Zion National park

After finishing Bryce Canyon , we drove to Zion National park.

Geology and History

I must brief you on some features of  Zion so that the essence of this national park can be savoured in full .The prominent part of this park is the Zion Canyon which is 29 km long and 800mt deep .The canyon has been carved out of the  red and tan coloured cliffs of Navajo sandstone by the Virgin River.

The road to Zion is 6 miles long and ends at the Temple of Sinawava…a deity of the natives. The road then leads to The Narrows which is a hiking trail only 20 feet wide. The east side of the canyon is approached by the Zion Mount Carmel Highway passing through the Carmel tunnel and ending at Mount Carmel.

Checker board Mesa and Crazy Quilt Mesa are two prominent sandstone peaks adjoining the Mount Carmel Road . They have a checker board pattern caused by contraction and expansion of the Navajo sandstone due to temperature changes. Some of this is believed to belong to the Jurassic age.The Mesa canyon sometimes holds water used by the the local sheep.

Apart from this, there is a slot canyon at Kolob terrace, Angels Landing …one of the most daring hiking trails, the sentinel and such other peaks. Most of these can be reached by hiking trails

The Virgin River; a tributary of the Colorado River , runs through the park.

Suggested Itinerary

1.One day tour from Vegas(like we did). Local tour operators from Vegas do this. We had booked online from India via Viator. This trip does not cover all parts of the park and limited time is allowed at the stops.

2.You can drive down to Zion and drive along all the roads (except Scenic drive in the Shuttle season). Private vehicles are not allowed on scenic drive during shuttle season(March to November) You have to check this online as the dates may vary. There are two shuttle routes

3. Shuttle route one starts from Zion canyon visitor centre to Scenic drive. It has various stops along scenic drive and one can go upto the temple of sinawava from where the hikers depart for The Narrows.

4. Shuttle route two is the Springdale or town shuttle to and from Springdale…a nearby town.

5. Springdale offers various accommodation options….this is probably the best way to see the park…stay at Springdale and do some hikes and tours.

Our Trip

We did a day tour from Las Vegas covering Bryce and Zion. After finishing Bryce( on which I had detailed in my last blog) we drove to Zion.

Contrary to our trip to Bryce where we had some walking and mild trekking to do, Zion was mostly covered in the vehicle itself.

Our First halt at Zion was at Checkerboard Mesa and Crazy Quilt Mesa and the Mesa Canyon

We had to do a short trek down from the road and found ourselves among horizontal, wavy rock formations. The upper areas had vertical line formations too.

The Wave formations at Mesa Canyon      


A long shot of the wavelike Crazy Quilt Mesa

The Horizontal wavy rocks

It was a short photo halt and soon continued our drive through the national park. Then came some winding roads amid huge red sandstone cliffs. This is actually called the Scenic Drive.

At Scenic Drive     


The sandstone cliffs of Zion

Driving along the scenic drive, we soon reached the Mount Carmel Tunnel…a real marvel. The Tunnel is around a mile in length and has windows at  six locations through which one can see the cliffs as one drives on.

The Mount Carmel Tunnel

View through one of the tunnel windows

View through another tunnel window    


The windows on the cliffside( through which we see the cliffs as we drive through the tunnel) as seen from below

Further down we reached the Virgin River. There was a large crowd assembled there. It was nearing sunset and   most of the people had cameras on tripods ready to shoot the changing colours of Zion as the sun sets. I was told that this is a daily phenomenon and this spot was a favourite of photographers who stood patiently to get the colour changes on the sandstone as the angle of sun rays changed at sunset.We watched the setting sun for sometime soaking in the beauty of the river.

The Virgin River at sunset       

Soon it was time to return to the van and we drove back to Vegas after a short halt at Panguitch town.

Before I leave, I must pay a tribute to the natives of this wonderful area….how else can I do that; but by sharing some pictures of their native artwork!

The typical Native Exhibits

I have just given you a sneak peek of the Park.

Suffice it to say that this is a park where you need to spend time. It is impossible to cover all of it in half a day as we did. Time constraint had made us do this tour. But for the more adventurous, there’s plenty awaitng you at Zion….If you have the luxury to do it, spend a couple of days here…hike around…soak in the beauty of this beautiful park…..

