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Second honeymoon, Day 5

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Zion National Park! We had been to this amazing location on our first honeymoon back in 1990, and it was stunning. This time we planned merely to skirt the southern edge. Originally we didn’t plan to see Zion at all (since we were trying not to “repeat” anything we’d seen before), but shucky-darn, it just happened to be on the road to the Glen Canyon Dam, so why not see it again?

So we took Hwy. 9 east to see what we might see. We stopped at La Verkin Overlook to take in the view (notice the high snow poles).

The dirt road was deeply potholed and we were conscious that we were driving a rental car. But the views were splendid.

Ever alert to roadside attractions (however campy), we pulled over to look at this one.

It was not yet open for the day, but seemed a decent place to entertain kids … although I hope no child got entangled in the wall of prickly pear cacti lining one edge of the parking lot.

Yep, campy but cute.

And we agreed the view could not be beat.

Back on the road, large vehicles were warned about an upcoming tunnel.

The proximity of the Virgin River lent a sort of lushness to the otherwise dry terrain.

Here’s the entrance to the park. If I remember, it was $30 for a driving pass.

Before passing into the beauty of the park, we passed through a small town called Springdale, literally bracketed by two arms of the park’s boundary. We were curious to see it, and assumed (due to its size) that it would have some of the small-town charm we’ve come to expect.

But Springdale was no sleepy little rural town. Almost everything we saw was slick, brand-new, upscale, expensive and perfectly coifed. It was indubitably built for tourists, and for nothing but tourists (well-heeled ones, at that).

We stopped at the bank to get some change, and I must admit the views of the cliffs were nice.

But the town itself was awful, awful. If Springdale ever had been a sleepy little rural town, it had been gobbled up by tourist tat. I didn’t take a single photo as we went through, it was that bad. It was with huge relief that we turned out back on the torn.

Zion – even the southern edge – is awesomely, spectacularly beautiful. We pulled off the road at one point and took a short hike along a path by a stream bed.

I managed to snap a hasty photo of this western whiptail lizard. It was well camouflaged.

To give you an idea of the sheer scale of these cliffs, see if you can spot a tree silhouetted against the cliffside in the top center of this photo:

Here I’ve zoomed in to see it better:

I snatched a photo of a freaky-looking tunnel thingy in the cliffside, but there was no road to it. What could it be?

We soon found out as the road curved around and then traffic stopped. The tunnel warned about back on the valley floor was ahead of us. Traffic was restricted, so there was a line.

The freaky looking tunnel thingy I photographed above turned out to be openings in the cliffside – called galleries – put in place during the tunnel construction, both to provide natural light as well as ventilation. Considering the tools available in 1930 when it was made, the tunnel is an astounding feat of engineering. (Sorry for the blurriness, it was hard to focus between the dark of the tunnel and the light of the opening. Drivers were given strict instructions not to stop in the tunnel, for obvious reasons.) 

Here’s a snatched view of the valley through one of the galleries.

Here we’re coming out the other end.

I tell ya, if there was ever a pedestrian option available for this tunnel, I’d walk it in a heartbeat.

Later we went through a small tunnel on the way toward the eastern edge of the park.

On the other side, we were on the rim rock of Zion – much less dramatic, but still pretty.

The rock layering was fascinating.

And this.

Outside the park was something called “The Get Outpost,” though we didn’t stop.

We continued east on Hwy. 9 toward Mt. Carmel Junction. At one point we saw a herd of bison – clearly someone’s ranch animals – that just fit so well into the setting.

At Mt. Carmel Junction, we stopped to stretch our legs at the White Mountain Trading Post. This and a few other enterprises were doing a roaring trade – we’re talking busloads of trade – taking advantage of the its proximity to Kanab.

In the women’s restroom, I saw this instructive signage:

We turned south on Hwy. 89. A few miles down the highway, we came across Moqui Cave, and stopped to explore.

The cave had an extensive Native American history, as well as more modern movie-related activity (since Kanab is famous for filming dozens of westerns mid-century).

It had a very nice museum in addition to the everything else. The cave goes surprisingly deep into the cliff. We spent a happy half-hour exploring the sights.

Afterward, we sat in the shade of some trees and ate leftover pizza for lunch, admiring the serenity of the surroundings.

These cliffs were pockmarked with small caves.

After this, we passed through Kanab and continued east on Hwy. 89. About eight miles outside of Kanab, we saw another roadside attraction: a massive metal building with a a Western-themed facade. Impulsively we crammed on the brakes and pulled into the parking lot.

The sign proclaimed this was the “Once Upon a Time in America Museum – Opening Soon!” There were no vehicles in the parking lot except construction equipment and evidence of lots of activity.

Since the facility wasn’t opened yet, our thought was to snap a photo of the exterior and be on our way. However as we emerged from the vehicle and paused to stretch, a pleasant woman wandered over. “May I help you?” she asked.

What followed was such an extraordinary series of events that I’m going to turn it into its own blog post. So, with that teaser in mind, let’s fast forward a couple hours as we continue down the road toward our evening destination of Page, Arizona.

Here are some of the Vermillion Cliffs (there is another set of Vermillion Cliffs south in Arizona).

This part of the world is so chock-full of dramatic rock formations that it’s hard to take it all in. Every curve of the road yields amazing sights.

We finally fetched up to the town of Page, Arizona, the service town for the Glen Canyon Dam. Instantly we were mired in a maelstrom of tour buses and rows of hotels. Once again, having traversed so many remote and lonely roads, we were thrown into culture shock. We inquired in a few motels and learned everything was sold out (and this was on a Wednesday before Memorial Day weekend, no less!).

Finally we found ourselves staying at a Holiday Inn Express in a room that cost a gasping $200 per night. We were informed that was the minimum going rate in Page (except perhaps for the Motel 6 next door that was sold out), and frankly we believed it. So we swallowed our frugal pride and signed in. To be fair, it was a very nice room. We had a delicious dinner at an Asian restaurant called New York Teriyaki and retired back to our room, eager to see the sights on the morrow.


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