Zion National Park Part 2

Zion-Mount Carmel Highway

We wake up to a foggy mist blocking out the sun and head by car to Kanab, Utah for a late lunch, early dinner.

Up we go on the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, a 25 mile road connecting the canyon in the west to Mt. Carmel Junction in the east. The East Entrance to Zion NP is midway through this drive.

The fog adds an element of mystery to the rock walls as we travel up through a series of 7 switchbacks from the canyon floor to the sandstone cliffs above.

The tunnel

Despite the many challenges faced by construction crews from Utah and Nevada in just carving out the Zion to Mount Carmel Highway… rock slides, sloughing cliffs, large boulders needing to be blasted with dynamite, and one fatality… the most significant challenge was the 1.1 mile tunnel through the heart of the sandstone cliffs connecting the switchbacks from the west to the new road from the east.

Construction began by blasting gallery windows into the cliff. From these openings crews were able to access the interior of the cliff and bore through the rock. The windows also provided lighting, ventilation, and routes for clearing away excess rock debris.

Two years and ten months later, in July of 1930, the tunnel was dedicated and officially opened to traffic. (nps.gov)

The tunnel is 2 lanes across and can accommodate 2-way traffic with some restrictions. Vehicles 11 feet 4 inches tall or taller OR 7 feet 10 inches wide or wider require a special $15 traffic control fee so that you can drive down the center of both lanes. (park brochure)

Immediately after exiting the tunnel from west to east, we encounter an other-worldly land of twisted, twirly rock formations that we nickname “the wavies”.  They look like layers of flaky phyllo dough and frosting swirls on a cake.

The wavies

The mist turns to rain, turns to sleet, turns to papery bits of rushing snow.

Checkerboard mesa

We turn into a pullout to get a picture of this dome covered in horizontal and vertical cracks. Erosion, wind, and rain caused the horizontal cross-bedding. Freezing and thawing over eons created the vertical cracks. (plaque at viewpoint)

We pull out from the viewpoint and continue to Mount Carmel Junction where we head southeast on US Route 89.

Seventeen miles later we arrive in “Little Hollywood”.


Kanab is just north of the Arizona border on 89. The city has a history as a filming location for many movies and television series, such as The Lone Ranger, Death Valley Days, Gunsmoke, Planet of the Apes, Mackenna’s Gold, and many others. (en.m.wikipedia.org)

We grab a bite to eat at the Rocking V Cafe and enjoy the Kanab-A-Dabba-Doo Burger with Garlic Smashed Potatoes.



Returning through the tunnel, it’s late afternoon and there’s still fog over the canyon walls.

Zion National Park Part 1

Oh, Wow!

The most prominent feature of Zion is the steep red rock canyon carved by the North Fork of the Virgin River. Zion Canyon stretches 15 miles long and spans up to half a mile deep.

Access to Zion Canyon  Drive is via the Park’s South Entrance off State Route 9 in Springdale, Utah.

The East Entrance is on Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, also known as SR-9, and passes through the 1.1 mile long tunnel nestled inside the rock. No Visitor Center is located here.

The 3rd Entrance is the Kolob Canyons Visitor Center off Interstate 15 at Exit 40. This 5 mile scenic drive is located in the northwest corner of the Park.


Enough info for now. It’s time to hit the trail and experience the mesmerizing majesty of Zion. We can walk to the South Entrance since we are staying a mere half-mile away. So, let’s go!

The watcHman trail

Starting at the Visitor Center, along the east bank of the Virgin River, this hike passes by the South Campground, employee housing, and a construction yard.

But nothing can spoil the beauty beyond… the blue sky, white clouds, bright green evergreens contrasting with the sage-green shrubs, and of course the red, brown, pink, salmon, gold and white layers of the Navajo Sandstone.

After crossing the road restricted to employee and maintenance vehicles, we head upward into the cliffs and get close up and personal with some canyon walls.

The trail is moderately strenuous due to the 600 some feet gain in elevation. But I use my picture-taking need as an excuse to take a breather.  And no, the hike does not proceed to the top of Watchman, but to a viewpoint on top of the first layer of cliffs overlooking the main canyon.

