Before I start this post I wanted to talk a little about the pictures. The red rocks are the claim to fame for this area and amazing to look at, but for me provide a bit of a challenge. The deep rich color of the rocks is amazing, but does look different in person if you are wearing sunglasses or take them off. With sunglasses the reds are much deeper and I tend to like to look at scenes both with them on and taking them off. Thanks to a conversation I had with Steven Dempsey, who is an amazing professional photographer, I no longer have philosophical issue with color corrections, because as he explained it, it’s all about capturing the moment and translating it to the person viewing the picture. That makes total sense to me, but my problem with these particular landscapes is that I am not sure which moment to capture, because the reds, in particular, look very different with or without sunglasses on. I am simply not a good enough photographer to capture these colors in the moment, so some Photoshop corrections are called for.
So what you will see here are some pictures color corrected to varying degrees and some not, and that decision will be made very subjectively. Also keep in mind that time of day and sun position plays a huge part in how these rocks look to the naked eye and that will factor in as well. Most of you probably know all of that, but I wanted to mention it because I don’t like getting to an area and feeling let down because the actual view doesn’t match the photos I have seen. That is extremely unlikely in Zion, but if you want the richer red then I definitely recommend putting on your sunglasses, but take them off once in a while because I love those colors as well. Lee thinks I am crazy, by the way, to even think about it, but since I am more right brain than left brain it makes perfect sense to me 🙂
OK, enough of all that. I started the morning off VERY early and it’s worth noting that I saw cars on the road headed towards Zion as early as 4am. We ended up leaving around 7:30am and when we arrived at 8:15am there was already a line of cars. Our plan for the day was to scout out the area, stop at the visitors center to get maps and information, and take the scenic drive. Unfortunately we learned upon arrival that because we were in a dually it would cost us $15 (two ways) to go through the tunnel and on the scenic road. We weren’t prepared in that moment to pay the money, because we could take the two hour drive around the long way and see it for free, and we weren’t sure how many times we would want to go that way. It is worth nothing though that Zion costs $30 per vehicle (free with our America the Beautiful pass) and an additional $15 (not covered by the pass) would make it a $45 dollar day for many people.
Since it was still early I decided I wanted to drive up the road to the tunnel and turn around, so we headed up that way. Unfortunately I can’t recommend this in a dually because the only way we got away with it was the road was lightly populated and we were able to make a 5 point turn once we got to the tunnel. If the line would have been backed up we would have been stuck and we were told you couldn’t pay at the top. It worked out OK though and we got to see a little bit of the scenic drive, although we were told later that the best part is on the other side of the tunnel.
Next we stopped at the visitors center, which opened at 8am, and got some information. From Spring to Fall a major section of the road is closed to all but shuttle traffic and that is how you get to the various trailheads. The shuttles start running at 7am and we immediately made a plan for the next day to get there before that, because by 9am the lines for the shuttle bus were already very long. I’ll cover the trailheads more in my next post, but I will say the shuttles are free and we were told they run every 7-10 minutes.
Since we weren’t prepared to hike that day and the scenic drive was out, I decided we should head up to Kolob Canyon. My fellow Dreamer, Ruth, had sent me an email the day before and said it was a great place to escape the crowds. Kolob Canyon is part of Zion but in the northwest corner, so we had to leave the park, drive west, go 15 North until we reached another small visitors center off exit 40. The drive really didn’t take that long, the freeway speed limit of 80mph helped, and wow, was it ever worth it. This canyon had a 6 mile scenic drive, but this one had lots of turn outs and a view at the top that was absolutely stunning. We loved the canyon, and I would say please don’t skip it if you visit, because it was everything our initial visit to Zion was not. Let me show you.
Driving down the road was actually better than coming up as there were more pull offs and we met some nice young men who I took a picture for and they returned the favor. They had the idea to take a panoramic with people in it which I don’t think I have ever done. And Lee of course took several panoramics himself and they were all great. I had a hard time choosing my favorite so here are all of them.
My favorite kind of place because it was beautiful both in scale and closeup. There were several beautiful small areas and we both enjoyed taking pictures of those views as well.
And don’t forget on the way out to stop and look back because there is a terrific rock formation right when you come in that there is no pullout for.
Really terrific day and I will say once again that we often enjoy the “Tier B” sites much more than the “Tier A” locations. Yes, you “need” to see them both, but we enjoy less crowds and more freedom to explore that you really only get in the lesser used National Parks. Tomorrow we are returning to Zion proper and will be riding the bus to the end and stopping for a few hikes and pictures at every stop. We will see how they compare!
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