going to cost a boatload of money and cause some slight tweaks to our vacation plan, but at least I’ll have a water-tight car with a usable convertible top again, I hope. The trials and tribulations of owning a “cheap Porsche” continue. For now, a few rolls of black Gorilla Tape are keeping things in place.
With all of that adventure behind us, it was time to explore more of what Utah has to offer. Our next stop was one of the coolest, most bizarre places we’ve ever seen, Bryce Canyon National Park. The drive between the two parks is not long, maybe three hours, and it was another beautiful drive. The geological variety in southern Utah is stunning. A short drive can bring you through almost every landscape imaginable, from forests, picturesque lakes, deserts, towering mountains, and of course, unique rock formations.
The best way to get a handle on what Bryce Canyon National Park offers is to drive the 18 mile stretch of road that runs along the canyon’s rim. All of the scenic viewpoints are on the left side of the road, so drive to the end and stop at each one as you work your way back northbound. The first viewpoint also happens to be the highest elevation in the park at a little over 9,000 feet. It’s a spectacular view, but it is by no means the best.
It’s worth it to stop and see most, if not all, of the viewpoints, but the really spectacular ones are the last few, Inspiration Point, Sunset, and Sunrise viewpoints. These overlooks present the magic of the HooDoos that make the park famous. Sunset features some of the most famous views, including the aptly named Thor’s Hammer.
There are dozens of trails to hike in the park, but our research led us to the Fairyland Loop trail. It’s an eight-ish-mile trail that takes you from the canyon’s rim deep into the heart of the hoodoos. One of the best features of the trail is the variety; at times, you walk through a forest that could be anywhere in the Rocky Mountains with nary a hoodoo to be seen. Then you turn a corner, the trees disappear, and the strange rock formations dominate the landscape. The ascent a little after the halfway point is the section that gets the trail labeled “strenuous,” and I would say it’s an accurate description. But it’s worth the effort.
We stayed in the town of Bryce Canyon, which is right outside the park and is a blink, and you miss it kind of place. There are only a few restaurants in the town, and they all seem to be owned by the same family/company. It’s touristy kitsch at best, but it’s close to the park and served as a good basecamp. The Best Western Plus is a good option if you’re booking your trip.
Our visit to the park was short but a ton of fun. Bryce Canyon lacks the awe factor of Zion’s massive, colorful peaks; but it deserves to be on your list. The unique way water, wind, and time have carved this section of the earth is inspiring and beautiful in a different way from the other parks.
We spent half of our arrival day visiting the overlooks and one full day hiking. That is enough to “see” the park if that is your goal. You could surely spend a few more days if you are an avid hiker or if you want to partake in some of the commercial off-road tours that are offered. Just driving the canyon road and seeing the sights from the top of the rim doesn’t do the park justice; you could do it and say you’ve “seen” everything, but you would have missed out on a lot of the experience.
Leaving Bryce Canyon for our next destination delivered a chance to visit yet another National Park, Capitol Reef National Park. We did not get a chance to get the full experience here as we were driving through, but we did explore the scenic drive that delivers access to some of the best scenery. As with any of these parks, you have to judge how much time you can devote, and this park lost out to some of the others. I may have to revisit it at some point because there are some extraordinary trails to explore. But the windshield tour was all we were going to get, and it was spectacular.
We could only afford a few moments of our travel day to Capitol Reef because we wanted to get to the next destination. If you are familiar with the Utah National Parks, you can probably guess where that is. That’s right, MOAB!
To be continued….