It’s crowded here so we take the loop trail and get some amazing views of lower Zion Canyon and the town of Springdale where we are staying.

The end of the trail also offers views of the Towers of the Virgin and Watchman Mountain. Since I don’t  know this at the time or what these rock formations look like, I miss these photo ops. My excuse is that the sun obscures their view. I just take pics that inspire me.

This is also the “loop less traveled” and we share the solitude with a young family taking a lunch break.

As we head back, it starts to rain hard intermittently. But I still stop to take pictures.

The Towers of the Virgin are in the distance below…

And I capture Watchman in the pic below…

Another downpour threatens again…

…and when it hits we find shelter underneath a rock. Two hikers from Germany join us.

When the rain stops we slosh our way through the red mud, collecting the clay soil on our hiking boots. Each step gets heavier. But the inconvenience of the mud doesn’t stop me from taking a few more pics as we continue back to the trailhead.

Zion canyon scenic drive

Wet and muddy we head back to the Visitor Center and catch the Zion Canyon Shuttle. Starting here the shuttle makes 8 stops along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive from the Visitor Center to the “Temple of Sinawava” where the canyon narrows.

Private vehicles are not allowed beyond Stop 3, Canyon Junction, which takes you to Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, the tunnel, and the East Entrance of the Park.

Riverside Walk

We take the shuttle to the end of the line, Stop 9, The Temple of Sinawava, and walk the 2.2 out and back trail along the Virgin River at the bottom of the canyon. Since the path is paved it is rated wheelchair accessible with some assistance.

It’s still raining off and on but it does not ruin our day. Clouds gather and disperse, coloring the sky various shades of blue and gray.

Actually the weather adds an eerie sense of grandeur to the ferns, trees, moss, and river on the floor of the canyon…

as the imposing weeping walls of rock embrace it all…

The paved trail ends as the canyon narrows into a gorge.

We watch as a few folks wade into the water as they continue into the Zion Narrows, a day-hike following the Virgin River as it winds through a 2,000 foot deep canyon that narrows into 20-30 feet wide passages. A longer hike requires a backcountry permit. Either way, you will get wet.

When we return to the trailhead we board the shuttle back to the Visitor Center. It takes about 40 minutes to get there as the shuttle has to make 8 stops along the way.

From the Visitor Center we walk back to Zion Canyon Campground where we are staying. It is also a Quality Inn motel. That’s our RV to the right of the couple walking toward us:

What a great day!

Leaving Las Vegas

Heading to Zion National Park

Continuing northeast on Interstate 15 for about 90 minutes, we cross into the tip of Arizona after passing through Mesquite, NV.

The landscape changes.

Thirty minutes later we enter Utah.

There is no denying that we are in Utah. Just look at the spectacular rock formations.

We exit the 15 onto State Highway 9 in Hurricane, Utah. Following the 9, we pass through La Verkin and Virgin and arrive Springdale, the gateway into the southern entrance of Zion.

We arrive at Zion Canyon Campground 3:30 Mountain Time.

What a gorgeous setting! And we are only a half mile away from the entrance to Zion NP.

After setting up “camp” we drive into the Park and end up on the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway that leads to the mile long tunnel to Bryce Canyon. The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is closed to all vehicles except for the Shuttle that runs from the Visitor Center to the Temple of Sinawava making 8 stops along the way.

We reach the tunnel and turn around, deciding to drive through it another day and maybe hike the Canyon Overlook Trail on the other side of the tunnel.

On our way back we stop at a turn-out and take some awesome pictures:

When we return to the RV, I relax with a glass of wine (okay, you got me… a mug and a bottle…) and watch the sunset bounce off the rocks beside us. Another perfect day in RV Land…

Viva Las Vegas

We are on the road again. Today’s destination is an RV Park in Henderson, NV about 10 miles from the Las Vegas Boulevard Strip.

Leaving CA we take the 215 to the 15 passing through San Bernardino, Loma Linda, Apple Valley, Victorville and through the Mojave Desert.

