Once Highway 12 ends at 89, there are two routes into Zion. The southern route, along Highway 9’s Zion-Mount Carmel Scenic Byway, brings you directly into the park at the tunnel on the southeast side. The northern route is a little longer, running along 14 to Cedar City and then down I-15 to the park’s south entrance at Springdale. This seasonal route also runs through high forests and alpine meadows to the Cedar Breaks National Monument.We decide to take the less-traveled northern route, saving the southern scenic byway for our exit from Zion.
This route features traditional western mountain scenery (encroached upon by many new, large, prominently located vacation “cabins”). At various points, barren black lava fields clearly identify the origins of this landscape. However, this is mostly an isolated, forested route. After awhile, the cabin mansions are only a distasteful memory.
We stop briefly at the viewpoint above the elongated Navajo Lake. The water below us is enticing, with its odd sandy dike stretching across. It is tempting to slip down there, walk out on that dike, and play in the shallow water.
Instead we continue on down the road.
I’m not sure if we suddenly have reached a critical change in altitude or if they seed this road for wildflowers, but the moment we turn onto Highway 146 the roadside is suddenly awash with wildflowers. Yellow predominates, but there are scattered clumps of brilliant reds and purples mixed in as well. It feels like I have stepped back in time a month or more to the glory of spring. Whatever the reason for this display, it is astoundingly beautiful and I enjoy it as it continues all the way to the visitor center at the National Monument.
The natural amphitheater that is the focus of this park is lovely, but while it is deeper and steeper than the one at Bryce, those very factors actually work against it. It is too big, lacking the intimacy and drama of Bryce.
Or maybe I’ve just gotten really spoiled by my time at Bryce.
On the other hand, I really, really like the wildflowers – we haven’t seen many flowers out here and I relish their cheery brightness. They remind me of a glorious summer hike on Mount Rainier too many years ago. I miss them when we return to the main highway.
At some point we pass through a really wonderful canyon of solid-looking gray rock. Perhaps this is cedar canyon, but my notes don’t say and I haven’t come across any information on this area. It is lovely and dramatic though and I’m sure my geologist friend would appreciate it, so I take a few pictures for him.
And then the scenery gets relatively dull.
We are back on the Interstate highway, headed into Cedar City. I had actually considered spending time in Cedar City, based on descriptions of it as a particularly pleasant place with a major Shakespearean summer season. Driving through, I am glad we decided not to linger here.
We actually first enter Zion National Park at the more remote Kolob Canyon area.
The scenery here is lovely, but this is really an area for hikers and the sun is high and hot now, at three in the afternoon. It is time to get to the main part of the park.
Moving on means returning to the highway, but soon we turn off on Highway 17, heading through a series of small towns. In Toquerville, an old building along the road catches my eye.
As I am taking my picture, Lane notices the homemade sign posted in the neatly fenced small yard of a nearby bungalow: “Pottery for Sale.”
We tend to brake for pottery anyway and here we don’t even have to hit the brakes again. Might as well get out of the car and check it out.
The pottery on the display in the front yard is ok, but not enticing enough to make me want to linger. . .except for a panel with organic-looking, highly textured tiles. Very, very cool. As I’m about to make my escape, someone comes out of the house. Foiled. We talk for a few minutes and he explains that the pottery out here belongs to a young man who has been working here this summer, his own work is inside. I can tell Lane is hesitant, but I really like those tiles – maybe there are more inside.
Inside is a collection of lovely and accomplished work, including more of those tiles.
We spend some time pursuing the pottery selection (limiting my purchases to small things that will be easy to haul home) and just chatting with the potter, Russell Wrankle of Toquerville Pottery. (Sadly, he seems to no longer be doing pottery.) He knows a number of the same Minnesota potters we know and is interested in land use and development issues (mostly as an opponent of recent development). We talk and laugh, discussing options for getting him to Minnesota for a show and giving him a hard time about being a NIMBY. (Our apologies on the latter, Russ, as on our way out of town it became apparent that your concerns are really justified – some of that development is just scary!) We leave with a couple lovely little pieces (only one tile) and hopes for bringing him and his work to Minnesota sometime.