We remained near Zion for a couple more days after our trek in The Narrows, but decided to take a break from hiking. As a diversion one day, we decided to go rock-hunting outside of the Park by driving north from Virgin to the Kolob Reservoir.
The road to the reservoir, paved the entire way, winds uphill from town between Smith Mesa and Cougar Mountain, passing through both privately-owned land and federal property, some managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as part of the Red Butte Wilderness, and some by the National Park Service (NPS) as part of Zion National Park. The BLM and NPS both fall within the ambit of the U.S. Dept. of Interior, but have different missions and cultures.
It was pretty clear as we drove along whether we were driving through private or public lands because the Park roads were better and the private lands are mostly devoted to grazing and pasture, with various farm buildings and houses scattered about.
There were a surprising number of homes near the end of the road at Kolob Reservoir, 25 miles from Virgin. We drove part way round the Reservoir, then turned around and headed back.
Butch Cassidy – of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid movie fame – was born and grew up just north of Zion in Beaver and Circleville, Utah. Butch’s partner-in-crime, the “Sundance Kid,” was one Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, whose moniker came from Sundance, Wyoming, where he was apprehended as a teen, heisting a horse, saddle and rifle.
The photo, below, was taken on Park land as we headed south with the Left Fork of Great West Canyon on our left as we approached the junction with the road west to Smith Mesa.
We turned onto Smith Mesa road and continued along out of the Park. We were looking for a few Colorado Plateau specimens for the growing rock garden in our yard back in Washington.
We wanted examples of both the red Navajo Sandstone and some of the black, igneous-looking rock. We found samples of each, thrown up along the right-of-way edge by road grading, and hefted them into the back of the Jeep. I didn’t know Dale was so strong; the Navajo Sandstone must have weighed 150 lbs. Our plan had been to offload these rocks into the basement of our motorhome, but they were so unwieldy that they will be traveling back north in the Jeep.
While I’m taking photos at the back of the Jeep, I might as well tell you about my little mishap at the Grand Canyon. I managed to back into the limb of a Juniper tree, obscured by a troublesome blind spot on the Wrangler. Junipers are solid trees. I didn’t even scrape the bark of the tree I backed into, but the slow-motion collision crushed the rear tail light and rear quarter-panel of the Jeep.
Another day, we went horseback riding which gave us a pass to drive into Zion NP on the shuttle-only part of the Zion Scenic Drive. Three miles north of Canyon Junction, we turned left into the parking lot across the street from Zion Lodge and checked in for our half-day ride in the canyon.
There were 10 of us signed up for the ride, but since Dale and I were the first to arrive, we were assigned horses at the front, two geldings: “Murphy” for Dale; “Sundance” for me. Most of the other riders were also given horses, but novices were put on steadier mules.
Off we went on the Sandbench Trail through the Court of the Patriarchs with Savannah, our lead wrangler, in front, followed by Dale and me, thank goodness. The trail was dusty and I felt sorry for the rest of the group, some of whom were forced to wear bandanas over their mouths in order to breathe. Ahead of us was the Sentinel.
The trail led uphill and the three of us in front had to stop once or twice to wait for the others, shepherded along by Jim at the back of the line, wrangler #2, a real cowboy.
On the return to the corral, Jim and Savannah swapped places: Jim in the lead ahead of Dale; Savannah at the rear of the group. The return trail crossed over the Sentinel Slide, a now grown-over rock avalanche from 4,800 years ago that had tumbled down into the canyon, blocking and damming the Virgin River, creating a 5 mile long lake here. After 700 years, the Virgin River finally broke through the dam and resumed its work of discharging the surrounding terrain downstream into the Colorado River.
That slope you see in the photo, below, is what remains of the Sentinel Slide today. There are still occasional, smaller rock avalanches here. In fact, one occurred in 1993, washing away 200 feet of the Park road and stranding the tourists at Zion Lodge for several days.
A half-day in the saddle was a little long for us, but it was nice for me to be able to take in the scenery without having to keep my eyes on the road or my feet on the trail.
You know that saying: You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink? Well, it’s true.
On the way back to the RV later in the day, we watched the sun dance off the face of the Watchman, sitting high above the Visitor Center.
Leaving Zion NP at the end of our extended stay, we purchased an over-sized vehicle pass from the NPS that allowed us to drive through the mile-long Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel while the rangers held up the oncoming traffic during our transit. The tunnel was constructed with several open galleries from which early travelers were allowed to stop to view the scenery; the galleries were also used by the construction crews to discharge rubble from the excavation during construction. Today, stopping inside the tunnel is prohibited.
On the way out of Zion NP on UT-9, we passed Checkerboard mesa, an interesting formation.
Outside of the Park, we headed north on US Highway 89 to UT-12 which we took past Bryce NP, then through the Dixie National Forest to Escalante, Utah.
Back in the Jurassic Period (145 to 210 million years ago), what is now northern Utah was inundated by an inland sea known as the “Sundance Sea,” the southern limits of which were in the general vicinity of Escalante. Dinosaurs roamed the shore here in those days. More on that in my next post.
Oh, one more thing, in keeping with the theme of this post. Remember that I said a few posts back that meeting up with my old friend Jim on this trip was a kind of “homecoming?” Well, Jim and I used to play guitar and sing together in a band and the highlight of our “career” was playing our high school homecoming dance in 1976, two years after we graduated and the year we drove cross-country together and visited the Grand Canyon.
The name of our band was “Sundance.”