From the highway we catch sight of the world’s largest thermometer in the town of Baker.

As soon as we hit the state border, we know we are in Nevada:

Around 3:30 we arrive at the Desert Sands RV Resort in Henderson where we can spend the night for only $25… full hookup and 50 amp.

By 5:30 we are on the Las Vegas Strip.

We park in the nearest self-parking garage and walk around. Not all streets have cross walks or connecting sidewalks so elevators and/ or stairs take you up, across, and down again. The skywalks also lead into casinos and shops.

Around 7:00 it starts getting dark.

The Strip comes alive. The sidewalks get crowded. People sip beers and tall colorful alcoholic beverages. Discount show ticket kiosks pop up, the smell of weed passes by, and outstretched hands pass out cards for hooking up, and not the kind I usually refer to when I talk about the RV.

We take an escalator up to a food court and grab a quick bite from Panda Express. Then we head down to the Bellagio’s water show.

Last Looks…

Of San Jacinto and Simpson Park

Can’t See the Forest for the Trees…

Jeff and I like to walk and hike. So, before discovering the amazing trails in Simpson Park and the Coachella Valley Preserve, we pounded the pavement throughout San Jacinto.

Now, San Jacinto, CA is not the most scenic city. But if you focus, one step at  time, on your immediate surroundings you will discover some amazing trees and shrubs adorning the sidewalks and not-sidewalks.

So, as we walk I snap a photo or two of our favorite specimens which Jeff and I name in our own crazy way. I hope you enjoy this crash course in the study of trees. I call it Dendrology 101.

Baby Bottle Brush Tree…

Green Olive Palm Tree…

Coral Star Fish Bush…

Christmas Berry Tree…

Garbanzo Bean Tree…

Wasp Nest Tree…

Oh wait, it’s a Garbanzo Bean Tree with all the branches removed…

Bee Tree…

These trees are a buzz with noisy bees… not my favorite to walk under. And these trees are in front yards, how strange.

And speaking of strange, for all of us Netflix binge-watchers, check out the…“Stranger Things” Demogorgon Bush…

Corn Kernel Pod Tree…

Purple Olive Tree…

Oh wait, it is an olive tree!… a black olive tree. The fruit on the sidewalk below leaves a squishy purple residue.

Yellow Star Jade Bush…

Sienna Bark Tree…

These beauties line Victoria Avenue.

And finally, How Californians Trim Trees…

Rock graFfitti…

Some rocks don’t need names. They have already been christened.

The rock above is on the Canyon Trail near Fireman’s Loop and we have passed it, I don’t know how many times now. What’s funny though is that we always called it Bonnie’s Junction. It wasn’t until I took this picture that I realize the B is an R and it’s really Ronnie’s Junction. (But I know Jeff and I will always call this rock Bonnie’s Junction.)

Here is, for us at least, the most famous rock in all of Simpson Park:

It’s Balloon Rock, the one that will always remain dear to our hearts as it is the landmark of that fateful day when Jeff and I got lost and wandered off to Gibbel Road, 9 miles by car away from the parking lot.

We still can’t figure out how we strayed so far away. I mean, it’s obvious that teens hang out around here as there are lots of tagged rocks in this area. So that must mean that it’s not far off the beaten path to the parking area. After hiking throughout these mazes several times now, it’s impossible to get lost. It beats me, get it, how we managed to take all the wrong turns that day. I guess we were just so hot, dehydrated, and confused…

Finally, here is Jeff’s favorite rock, well actually it’s a spot that we also discovered on the day we got lost. It leads nowhere, hence its name:

Joshua Tree National Park

Southern CA has been cool, windy and cloudy, frost overnight and day time temps trying unsuccessfully to reach 60 degrees. Unfortunately this, and a bad blister on the bottom of my toe, has interfered with our hiking frenzy. And it’s even cooler in the higher elevations where we prefer to hike.

Fortunately, Joshua Tree National Park is about 62 miles away and we have found a challenging but do-able hike in the Park. Ryan Mountain is a 3 mile out and back trail with an elevation gain of 1,000 feet. The hike ends at Warren Peak with panoramic views of the western part of Joshua Tree.


