At the gate I hand over my national park pass and my park lodging pass. That’s not enough. I am also told to produce my lodging confirmation. This, of course, is somewhere near the bottom of the pile of paper in the back seat. (No wonder the line moves so slowly!) The ranger dates my pass and returns it along with my confirmation and a newspaper-type flier (no glossy park map here). Then, instead of the usual welcome to the park, we receive a stern lecture directing us to drive directly to the lodge, with no stops, no detours, yada, yada, yada. (I already knew all this from the rules listed on the back of the pass.) He goes on and on. There is nothing friendly in his message or tone. Hey, welcome to Zion. (Not.) It’s enough to make me consider stopping along the way just to spite them. (We don’t.)
But we are, at long last, in the park.
And, clearly, it was worth the wait.
I HAVE to come here in the off-season when we can use our own vehicle to get around and stop where we want. The drive into the park is stunningly gorgeous, taking us through a broad meadow between steep, sheer canyon walls. It would be simply astounding here in the fall when the leaves begin to turn. Even now I want to just sit and gaze at it all in wonder. What did those early Mormon settlers think when they first saw this place after traveling through so many areas that must have seemed terrifyingly harsh and inhospitable? It must have seemed like Eden.
At the lodge we are quickly checked in without any need to show my confirmation. Maybe the suspicious, hostile park ranger was an anomaly.
Our motel-style room is much nicer than I expected, with a deck that overlooks the grounds and the canyon walls rising just beyond. Very nice.
But we don’t have a lot of time set aside to spend in this park, so soon we are on the park shuttle, heading farther into the canyon.
The shuttle driver provides a running commentary on the area’s geology and history as we travel. In addition, he points out the locations of the trail heads, describes each trail’s difficulty, and explains what the highlights are. I admire the way you could just show up here and manage to find your way around and have a good time. It seems very user-friendly.
We choose the Riverside walk, a shady paved trail that runs along a stream below the leafy green trees and towering red cliffs.
This area looks peaceful, but it is not, as this is where everyone comes to play in the river. There are so many people! Mostly there are lots and lots of kids running and swinging large sticks. (They are emulating hikers, but they wave their own “walking” sticks about in alarming fashion. . . Duck!) How there can there even be any sticks or branches or driftwood left for them to pick up? And where are their parents?
It is a lot busier than Bryce.
Despite all the people, it IS beautiful.
We pass close by damp walls where seeping water sustains a dense growth of miniature columbine and ferns. The small green grottos are like a bit of Ireland plopped down here.
The broader world is framed by the red walls rise up all around us. As the sun drops, the light reflects back off the rock, making the walls glow as if lit from within.
It is beautiful – and even quite peaceful – on our return through the deepening dusk. Night comes early in the deeper reaches of the canyon.
Before we lose the sun for the day, we head back to the Court of the Patriarchs area. Here the canyon is wider, allowing the sun more time to hang in the sky above the formations, but our view is directly into the setting sun. We’ll return in the morning.
Maybe this would be a good time to stop in and check out the Visitor’s Center.
Back on the bus I look for my park flier with the hours listed in it, but can’t find it. The driver announces that the bus is headed to the museum, the visitor’s center, Springdale, etc. Good. The visitor’s center is still open. A few people get off at the next stop, which is basically a parking area with nice views. Hmmm. . . The light is pretty nice here. Maybe we should have gotten off too.
We continue on.
The bus begins to move at the same time the driver announces that the museum and visitor’s center are closed for the day. I am not the only disgruntled passenger to grumble and ask why he didn’t tell us that BEFORE we left the last stop. His reply is snotty: “It’s been published in the flier for 6 months.” Hmmm. . . He must have received the same anti-customer service training as the ranger at the park entrance.
We have 8:30 dinner reservations at the lodge, but the sun has vanished earlier than I had anticipated so we head to the dining room early to see if they either have a table available or a place where we can relax with a drink.
There is indeed a lounge area by the dining room, but we can also see that the dining room itself appears quite empty. We’ll start there.
We ask the hostess if we can be seated for dinner a little early.
The answer is an emphatic no.
I can see the dining room is actually almost empty. Hmmm. . . Can we get a glass of wine before dinner?
Yes, just go to the lounge.
So we take a table in the lounge and wait. And wait. Other people come in and wait. Finally I ask a group that was there when we arrived how they got their drinks. When they finish laughing, they tell me to ask the hostess. Again. And expect to have to ask again.
So I ask again and am told the waiter will serve us as soon as he has time – right now he is too busy in the dining room.
The dining room is still almost empty.
By now some of the other groups in the lounge are getting quite impatient. (Even more impatient than me.) It’s actually getting a little ugly.
A complaint to the manager FINALLY brings service to us all. It is nearly 8:45 and our table is ready in the dining room.
It’s such a contrast to the friendly, efficient staff at Bryce.
While waiting for service (it is a busy night, you know) we pull out our maps to plot the next phases of our trip: The north rim of the Grand Canyon and then on to Monument Valley. I don’t have this very well planned because it was difficult to find guidebooks and maps that included both Utah and Arizona. Utah and Nevada or Utah and Colorado, but not Utah and Arizona. The maps might as well have been labeled “here be dragons” at the Arizona border. However, I recently procured an Arizona and the Four Corners Area map and now I need to figure out what route we will take tomorrow and in the days to come.
Our waiter swoops in and introduces himself as Kevin. He spots our open map and immediately asks if he can help us. And how! He proves to be a wonderful resource – a living guidebook and a photography fanatic to boot. I could not have asked for a more perfect guide! (I always see it as a good sign when someone enthusiastically recommends places you have either already been to and loved or have already chosen to visit. It seems likely their other recommendations will be suitable too.) By the end of the evening we have had a nice dinner and solidified our plans for the next few segments of our trip.
We have been considering a walk in the moonlight, an idea Kevin endorses, but it is late when we finally finish dinner and the day has been long.
Instead, we sit on our deck and admire the Big Dipper as it scoops up the night sky. It glitters brightly in the clear mountain air, hanging above us, perfectly framed between the mountains just beyond our deck.
I watch it throughout the night in my dreams.