Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Before I talk about Bryce Canyon, I thought I'd do a quick wrap-up of Zion odds-n-ends. Both Dan and I thought Zion National Park was beautiful, but we also both thought it wasn't nearly as spectacular as, say, Yosemite. When I go to Yosemite, I feel constantly in awe. I just didn't feel that in Zion. However, the two hikes I've already written about were completely spectacular, and we did a couple other less spectacular but still perfectly lovely hikes.
Camping: We stayed in Zion for 2 days and 2 nights, camping at the South Campground in the park. It's first-come, first-serve and wasn't at all crowded the days we were there (right after the big Labor Day holiday weekend). However, as far as campgrounds go, it was just so-so. It's not especially pretty, and there are no showers, no privacy, not a ton of shade. What was great about this campground was proximity -- we could literally walk 2 minutes to the visitor center to catch the shuttle bus up to whatever trailhead we were aiming for. If you go, the campsites along the river are quite lovely, though they're right next to a biking path, so privacy is completely out during the day. It's $14 bucks a night, pretty standard for a National Park Campground -- bring exact change or your checkbook, as it's self-register only.
Getting Around: And speaking of the shuttle bus, at Zion you can only drive as far as the park entrance for most of the year. Once you're in the park, you need to take the free propane-powered shuttle bus wherever you want to go. Despite the minor inconvenience of not having your own car with you, we both loved the bus system. To be sure, the bus was slower than molasses in February, but it was really lovely to be able to just sit back and enjoy the view as we drove up through the canyon. And I've always HATED all the car traffic you have to fight in places like Yosemite. (And don't even get me started on RVs!)
Gear and Activities: Other than that, a few recommendations in Springdale. First, I've already mentioned the Zion Adventure Company. Not the friendliest or most helpful folks I've ever met, but they've got the gear you want for the Narrows hike. In fact, as far as we could tell, they're the ONLY ones who've got the gear, so you're pretty much stuck with them, anyway. They also run lots of guided trips. We didn't do any of those, as we'd rather explore on our own, but some of them looked fairly cool. Someday I'll try canyoneering!
We didn't end up going bicycling, because there wasn't really a route that was long enough in the area to make it worth our while (my boyfriend being the type who thinks nothing of riding 100 miles in a day). However, we if we HAD, we totally would have rented bikes from Zion Cycles We stopped in to investigate, and the woman working their (the owner?) was WONDERFUL! One of my favorite vacation strategies is to NOT do a ton of pre-planning. Instead, I like talking to the locals once I get to a place and finding out what THEY think is can't-miss. The lovely bike shop lady gave us all sorts of great advice on everything from the best place to eat in town (The Whiptail Grill-- Yum!) to where to camp and hike once we got to Escalante in a few days. So helpful!
Eating: As mentioned above, we loved the Whiptail Grill. It's not much to look at -- a tiny little place in what looks like a converted gas station. But if you sit outside under the canopy, you get a great view of the red rock cliffs around Zion. The service is friendly, helpful, and fast, and the food was SO good! Dan had the spaghetti squash enchiladas, which were to die for. I got about one bite because he didn't even want to share. And I had the steak tacos, which had the most tender meat I've ever tasted, not the sub-par meat you often get disguised inside tacos. Yummy! We never would have gone in if it weren't for the recommendation from our bike-shop friend, but I'm so glad we did.
(On the other hand, we thought that the Bit and Spur was a total miss, even though it had been recommended by a friend back home. Totally overpriced, for starters. We went in thinking we would eat dinner there, but after ordering margaritas, chips and salsa, and stuffed jalapenos, all of which were pretty mediocre, we decided dinner probably wasn't worth it. Confirming our suspicions, locals told us that The Bit and Spur is really hit-or-miss. If you order the right thing, it can be great, but if not, eh. They DO have a really lovely porch, though, so maybe go there for a beer :-)
Springdale Fruit Company. Great little stop on the way to Zion, right as you get into Springdale. This was a total impulse stop for us -- the cute store is surrounded by an apple orchard and Dan and I are both suckers for produce bought right at the place it was grown. We picked up a bag of apples, which were delicious. They also have all sorts of food-y treats and organic/natural soaps, shampoos, etc.
Other than that, we pretty much ate hiking food -- salami, cheese, and bread for lunch, stuff over the campfire for dinner the night we didn't eat at the Whiptail. Ooh, and campstove pancakes with bananas for breakfast. Yum!