Our observations leave the flora and fauna photos and descriptions to the tour books.
Las Vegas, Nevada - We left our southern California home on Sunday, May 12th. We drove about 270 miles to Las Vegas, Nevada and checked into the Oasis RV Resort for the evening. The Oasis is on the outskirts of the city. It measures up to the “resort” description with paved roads and sites, 50-amp, water, sewer and cable TV connections. But fee Wi-Fi. The Silverton Casino is just across the highway so we took advantage of their dinner buffet and, for dessert, Vicki won enough at the $5.00 blackjack tables to pay for our meals. Later that evening we drove down Las Vegas Blvd. (aka “The Strip”) and into the “Downtown” area. Both areas were bumper to bumper traffic and wall to wall humanity! Daytime temperature reached 100 degrees.
Zion Canyon National Park - Monday morning, after a leisurely breakfast buffet at the Point South Casino/Hotel we drove about 150 miles to Virgin, Utah. The drive covers the same desolate, never-ending desert terrain we crossed from Barstow, CA to Las Vegas. Temps were in the very high 90s all the way to the Zion RV Resort in Virgin. This is one of the best RV parks we have ever stayed in. Paved roads, concrete pads with 50-amp electricity, water, sewer, cable and telephone hookups. Sites are separated by about 15 feet of lawn, each containing a large shade tree. Unfortunately, there was no Verizon cell signal but the telephone hookup at the site allowed us to make free 800-calls with the hard-wired phone we carry in our motorhome.
Monday afternoon we drove 10 miles to the Zion Nat’l Park Visitor Center. Our Golden Age Passport saved us from paying the $25 per car entrance fee. The area around the visitor center was a mass of cars and people. It was 5:00 pm and there were only a few parking spaces available. According to signs posted along the approach road, the parking lots at the visitor center fill up by 9:00 am and remain that way until after 4:00 pm.
To handle the crowds and traffic, the National Park service has instituted a shuttle bus system for visiting Zion Canyon. Free shuttle service is available from the parking lots in the nearby town of Springdale to the visitor center. Then, because cars and other private vehicles are not allowed into the canyon itself, another free shuttle service busses visitors into Zion Canyon. The shuttles stop to allow passengers on and off at the scenic view points. Visitors can get off one bus and get on another. The busses run about every ten minutes.
We came up with a plan to avoid the parking hassle and minimize the shuttle crowds. Zion River Resort offers an accommodating shuttle service for a very nominal fee. We got into their van at 9:00 am and were driven to the Zion Nat’l Park Visitor Center. An empty shuttle bus arrived just a few minutes after our arrival. We remained in our seats throughout the entire 80 minute round trip into and out of Zion Canyon. Other passengers, mostly photographers and hikers (we are not either) got on and off the bus as it moved from one spot to another. We and a few others simply used the shuttle like a tour bus. After returning to the visitor center there was time to visit the gift shop before we were picked up by the Zion River Resort van at 12:00 noon.
The National Park’s shuttle service makes sense. Zion Canyon has been carved deep and narrow by the Virgin River. The floor of the canyon is just wide enough for the river and the two-lane dead-end road. Space to turn around or get off the road is at a premium. The canyon simply could not handle the chaotic crush of cars if they were allowed into the canyon. By the way, when we arrived at the visitor center at 9:30 in the morning there were still parking spaces available. Also, our shuttle bus into the canyon was only half full. When our bus returned to the visitor center a little before 11:00, however, there were lines of people waiting to board the busses and the parking lots looked full. Arriving early might be the trick to avoiding the crowds.
There are two entrances to Zion National Park. We arrived at the south entrance via Highway 9 off of I-15. Easy hills (predominantly uphill into the park) and gentle curves make this a relatively easy route for RVs. The east entrance from Highway 89 has a number of steep grades (predominantly downhill into the park) and switchback curves. It also has a two-lane, one-mile long tunnel with a low, curved ceiling. RVs have to straddle the centerline in order to pass through the tunnel without damaging their roofs. That means stopping oncoming traffic which the rangers are happy to do for a $15.00 fee. Lots of large RVs go both ways through the tunnel. So eastbound and westbound traffic take turns getting stopped and waiting for RVs to pass through the tunnel. Driving our car, we followed large RVs both ways through the tunnel. Headlights and a few windows to the outside were the only illumination. I would consider this portion of the drive one of the more memorable for an RVer. We didn’t stop to investigate but it appeared the rangers were simply letting a long string of eastbound traffic (including one or more RVs) through the tunnel and then letting a long string of westbound traffic through. Our wait in both directions was about ten to fifteen minutes. We decided to avoid the tunnel when we left Zion.
Shuttle Bus - Zion Nat'l Park
Vicki - North Rim of Grand Canyon