Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Utah's National Parks:  Zion

I'm not a really big fan of National Parks.  While I have visited many, all I usually get to see is the view from the window of the truck.  Why do they have ridiculous rules restricting canine access?  An intelligent Aussie like me knows to stay on the trail and not to chase the squirrels.  I must give the Zion "Parkies" credit for having one short trail where I can wander a bit.  You would think that Utah's oldest National Park, established in 1919 and consisting of thousands of acres, could do better than a two mile trail where dogs can get out and enjoy the scenery.  While I'm still not satisfied with the Park Service's efforts, I agreed to help Ole Dangerous write this blog about riding horses in Zion.  Can you believe it?  They allow horses, but not dogs.
If you haven't visited Zion National Park, you are missing a great opportunity to see the natural world at its best.  For my international friends, Zion is located approximately 40 miles east of St. George, Utah in the southwest corner of the state.  For those Planning a visit, I have included a trail map.  Most visitors never leave Zion Canyon where cars are prohibited April through October.  You can ride the shuttle bus or your bicycle along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and stop at the scenic overlooks and trail heads located along the oiled road.  For the more adventurous, you can obtain a wilderness permit and wander into the more remote areas of the park on foot or horse.  However, there is only one overnight camping spot for equestrians in the park which requires a reservation.  Other than this one spot horse riding is limited to day use.  Always check the trail map and talk with the rangers before setting out on an unguided adventure.  The trails in red are open to stock, but are frequently closed during wet conditions to prevent trail damage.  If you don't have your own horses, trail rides are available from a concessionaire across from Zion Lodge.

Bill and Thunder
Zion is Utah's most visited park with almost three million visitors annually from all over the world.  While Zion Canyon can be crowded at the height of tourist season, there are places less frequently visited because they are off the beaten track and require physical effort to get there.  Depending on the location, Ole Dangerous and Walking Horse Bill usually ride the back country from late fall to early spring.  According to Dangerous, they rarely see other horses, but sometimes they meet hikers who brave the cold weather.  Remember, the Park's elevation ranges between 3,600 and 8,600 feet.  It can snow, and the trails can be slick and icy at the higher elevations.  The Coal Pit Wash Trail is the lowest in the Park, and can be ridden year round.  However, I suspect it gets hot starting in May.  Check the map for the location.
East Rim Trail
I've listened to Dangerous describe the East Rim Trail to his friends.  There are few places that he loves more than Boulder Mountain, but given a choice of where to ride the East Rim of Zion Park is at the top of his list.  Accessing the trail head from the west side requires a winding drive up the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway.  It's also a bit expensive to get there.  The old tunnels along the highway are too narrow for today's RVs.  The Park has designated them as one-way, so you have to stop and wait your turn while traffic from the other direction drives through.  Also, large motor homes, house trailers, and horse trailers have to pay an extra $15 fee.  But, the time and expense is well worth it.

Rose and Dangerous
The trail to the top is a bit steep, but like all National Park Service trails well maintained, and easily followed.  Even though cross country travel is limited, Dangerous still has a smile on his face as he and Rose ride past a recently cut log.  The effort expended to reach the top is instantly rewarded by magnificent views of the Park below.
East Rim View
On the west side of the Park is another of Dangerous' favorite places.  The Kolob Terrace Road which starts in the small town of Virgin is one of the most scenic drives in the lower 48 states.  The road parallels the Park's western boundary and provides access to numerous trails and scenic vistas.  The Hop Valley Trail is the only horse trail where overnight camping is allowed.  The campground has a number of sites for hikers and one dedicated to horse camping, but restricted to one night's use.  The campground is frequented mostly by through hikers.  The Hop Valley trail eventually connects with Kolob Canyons which is the northwest extension of the Park.  Kolob Canyons has a visitor center which is accessed off Exit 40 south of Cedar City.

Hop Valley View
The Hop Valley trail is relatively flat until it reaches the junction with La Verkin Creek.  The trail follows a wide wash that can be a bit tricky when wet.  Riders have to watch for wet, soft sand where their horses can sink and possibly get stuck.  On the trip last March, Iowa Holm (aka Dennis) was not pleased with the soft footing where Misty sank to her hocks a few times crossing the wash.  Misty pulled free, but not without a few well stated expletives from Iowa.  I don't think the Hop Valley Trail is one of Iowa's favorite rides.
Iowa and Bill on the Hop Valley Trail
In March, Dangerous, Bill, and Iowa rode in and out from the Kolob Terrace road.  They stopped at the steep drop off into La Verkin Creek for lunch.  From what I understand, Dangerous wasn't interested in riding down the slick rock to the creek, and besides that the truck and horse trailer were parked at the Hop Valley Trail Head.  If you have the time, a through ride with an overnight stop is possible.
Junction with Kolob Canyons
From what Dangerous tells me, I'm not sure that he will get Iowa back on the Hop Valley Trail again.  Maybe he can show him the other side which Bill and Dangerous rode a while back.  Before giving this trail a try, check to make sure the scenic drive to Lee's Pass is open.  The elevation is quite high and snow occasionally closes the road.  Also, if the trails are wet, horses are not allowed until the trails dry out.  It's a bit of a drive from St. George or Cedar City, and you don't want to get turned away, so call ahead.

Rose, Bill, and Balthazar Kolob Scenic Drive
Horse trailer parking is a bit of a problem at the trail head.  Kolob Canyons are popular with hikers and windshield tourists as they try to find a place to visit as the weather warms up.  As you can see, Dangerous and Bill had to park along the road, and lead Rose and Balthazar to the trail head.  However, it is worth the effort because of the spectacular red rock scenery.

Kolob Canyons Trail
Like all of Zion's back country trails, this one is well traveled and maintained.  At the start, it looks like a well traveled dirt road, but becomes more primitive the further you get from the oil.  A nice day ride is to the junction with La Verkin Creek and back.  Be prepared to see a lot of hikers, but most are very friendly and always interested in taking pictures of your horses.  Dangerous tells me that on this trip he felt a bit like Butch Cassidy because all the foreign tourists wanted his picture riding Rose.  He and Bill even had to cross the creek twice so some foreign visitors could capture them splashing through the water like the Hole in the Rock gang hurrying back to their hideout after a big robbery.

If you want to help preserve Zion National Park, check out the Virgin River Land Trust link referenced on my blog.  The VRLT buys land and conservation easements around the Park to try and preserve the scenic vistas and retain the rural character of the surrounding small towns.  I have agreed to help Dangerous write another blog about the Greater Zion Fund that he is volunteering to help VRLT start.  The voluntary contributions will be used to help preserve the beauty and character of the Park

Love to hear from you!


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gotta get back out that way! Great pictures. Tell Dangerous, Bill, and the rest of the gang, I send greetings.