This is a very popular and busy park and I can see why. Because of its small size and popularity, access to this national park is limited and is through the town of Springdale Utah, a really lovely town that has sprung up as the gateway to Zion. It is chock full of hotels, restaurants and art galleries and provides a convenient launching spot for trip to Zion.
We parked the RV is a convenient parking lot and took the
free shuttle from Springdale to the entrance of Zion, then waited in a long
line to board the Zion shuttle. There was also a long wait just to get to the
Visitor Information Desk, so my suggestion is to make sure you get all of your
information on-line before you arrive.
Early Mormon pioneers named the area “Zion”, from the Biblical Hebrew word meaning refuge or sanctuary. We quickly saw the significance of the name when applied to this beautiful national park!
Zion is gorgeous with steep red cliffs and trails, and lush,
green valleys with hanging gardens. We hiked the Kayeta Trail to the lower
Emerald Pools. Beautiful, refreshing and
wet after the hot, dusty trails!
Heading out of Williams, Arizona we take Route 89N (through Flagstaff) towards Page, passing by beautiful painted desert scenery bordered on the east by a huge Navajo reservation. We’re heading to Hurricane, Utah and eventually to Zion National Park.
Today we pass by completely deserted towns and extremely flat landscapes, as we venture into the “painted desert”. According to Britannica.com the name “painted desert” was coined in the late 1850s by a government explorer to describe the vivid bands of red, yellow, blue, white and lavender that mark the various deposits of minerals in the area. The Painted Dessert covers 160 miles and encompasses 93,500 acres in the Four Corners region of the USA, where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah share a common border.
Following 89N we headed towards Navajo Bridge which rises
over the Marble Canyon. The bridge was a great place to stop and get out,
stretch our legs and take some photos. The Colorado River flowed emerald green
below us. A small interpretive center and gift shop beckoned us, very nice. We pulled over for a roadside lunch outside of
Marble Canyon, one of the many perks of traveling with our kitchen on our back.
Traveling now through Kaibab National Forest we pulled over
for another photo break. There we met some folks from Wickford, Rhode Island
who live half a year in Tucson and half a year in Wickford. He’s a photographer who shows his work at the
annual Art Festival in Wickford…maybe we’ve seen his work during one of our many
trips to the Festival?
We saw fires on the sides of the road – are they naturally occurring?
Or are they managed by the Park Service authorities? Reaching Fredonia at around 3:30 pm (4:30 Utah
time) we decided to soldier on for one more hour to reach Hurricane, Utah and
the Willow Wind RV Park, a day ahead of schedule.
We are done driving for a bit, and have opted to take the train – The Grand Canyon Railroad – from Williams, Arizona to the South Rim of the canyon for 63 lovely, relaxing miles. The wonderful views, Dennis, the sweet conductor, and the cowboys who serenaded us made it a memorable experience. We were glad though, that it was May and not July or August, since the temperatures were just lovely.
The air at the Grand Canyon is fabulous! With only three hours for our visit before the train headed back, we hung around the Grand Canyon Village area.
We hiked up and down, back and forth, sticking to the Rim Trail, and taking lots of photos. Squirrels and a solitary llama were the only wildlife we saw, but evidence of mule deer – their scat – was seen.
Hot and thirsty, we found the martinis and agave infused cocktails at El Tovar’s bar hit the spot. And it was fun wandering around this historic hotel where Teddy Roosevelt stayed on his multiple visits to the Canyon!
It was a very cute train ride back with the aforementioned Dennis, our personal assistant/conductor, and a crew of train robbers who boarded the train for a host of shenanigans, before being dropped off in the Town of Williams where we stayed for dinner.
Williams is sensational town with a great Main Street, the Historic Brewing Company and lots of restaurants and Route 66 memorabilia stores. We had drinks at the brewery first, then headed back to their restaurant for pizza…a very cool take!
How to get home after this long day? Our shuttle driver (the owner of the Railside RV Park) picked us up when we called him and was super nice and funny. He and his wife run a great operation and we can highly recommend the Railside RV Park in Williams.
. . . before we hit the road and headed out towards Williams Arizona. Our KOA campground had a (literal) chuckwagon setup and we took advantage to grab a hearty breakfast before taking off. Stopping off at a roadside gas station with a great view we met a friendly AAA guy, who took our picture in front of the San Francisco Mountain range. He told us that Mt. Humphrey in this range is an active volcano and the highest point in Arizona.
Another stop, another Walmart, this one in Flagstaff to re-stock food and supplies. How far do you have to drive before you find a Walmart in this country? This would be a great stat to know. We notice lots of residential building in the area outside of Flagstaff, obviously a growth area.
Oops! A small crack in the windshield due to a tiny rock hitting it. Not a big problem at this time, we’ll deal with it later.
The drive through the Red Rocks Canyons of Sedona was astonishing, but my numerous photos don’t really show off its grandeur. What makes these rocks so red? Apparently, the red is iron oxide that coats the particles in the rocks after thousands of years of chemical weathering.
The Town of Sedona is vibrant, thriving and chock-full of galleries, cafes, etc. but with a New Age, wellness/healing vibe, and with very upscale resorts and spas.
Note to self: we need to fly in and stay for a week and shop, hike, eat and experience the healing power of the vortexes.
Parts of this trip remind us of Maine with lots of conifers, but then we head right back into a flat dessert landscape.
Arizona is a concealed carry state. Permit holders are not required to undergo the Federal background check. Wow, something that is hard for this Massachusetts gal to understand.
We finally arrived at the Railside RV Park in Williams, Arizona and settled in, tired but happy, after a long drive.
The Turquoise Trail is an old mining trail, complete with “Antelope Crossing” signs on the road. Over 100 movies have been filmed on just two private ranches out here. The area is so evocative of the ‘Ol West that you can just imagine shootouts and cattle rustlers and lawless men roaming these plains.
We pass by Madrid (pronounced MADrid) which is full of shops and art galleries, cafes, flea markets. Unfortunately, we didn’t stop, have to stay on schedule…boo hoo! We pass signs advertising Wagyu cattle ranches, a type of Japanese beef, known for being highly marbled and supposedly healthier for you with more mono-saturated fats to saturated fat ratio.
Wanting to be sure to see some of Historic Rte. 66, we followed signs and headed to Albuquerque, at one-point traveling over an unpaved, bumpy section at 15 MPH. Enough of that! We found a tunnel that the Tin Can barely fit through to take us back to the freeway. I had to jump out to check the clearance and snagged some broken pieces of brightly colored pottery laying on the ground under the tunnel. Scored a great souvenir!
Arrived at Holbrook AZ/Petrified Forest KOA by 3:30 pm. We were just in time to grab a cocktail and find the Kentucky Derby on the TV. “Justify”, the winner, went on to win the Triple Crown. The heat of the desert encouraged us to unfurl the canopy and cook our meal of chicken, rice and veggies on the grill. We ate on the picnic tables outside to escape the heat of the RV.
As the sun set, we explored the campground, taking photos at dusk and chatting with fellow campers, from young millennials to retirees. We met a retired couple from Buenos Aires in a Swiss camper who are making a loop of the USA, crossing multiple borders and ending up in Key West. They had ordered their camper from Europe and had it shipped to meet them when they first started out from Miami.