Thursday, May 31, 2012

Zion, Bryce,and North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Our RVs have taken us from Newfoundland to Puerto Vallarta, from the Florida Keys to Fairbanks Alaska, and many points in between. But, even though they are only a few hundred miles from our home, we have never been to Zion, Bryce, and the Grand Canyon’s north rim. The 45 mile road to the north rim of the Grand Canyon does not open until May 15 so the timing of our trip had to take that into consideration. We knew it would be warm in Zion but we did not anticipate daytime temperatures in the other parks would reach into the 90s during mid-May.

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

North Rim - Grand Canyon. Thursday we drove about 100 miles to Jacob Lake, Arizona. Our route took us through the towns of Hurricane, UT and Fredonia, Arizona on Highways 59 and 389. In Fredonia we turned south on Highway 89A and climbed a series of long grades to the town of Jacob Lake and the Kaibab Camper Village. The campground is in a dense forest of pine trees and has long, pull-thru sites with 30-amp electricity, water and sewer hookups. No cable TV available and satellite TV was blocked by the tall trees. The campground does not offer a Wi-Fi connection but we had good Verizon cell service and our cellphone’s “Personal Hot Spot” put us on the internet. Kaibab Camper Village is at an elevation of 8,900 feet. The cool mountain air was a refreshing break from the four previous days of oppressive 90-plus degree desert heat. We spent the rest of the day kicking back and enjoying the luxury of having our windows open. It was 75 degrees with a soft breeze blowing through the tall pine trees. That night the temperature dropped to 29 degrees.

Friday morning we drove our car 45 miles to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. The drive surprised us. A wide, gently rolling, two-lane, nicely paved highway crossed wide meadows dotted with ponds and surrounded by pine trees and aspens. We saw deer grazing in the open. We showed our Golden Age pass and entered the park. The entrance station of the park had a sign saying “All Campgrounds Full”. We drove through one of them. Lots of empty sites - probably reserved for the weekend. The campground and sites are really nice. Located in a pine forest with wide, level sites; a lot of them pull-thrus. No hookups but water and dump station available. The parking lot of the visitor center was pretty crowded and there were a lot of people considering the park had only been open for three days. We wandered around to some of the viewing spots but were not overly impressed. Views from the south rim are much more spectacular.

We drove through a National Forest campground located at the intersection of highways 89A and 67. Lots of empty long, wide and level campsites in a pine tree setting. No hookups at the National Forest campground was the reason we made reservations at Kaibab Camper Village. We thought we would want an electrical hookup to run our air conditioner. But we never turned it on.

Vicki - North Rim of  Grand Canyon

Bryce Canyon - Saturday we followed Highways 89A, 89, 12 and 63 to Ruby’s RV Park in Bryce Canyon. It was only about 120 miles. Ruby’s is a small community in itself with a lodge, full-service restaurant, fast food restaurants, grocery store/gift shop and two fuel stations. That evening we celebrated our 52nd anniversary by enjoying a very good meal in the main restaurant.

Our long, level, pull-thru site in Ruby’s RV Park had 50-amp electricity, water and sewer hookup. There was no cable TV but we were able to use our satellite TV. There was excellent free Wi-Fi and fair Verizon cell service. It was a good thing we made reservations because the RV park was sold out for the weekend. Our visit coincided with the solar eclipse that occurred on May 20th. A large number of astrology groups added to the usual number of National Park visitors.

Bryce Canyon also offers a free jump-on jump-off shuttle service. It begins at the entrance to Ruby’s RV Park and travels the 20-mile road to the end of the view points along the way. The shuttle also stops at the visitor center and lodge inside the park. The shuttle is optional. We drove our SUV to the end of the road, turned around and stopped at all of the viewpoints as we returned to the RV park. This put all of the viewpoints on the right side of the road and we avoided having to cross oncoming traffic to get into them. All of the viewpoints were very busy but we found parking spaces available. I suspect traffic must build up as the season progresses.

Bryce Canyon

Back To RV Know How