Thursday, December 10th, 2015
After the long drive from Page via U.S. Route 89A, Julia and I were exhausted so we crashed pretty hard last night and woke up a bit on the tired side, but that didn’t stop us from heading downstairs at 6:30 a.m. to get our mittens on some of the Holiday Inn Express’ complimentary breakfast which I have to say was not that bad at all compared to some of the more awful complimentary breakfast options I’ve experienced at other places I’ve lodged at. We didn’t have much in mind for today, so Julia and I talked about what we should do. She had mentioned the Overlook which she had been too once before. I had never been there so naturally I was game for it. After breakfast, it was time to get the venture started!
Nested literally at the doorstep of Zion National Park, the small town of Springdale, Utah is the ultimate place to stay when visiting the park. There’s plenty of great little shops and places to eat along with a great selection of some very choice hotels with great views. The entire town is also at the foot of the Watchman, an iconic mountain that is a local favorite for all photographers alike, particularly around sunset. Julia and I decided to stay here for a few days after learning that there was a potential snow storm heading this way in the next day or two. We certainly were not going to miss out on the opportunity to see a snow covered Zion National Park.
“We are not really the early bird type of folks, but breakfast was calling.”
Julia and I decided to save the Overlook Trail for the sunset, this way we could explore the park itself. Typically during the high traffic times of the year, the floor of the valley in Zion is only accessible via bus from a nearby parking lot that sits just outside the main canyon corridor of the park. Because we were here in the off season, we could take advantage of chauffeuring ourselves through out the park without the stress of trying to catch overcrowded busses or make it on time for the next bus.
“My annual national parks pass will give us all the free entries we’ll require for the next few days here.”
Temple of Sinawava
Once we entered the park, we drove until we found Floor of the Valley Rd. and took it all the way to the very end of the park at a place called the Temple of Sinawava. Here there is a decent sized parking lot which can get pretty packed with off season visitors wishing to take on the famous Narrows of Zion. Julia and I were not going to the Narrows today, but we were interested in seeing what the Riverside Walk trail had to offer. The last time I visited Zion was in 2007 and I had all but forgotten most of the experience, so this was a great refresher!
“As soon as we parked, others began to arrive shortly after and the parking lot was nearly full.”
We grabbed our gear and started our hike along the Virgin River. The canyon that the Riverside Walk travels through is called Telephone Canyon, named after the telephone line which used to run from Cabin Spring (West Rim Spring) to the Temple of Sinawava through this canyon. The walls of this canyon are a mixture of limestone and Navajo sandstone. Water run off makes it’s way down some of the canyon walls throughout the trail.
“Some of the Riverside Walk trail is lined with fence in the beginning.”
“Julia stops over by a section of the Virgin River to try out some long exposures with her 10 stop filter.”
“Nothing quite like the Lee ‘Big Stopper’ for mid day long exposures.”
“I decided to join her and set up myself.”
“We moved up a few times along the river for different compositions.”
“We grabbed our gear and carried on further up the trail.”
“The Virgin River was flowing quite nicely this time of year.”
“Nothing but smiles here!”
“The water was flowing nicely, the aqua green color in the deeper areas was beautiful.”
“Julia is always a sneak with her camera, I can never tell when she’s shooting me…lol.”
“Julia stands under a massive Najavo sandstone boulder that teeters over the trail.”
“End of the Riverside Walk trail, but start of the Narrows trail.”
End of the Riverside Walk
After one mile of hiking, we had reached the end of the trail. The Narrows begin at the end of the Riverside Walk trail and we were definitely not in the correct gear to be stepping into knee deep ice water. There is a small concrete patio with steps that lead down to the river. We noticed quite a few pairs of shoes and socks that were lined up along the small retaining brick wall. Some folks were either joining the polar bear club or perhaps these had been abandoned for some time. Julia and I discussed the idea of getting the right gear and heading into the narrows the following in the following days to come, she was totally on board! I knew that with the approaching snowstorm, we only had a small window of opportunity to do it, so it was decided that we go the day after tomorrow. Meanwhile, we were getting a bit peckish, so we turned around to head back to the parking lot and get some lunch in town before we start our venture to the Overlook.
“One advantage about not hiking a loop trail is that we got to see the hike we just did from a different perspective.”
“The mix of limestone above and the Navajo sandstone below create some pretty interesting cliff faces.”
GPS Coordinates: 37.1977° N, 112.9935° W
This is a Cafe that Julia spotted on the way into town the night before. The reviews looked pretty good on Yelp so we decided to give it a go. The place was a small, cozy environment as one would expect from a small town cafe. The walls were covered in artwork from paintings, to crafted sculptures, and pottery. The staff was very friendly and made suggestions as we looked at the menu. Getting a good idea of what they had, we closed the menus and placed our orders. The Cafe Soleil menu is loaded with a great selection of healthy food including vegetarian and vegan options. Julia got the Balsamic Chicken Pesto sandwich with a white bean soup on the side and I got the Chipotle Chicken Wrap with a tomato veggie soup. Suffice it to say that this was the best damn food we had on this monstrous venture since delicious Rib Eye platters we had at the Red Raven back in Williams, AZ.
“Some damn good food here and the Dry sparkling soda with Vanilla Bean flavor was excellent!”