Unfortunately, it’s overcast and windy and we aren’t quite prepared to deal with this. We have water and trail mix but hats and gloves would make this hike more enjoyable. So we decide to postpone exploring this trail. I leave with this picture taken near the trailhead.

Fortunately, driving through the National Park is no disappointment. Keys View, from its vantage point of 5,185 feet, overlooks a stunning expanse of valley, mountain, and desert.

That’s Mt. San Jacinto above.

And circled below is part of the San Andreas Fault.

Mojave yuccas?

Mt. San Gorgonio…

And of course the other-worldly Joshua Trees photo-bomb the western landscape.

The rock piles add texture and personality…

…And attract rock climbers…

As we drive past this rock, another climber is repelling down the backside.

So, what’s the story about these rock piles?

According to the plaque at one of the roadside exhibits, these rocks started out 85 billion years ago, 15 miles below the earth’s surface, as crystallized magma. Earthquakes stressed, cracked, and uplifted these formations of solid granite.

Ground water seeped into the cracks, rounding and shaping theses rock blocks. Ongoing erosion and uplifting continue to sculpt these rock formations today.

Now, where are we with the Fortunately/Unfortunately? The pattern calls for an Unfortunately, so… It was unfortunate that we opted out of the Ryan Mountain hike but fortunately we find a trail to explore in the Pinto Basin.

The Cholla Cactus Garden is a .25 mile nature trail that loops through 10 acres of a surreal landscape dominated by teddybear cholla cactus.

Unfortunately, the name teddybear is misleading for these cute fuzzy wuzzies with their densely interlaced yellow spines, tightly clustered stems, and dark lower trunks. (nps.gov)

The cacti seeds are infertile so this plant reproduces vegatively, meaning that new plants are started from fallen stem joints. So, do not attempt to “cuddle with or pet these teddybears”.(nps.gov)

The stem joints can easily detach and “hitch a ride” due to the minuscule barbs on the spine.

Also known as “jumping cholla”, once the stem joints latch on, the spines can be painful to remove. Check out this YouTube video.

Fortunately, the loop trail minimizes any possibility of direct contact with cholla cacti yet lets you get up close and personal.

Simpson Park Updates

We’re Back!

Feb 1st…

Two days after getting lost on the second half of Simpson Park’s   5.3 mile classic loop trail, Jeff and I return to figure out where we missed the mark. Talk about getting back up on the proverbial horse…

So we start backwards this time and take the first “rabbit trail” off the Lichen onto Lake View then Buck Brush before connecting to the Ocotillo Trail.

Sure enough, we see what happened. We missed the portion of the Ocotillo Trail heading north and continued hiking west. The map above does not show the trail we took and the Ocotillo is not marked with a “Stop Going Forward And Turn Here” sign.

We continue, successfully completing the whole loop this time. I celebrate with a picture of Mt. San Gorgonio and the city of Hemet taken at the summit from the Hoodoo Lounge.

Feb 8th…

Today we try the classic loop again, clockwise, taking the Lichen to the Manzanita then across the road to Black Sage, Ribbonwood, and Live Oak before crossing over to the Canyon Trail and up to the summit.

Once again I take some pics at Hoodoo Lounge. Notice how tall the cairns are today!


Feb. 11th…

Simpson Park is open today so cars can drive up to the two picnic areas. We decide to park at the lower area and take the Ocotillo Trail down to the Quail Trail.

We find ourselves scrambling down rocks. Looking back up, I take a picture.

I turn around to take another picture of our descent and what do I see?

There is a trail to the right that avoids the rock scrambling we did on the left. Once again we have managed to take the “road less traveled”.

The Qual Trail leads us past the gate to the dirt road and the Crest Trail. But instead of continuing up to the summit we cross onto the Red Tail Trail until it intersects with a portion of the Middle Earth Trail (which is unnamed except for on the map).

Middle Earth takes us to Mule Deer Steep, a dirt road that appropriately lives up to its nomenclature.

