The tiny town of Springdale, Utah sits at the entrance of one of the best national parks in the US, Zion National Park. Zion offers easy access to beautiful vistas for the casual tourist, strenuous hikes to challenge the physically fit and back canyons for skilled mountaineers. I had the privileged to stay here through the changing seasons…. twice!
Zion National Park, East Entrance
Despite staying in Springdale twice for several months, there is still much of this park I have never seen or climbed. Because of the vast and varied landscape of this park, I’ve divided my Zion blog into three sections corresponding to the terrain. These are the East Side, the Main Canyon and the Subway.
The east entrance is where you arrive when coming from Bryce or Kanab. You will soon be greeted by a massive dome of sandstone known as Checkerboard Mesa. It is is a sandstone mountain covered with cross-hatching resembling a checkerboard that lies along the Zion Mt. Carmel Highway.
(Travel TIP: When in Kanab, be sure to eat at the Rocking V Cafe for the best food in town)
Desert Big Horn Sheep
If you wish to see desert bighorn sheep, the east entrance is the place for you. If you make an evening drive through this section of the park and do not see bighorn sheep, you likely were not looking closely enough. My challenge was not just to see them, as the multiple tourist cars hanging out 3/4 into the main roadway tell you where they are. The challenge for me was to be the first to spot them, then watch the cars pile up to see them as well. They could be lurking around any curve.
Or they can be standing atop the tallest distant point of the sandstone mountains.
At other times they will sneak up on you from behind just to make you look foolish.
More likely, they are laying down blending into the sandstone background.
Stopping the car and running after them is seldom the way to get good photographs. Rather you need to learn their routes or anticipate their direction and let them come to you.
Anticipating the route the sheep would take, I set up in my selected spot and let them walk by me. This baby was so young the umbilical cord was still visible.
On another evening watching the movements of the bighorn sheep, I set up watching a large group hoping for a silhouette shot. My patience paid off with many photos of various poses and family encounters. They certainly have no fear of heights.
Walls of Sandstone
There is more to see than desert bighorn sheep on the east side. The landscape is very worthwhile with many pullouts for stopping and getting a closer look. This bonsai tree is famous but often missed. You have to look hard to find it while driving by. One evening I saw a newlywed couple carting a table, chairs, dinner and wine to celebrate their anniversary at the base of this tree.
Zion Mt. Carmel Tunnel
The east side of Zion and the rest of the park is separated by the Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel, which is over one mile long. At the time it was built in the late 20’s, it was the longest tunnel in the United States. There are traffic control points at each end of the tunnel limiting the direction of travel when motor homes or trailers need to pass through this narrow tunnel. Each side of this tunnel is as different as night and day. Deer on one side and sheep on the other. The tunnel to the east side of Zion lies just beyond this series of twists and turns.
Next we will explore the main canyon in Zion National Park.