“The inside of the shop was is very artsy and cozy.”
“The food was so good that I predicted that we were going to visit Cafe Soleil again soon.”
After a very good lunch, Julia and I headed back into the park and made our way along Route 9 up to a series of switchbacks that lead to the famous Zion Tunnel. This tunnel is the longest in the National Park system and requires a tunnel permit for vehicles that are considered ‘oversized’. Any vehicle that is 7 feet 10 inches (2.4 meters) in width and/or 11 feet 4 inches (3.4 meters) in height or larger is required to have a tunnel permit. Rangers posted at both ends of the tunnel convert two-way tunnel traffic to one-way for larger vehicles, ensuring safe passage. This service is why the permit fee exists. For more information on obtaining a permit and or related fees, visit The Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel information page.
“This plaque is mounted on a large boulder just a few steps east of the Virgin River bridge on Route 9.”
Zion Tunnel (a.k.a. The Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel)
The highway features a 5,613 ft (1,711 m) tunnel that follows the profile of the Pine Creek Canyon wall at a consistent distance of 21 ft (6.4 m) from the outside face of the rock to the centerline of the tunnel. The west portal is framed by a masonry facade of cut sandstone, while the east portal is a naturalistically formed hole in the rock, entered directly from a bridge. Construction proceeded using mining techniques rather than traditional tunneling techniques, starting from a stope and working outward to the portals. The tunnel uses galleries to provide light and ventilation through the canyon wall to the outside air. The galleries also provided a place to dispose of rock generated during construction, which was dumped through the galleries into the canyon. Parking spaces were originally provided at the galleries, but were discontinued due to safety concerns. Some galleries have been repaired and partially closed with concrete due to damage from rockslides.
The interior of the tunnel is rock-faced, with concrete reinforcement at selected locations. Work on the tunnel was started in 1927 by the Nevada Construction Company and was completed in 1930 at a cost of $503,000. At the time of its completion it was the longest non-urban road tunnel in the United States. The tunnel’s restricted dimensions require that vehicles over 11.33 ft (3.45 m) in height or 7.83 ft (2.39 m) in width give advance notice so that two-way traffic can be shut down in the tunnel, allowing oversize vehicles to proceed down the center of the tunnel. Vehicles over 13.08 ft (3.99 m) tall and semi-trailers as well as bicycles and pedestrians are prohibited in the tunnel. Other significant structures include the Pine Creek and Virgin River Bridges and a second, short tunnel through a rock spur east of the main tunnel. The Zion – Mount Carmel Highway was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.(Source: Wikipedia)
“Drive to the Overlook Trail.”
When we arrived at the Overlook trailhead, we realized that the parking situation was minuscule and there was no way we would have found parking so easily during any other season. Grateful to have gotten a spot, we grabbed all the gear, flashlights, and plenty of water for the hike. According to Julia, the hike was barely a half mile to the destination so this should literally be a walk in the park.
“I let Julia take the lead on this one since she was familiar.”
“A brief video of our hike to the Overlook.”
“Looking back you could see how the trail rides the edge along the Pine Creek Slot Canyon below.”
“The trail has many small obstacles so it’s a good idea to pay attention.”
We made it to the Overlook and set up for the sunset, but we wanted to move further to the north of the touristy spot that marks the actual Overlook vista point. Julia and I wanted a more unique shot of the Overlook and so we set up near the edge and directly over the Great Arch below. The Great Arch is a geological feature that you will definitely see on the way up the switchbacks from the valley below when driving to the tunnel. There were a few gusts of wind so we had to really seat our tripods down in cracks and ledges for a guaranteed steady shot.
“This whole trip was filled with “Fear of Heights” challenges so looking down was not so bad here.”
“The wind was picking up a bit in this location so I used the only anchor weight I could think of for my tripod.”
“I snapped something like 200 shots here.”
“We stayed at the Overlook for the sunset and it was way worth it!”
The sun was gone and the only light in the sky came from the after burst. Even though it was just a half mile, we had to boogie on out of there. I had my trail lantern and Julia had her flashlight. I can only imagine how amazing the night sky must appear from the Overlook. We will definitely have to go back for that opportunity someday. For now, it was time to saddle up and head back to the hotel room, but not before making a quick grocery stop in town for some food and supplies.
Springdale Candy Company
GPS Coordinates: 37.1888° N, 112.9987° W
Julia and I walked through town after the grocery store and stopped at the Springdale Candy Company. We both had a sugar craving and went inside to see what they had to offer. The store was not unlike any other candy shop with variety through the roof. There were dozens of chocolates and ice cream flavors and classic treats alike. So many choices, but we had to maintain our composure. This was probably the worst dinner ever…lol
“Shelves full of candy options, but I just wanted an ice cream cone, so I got some toffee almond crunch.”
“Julia had her heart set on truffles so we ordered a small box with a custom selection of what they had.”
After getting our late night sugar fix, we drove back to the hotel and finally started to relax for the evening. Overall it was a rather good first day for our Zion ventures, but the best was yet to come! We had to get to bed early because tomorrow we head out to visit Zion’s backyard beyond the tunnel to explore all of the slot canyons and potential trails there.
Until the next travel blog, remember to get out there and “Shoot the Planet!”
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