Then we head down to the Morning Wood Trail which heads right back up into the Mojo Trail that loops us around to a series of switchbacks that make us climb even more. Ha, ha… you really have to get your mojo on for this hike!

Luckily some interesting rocks call my name and give me an excuse to stop and rest and take some pictures.

The rock below reminds us of a howling rhino or pig.

And there’s another X in the sky…

…Reminiscent of our first visit to Simpson Park:

These rocks really crack us up…

Our legs and lungs thank us when we reach the end of the Mojo and take Live Oak, Ribbonwood, and Black Sage back to the park road. Easy Peasey.

But we’re not back to the car just yet. We still have to cross the road to the Manzanita Trail and head up, yes up again, to the second picnic area. Whew, we have done some serious hiking and climbing today!

Finally we stumble out of all the trails and walk back down the paved park road to our car…

Feb 13th…

Our goal today is to retrace some of our steps from January 29th when we ended up getting lost and descending onto Gibbel Road.

So we start the classic loop trail counterclockwise again until we reach the Ocotillo Trail. Then we follow the trail to the west instead of continuing east.

There are many trails headed every which way but we are trying to find a rock painted with red, blue, and pink balloons. We remember passing by and beside this landmark before heading south toward Gibbel.

This proves no easy task but we finally find the painted rock. However, we still can’t figure out how we continued going the wrong way and wound up hitchhiking back to Simpson Park on that fateful day. We were so close, just a right turn on a right trail!

We head back to the Ocotillo and somehow end up on the parallel jeep trail below so we miss the intersection of the Ocotillo and Quail Trails.

The good news is I get to take this beautiful picture below:

Backtracking again, we’re getting good at this, we find where the Ocotillo heads north up to the first parking and picnic area. But before we exit onto the paved road we take the Bluejay and Cactus Trails instead which lead us to the upper parking and picnic area, the end of the park’s paved road.

Now all we have to do is find the Lake View Trail and descend back down to the Lichen Trail where we began. The trail is steep but short.

Unfortunately we miss the trailhead and start rock scrambling again. The picture below shows the rocks we scaled:

Choosing not to climb back up the way we came, we keep taking every path that looks like a potential trail until we see Diamond Valley Lake ahead.

At last, we confidently step forward and follow the Lake View Trail to the now familiar “rabbit trail” leading back to the Lichen Trailhead where we started.

Feb 18th…

Today we plan a new hike incorporating the Bobcat and Red Tail Trails via the paved road parking area. After all, Simpson Park  through-traffic was open 5 days ago.

When we arrive, however, the traffic gates are closed and the parking area is crowded since today is Sunday. Having a small car, we find a place to park.

As we watch several people from the parking lot scramble up a steep path leading to higher ground, we decide to climb up as well.  A great way to get the heart pumping right away!

The top of the trail flattens out and we head to the paved road, cross it, and catch the Lichen “rabbit” Trail that intersects with the Lake View Trail and continues up, up, up to the top of the paved road.

Then we descend the Blue Jay Trail to the dirt road and take the Crest to the Red Tail where we climb the steep Bobcat.

My favorite manzanita tree greets us on Red Tail.

Bobcat is a challenge. The trail just keeps going up until it reaches the Canyon Trail.

It’s a great workout.

Finally, we take Canyon to the other end of Red Tail and cut across to the intersection of Bobcat and Mule Deer Steep. We opt for the dirt road to take us to the picnic shelter where we walk down the winding hill of the paved road to our car.

Canyon Trail offers views of Mt. Gorgonio on the left and Mt. San Jacinto to the right. In the foreground an unusual rock formation inspires me.

Red Tail has some wicked switchbacks and ascents.

What a great hike!

Feb 21st…

No pictures today… just the classic loop again… But this time no map!

The bummer today is the weather. It’s overcast, windy, and cool. Southern California is under a spell of mid-50 degree days.

Final thoughts…

Hiking in the Santa Rosa Hills does not disappoint. Every trail offers ups and downs, moderate challenges, and beautiful scenery.

Or skip the trails and scramble the rocks. When you get tired, take a seat and enjoy the views below and beyond.