So friends, with this episode we bid goodbye to the canyons and move on to the Pacific Coast….San Francisco….see you next week at The Big Sur….

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Bryce Canyon

The last canyon visit scheduled from Vegas was to Bryce and Zion.I will be covering Bryce in this episode and Zion in my next episode. They are located in the state of Utah.

Before I actually give you the tour details, I need to explain the geology of the place to give you an idea of what lay in store for us in the tour.


Bryce Canyon National park lies within the Colorado Plateau and is strictly speaking not a canyon at all!!. It is a collection of uniquely shaped rock formations  which resemble a collection of amphitheatres in the Paunsaugunt Plateau . The rocks are in red, white and orange colours and offer spectacular views…the colour often changing due to the direction of sunlight.  The distinctive feature of Bryce are the HOODOOS… the effect of frost weathering of rocks and crevices.

HOODOOS are tall thin spires of rock that protrude from the bottom of an arid drainage basin or badland and consist of relatively soft rock topped by harder , less easily eroded stone that protects each column from the elements.


Before the hoodos were formed , the area was full of water. Utah was a mountain encircled basin. For millions of years, the rivers deposited sediments into a large system of lakes. When the lakes dried up over the years, muddy limestone walls remained. Weathering and erosion shaped these rocks further. Almost 200 days in a year, the area sees wide temperature swings between freezing nights and warm afternoons. This is what causes frost weathering. As the snow and ice melts, the water seeps into the crevices in the rock. When it refreezes, it expands and causes cracks or windows .  As the windows enlarge, their tops collapse leaving columns. This phenomenon happening repeatedly over millions of years has resulted in the formation of Hoodoos.

A Typical Hoodo

Suggested Itinerary

  1. A single day tour from Las Vegas(like we did) arranged through any tour operator.We  had booked this tour also online from India via Viator.
  2. A road trip lasting 2-3 days with your own vehicle or a rental car. This will give you time to hike and explore the place more in detail
  3. Stay at one of the towns close by like Panguitch ,Tropic, Cedar city or Kanab and take a drive . This will also give you more time at the canyon.

Our Trip

We were picked up early morning from our Vegas Hotel in a minivan with around 10 other tourists. As the weather was expected to be unusually chill again, we were advised by our guide to pick up some warm clothing at the town of Panguitch where we had a stop . We did pick up some warm clothing there and felt much relieved from the biting cold.

The shop at Panguitch where we picked up the woollens   

A model of an elk and some other graffiti at the store

After that, we stopped at a Subway joint and picked up breakfast of our choice and headed to Utah.

The drive was through desert roads with orange and pink rocks on either side. We were in for a pleasant surprise….a natural arch of sandstone across the road…like a tunnel. There were two such tunnels called the Red Rock Arch Tunnels which have served as the unofficial gateway to Bryce  and Red Canyons

Red Rock Arch Tunnels

After a short drive we were at the Visitor centre and parking area of Bryce Canyon. The Guide accompanied us to the walking paths and explained to us about the two main lookouts here. He then asked us to follow the sign boards and visit both the lookouts . The more adventurous, could do a small hike down to see some of the hoodoos at close range.

We decided to stick to the main walking path and after following that trail, reached a lookout from where we got a great view of the Bryce amphitheatre which is a hoodoo filled depression lying below the hiking path .In the far distance, we could see the Grand Canyon too….as explained by the guide.

The Bryce Amphitheatre    


Close up of the Amphitheatre

A long shot of the National park with the Kaibab plateau and Grand Canyon in the far distance

After enjoying the views , we walked up to the sunrise and sunset points on the trail and got some amazing views and pictures.

Some views from the lookouts….

Walking further down for a short while we were close up with some hoodoos…

Close encounters of a rocky kind!!!

A short video clip of Bryce Canyon

Besides hiking trails and camp grounds , Bryce is also an important stargazing destination. The high elevation, the clean dry air and lack of light pollution, makes it a one of the darkest places on earth. This makes it a stargazers paradise. They have guides called the Dark Rangers who offer moonlight walks among the hoodoos. But for all such activities, one must have more time in hand and of course should plan well in advance!

All in all…..another of nature’s marvels…lucky to have seen it…

After the walking and small trekking, we returned to the van at the appointed time to proceed to Zion National park which will be where we meet next week…till then, goodbye and soak in the hoodoos…

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