Waking up in Kanab, nestled among the red hills near the Grand Staircase was definitely a pleasant experience. Shanon got in another sunrise, I did my morning exercises, and all things were good. We got on the road early and headed into Zion National Park.
When we initially planned our trip we thought that we could get from Zion all the way to New Mexico in one day with the Grand Canyon and the Painted Desert in-between. After a couple days on the road we realized this was beyond aggressive and a completely ridiculous notion, so we rerouted ourselves to just attempt Zion and the Grand Canyon in one day. This was still very zealous, but at least it was doable.
As we headed into the national park there was a herd of Buffalo along the road so we pulled off. I wanted to get up close and personal (through the fence of course). Then very soon after the Buffalo we were greeted by the majestic cliffs and formations of Zion National Park.
Zion is one of the most popular National Parks in Utah because of its beauty and the variety of landscape and trails one can hike through it. It is also quite dangerous, prone to flash flooding and people hike without the proper equipment and fall off of things they had no business climbing. All of Zion’s amazing cliffs and hills are formed by water. North of Zion, rain falls on the Colorado Plateau at 11,000 feet or so and races downhill, and as water does, slices out the soft layers of Navajo Sandstone that make up Zion.When it storms water shoots out of the hills and runs down into the Virgin River – thus the flash flooding danger and the canyon carved by the waters of the river.
It is a surprise that no one drives off the cliffs more often staring up as they drive into the park towards the visitors’ center. Another feature of Zion is the Mt. Carmel Tunnel through the rock. Here is my tunnel photo sequence.
Going through the tunnel was a way shorter experience than both us thought it would be-but on the other side was the winding path down into the canyon and visitors’ center. Because of the flash flooding and other safety reasons only shuttle buses are allowed to do the scenic drive inside the park at the bottom of the canyon. Meanwhile, seeing the shuttle buses it is clear that the best way to really see the park is on foot. Moreover, you can do at least 10 loops of the visitor center parking lot (where you catch the shuttle), and still not get a spot, and theoretically, we were not visiting in the busy season.
Unable to park, we exited to the nearby town to explore the snacks, the gift shops, and the public restrooms. We purchased a bunch of pretty things in the gift shop and I got a green smoothie and an oat milk latte while there was still yuppie-hipster-hiker-healthy choices available (and I was dying for greens at this point). Then we made our way out of the park – slowly because they closed the tunnel to 2 way traffic this time. We lunched in Kanab and took care of a little business, then routed ourselves towards the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Talk about geography change, we went from beautiful Zion, to the red hills of the Grand Staircase, to barren hills with scorched earth and burned forest, to deciduous trees colored in yellows leaves, and as we got closer to the grand canyon, orange leaves, and finally conifers mixed back in.
At the edge of the Grand Canyon park we were greeted by a masked park ranger who told us that the park fee could be paid at a vending machine at the closed visitors center at the rim. We thanked her and pondered what would happen if we didn’t pay the fee. But as karma is a thing and National Parks are important we determined it was no question but to pay, despite the lack of enforcement mechanism.
We arrived on the North Rim and found that at the North Rim there was a Bright Angel Point look out to view the canyon from – it seemed appropriate, so I walked out there and took a selfie.
Then I tried really hard to take a picture of the dog, but Charlotte wasn’t having it.
My brilliant description of the Grand Canyon is this – it is a big crack in the ground with some very pretty topography. It puts you at a loss for words how the earth can rip itself open for such a space. And why here? In the middle of the US? As the visitors center was not open, I could not be lured to purchase any more books on geology or plate tectonics to explain it to me.
After the Grand Canyon there were a few more miles to Flagstaff – 150-ish to be exact. These miles were through the Vermillion Cliffs and over the Marble Canyon. It is here, thanks to a very faded Arizona road side sign at a scenic overlook, I learned about the Cattallo – a cross between the cow and a buffalo.
A project that did not take off because unlike cattle, buffalo roam, so Cattallo would not stay put or go where they were supposed to go, so the visionary let the project go – including the animals. Some of the descendants can still be found in the area around the Vermillion Cliffs to this day.
Our drive to Flagstaff was beautiful, and we watched the moon rise, and the sun set over the Arizona high desert.