I had seen pictures from there and it looked like there was a bleakness but also an austere beauty of the mountains, the rock formations, and the scenery in general out there. So we headed out without even stopping for breakfast before we left. We figured we'd be able to get off I-15 somewhere east of Vegas and grab some McDonalds or Burger King for breakfast.
Well you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men. Once we got past the traffic and the road construction heading north and east out of Vegas, there weren't any fast food places to stop at. We zipped along getting hungrier and thankfully rolled into Mesquite about an hour later. After a quick stop at McDonalds and another at Walmart to pick up some water, ice, and a cooler, we were back on the road.
Once you go through Mesquite you head into the Virgin River Gorge. High hills on both sides and a road and river running between them. I imagine in the Spring when the snowmelt is running that the river must be something. In the middle of summer lets just say I've seen bigger ones. But it was still quite beautiful going through there.
Definitely not a sight I'm used to seeing in Florida that's for sure.
After getting through the gorge we were almost to St George Utah. Very pretty town. Outside of being in Utah, I bet it's a really nice place to live. Outside of town are a number of hilltops and mesas and a number of them have some really beautiful homes on top overlooking the town.
There were some gorgeous looking golf courses and really this was the only green we saw for about 100 miles.
From St George it's a pretty short trip to Zion but it's not like you're driving on the interstate the rest of the way. Much of the roads were built in the 30s and while well built are not sized for today's vehicles. There's a tunnel through a mountain that can barely take two cars going through at the same time and certainly cannot handle today's SUVs.
So we enter the park and slowly make our way through it up hills and around switchbacks. It really was beautiful. Mountains and rock formations that stand out more because of what isn't there, almost no semblance of trees, undergrowth, bushes, etc. I cannot imagine settlers moving through this part of the country without the benefit of air conditioning, bottled water, pizza delivery, etc. Everything is bare, windswept, desolate, weather-beaten. But in a beautiful, awe-inspiring way if you're into that kind of thing. I kinda am.
Then we came to the aforementioned tunnel. We waited in line for about 15 minutes while a line of traffic came through the tunnel towards us. Then we got our chance while traffic was stopped on the other side waiting for us to go through. Nice tunnel, just over a mile, kinda narrow, etc. On the other side of the park we noticed it was a lot greener. Apparently that side of the mountains gets a bit more rain than the west side. Which is kinda surprising since most weather travels west to east. But the east side apparently gets some airflow up from the Gulf of Mexico so summer thunderstorms are not unheard of and in fact as we were driving from the tunnel we noticed dark clouds forming over the mountains near us. There was even some wildlife to view outside of roadrunners and vultures like this guy whose roadside lunch we disturbed
What, do I take pictures of you when you're eating lunch?
Notice more greenery, even on top of the hills. And the approaching storm
After going through the rest of the park we turned south. After all once you go to one national park you want to go to all of them. I had never been to one before but I'm not going to turn down a chance to head to the Grand Canyon. South we turned being chased by the approaching storm.
We stopped for lunch in the little town of Kanab Utah at a place called the Rocking V Café. Cool eclectic place and the food was delicious. It was a bit of a hippy dippy place but it was still cool and I don't care if the place is run by PETA members or even Michael Moore fans, they make good food.
When we left Kanab, the storms were almost right on top of us. I goofed and stayed on 89 instead of shifting to 89A leaving town. I thought I might have goofed but wasn't sure until I traveled a while and was still in Utah. I figured Kanab was no more than 10 miles from the Arizona border and when we didn't get into Arizona I figured I goofed and I was right. I had to go back and retrace my route a bit which delayed us getting to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
I was not really that hopped up to go to the Grand Canyon. Hell it's a big hole in the ground isn't it? I've seen it flying over and of course in plenty of pictures. But I'm really glad we went, especially there. The North Rim is at altitude, about 9000 feet up and because of that, is not like the rest of the area around Nevada, Utah and Arizona. It's actually green. Like North Carolina mountain green not like Las Vegas golf course green. There's tons of big trees, open meadows, wildlife, and after all the driving we did up to that point it was really a different sight.
Because of my wrong turn, the storms caught up with us and we spent most of the trip from Kanab to the North Rim in everything from drizzle to hard driving rain. As we got closer to the Canyon we really noticed the change in scenery. Wet but very green.
It was a bit of a drive especially with the wrong turn but we finally got to the Grand Canyon. And immediately put on a jacket. It was 104 when we left Zion and 55 when we arrived at the Canyon. Now that's a weather change. We walked around, took in the view and took pictures. Of course there was no cell or wifi service there. If you ever want to get away from it all in the middle of summer, do a bit of site seeing and hiking, and just decompress I would seriously recommend you rent one of the cabins they have their up on the North Rim. If my family had gone out there when I was a kid I know we would have wandered the place all day, played cards and board games half the night and do it all over again. Nowadays I don't know how much that appeals to the modern families and their computers, tablets, Iphones, etc. but I can certainly see the appeal in it myself. Of course with the rain and such, our canyon views and pics are nothing to write home about but man it was still really cool.
Yeah so I'm not a professional photographer am I?
We picked up a few things at the gift shop and a coffee in the cafe there. I asked the counter man what the high was that day and he told me 76 until the storms came in then it dropped like a rock into the 50s. When we headed back to Vegas from there the rain slowed and then stopped. And then the wildlife came out. Just about every open meadow had deer grazing in it. We passed a wild turkey sitting on a log and a lot of other small animals.
The drive back to Vegas was looong. Mileage wise it wasn't that far but damn it felt like forever. Of course part of the problem is there are no roads going directly there from Vegas unless you want to try your luck on dirt roads. Which is how people get lost and die in the desert. You basically backtrack to St George and then catch the interstate the rest of the way. It's no straight shot and half the trip is on two lane roads but it is a very nice drive. We saw some more wildlife, a lot of scrub brush and a fantastic view of the sun breaking through the clouds over a mesa. That may be the nicest view we saw on the whole trip. I don't think the pictures we took do it justice but here's one.
While we were thousands of feet lower than we were at the Grand Canyon, we were still up on a plateau until we got almost to St George. Then we came down a very scary downgrade with switchbacks and long plunges to our death should we decide to take a shortcut or go out of control. Eventually about 10 pm we got back to Las Vegas. Where it was 105 degrees again. But at least it was a dry heat.
Well I thought this would be my last Vegas post but again it isn't. Apparently meeting Rob has rubbed off on me more than I thought. I just keep running over with things to say and of course I did post a lot of pictures as well. I'm going to do one more post this weekend and finish this up. Here is a wrap up of all the animals we saw. Roadrunners, vultures, eagles, hawks, bison, burros, cows, horses, mountain sheep, mule deer, wild turkey. Hell its like a zoo out there.
Today I started on vacation again. Originally I took this time off as we were going to take the daughter to New Orleans for her 21st birthday but now that she's a working woman she can't take that much time off so we are celebrating the birthday this weekend (it's actually on Monday) with her and she is staying here till Tuesday when she has to head back. I might take her out shooting on Monday even. Then I'll spend some time relaxing and playing poker the rest of the week. And I'll even find time to post as well. You guys are so lucky. Till then, stay lucky.