13 July 2008

Tunnel vision

Ok, so on the way out of Kanab and Coral Pink, we drove through Zion National Park, including the two famous tunnels on the highway through its southern end. When I had been here before, it was quite a nice place, but now it has become a mobhouse, so much so that they had to shut down the road going into the main canyon and have everyone ride a trolley bus. Not wanting to fuss with all that, we simply made a couple stops along the highway, and pressed on.

Checkerboard Mesa, near the eastern end of the park and our first stop. The pattern was made by layers of sediment forming the horizontal lines, then cracking, forming the vertical lines. This is also the only photo in this post that the wife took. The rest are mine and were taken while going down the road.

The following excerpt is from the NPS website and I thought it was interesting: "The Historic period begins in the late 1700s, with the exploration and settlement of southern Utah by Euro-Americans. Initial explorations by traders from New Mexico blazed the Old Spanish Trail, which followed the Virgin River for a portion of its length. During the next century, American fur trappers and government surveyors added new overland travel routes across the region. In 1872, John Wesley Powell explored the areas around Zion Canyon, as part of western surveys conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey. The early pack trails soon became well-used wagon roads, connecting Santa Fe to the California markets.In 1847, Brigham Young led members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) to Utah Territory, establishing settlements in the Great Salt Lake Valley. Within a decade, Mormon pioneers were sent to settle the southern part of the territory and grow cotton in Utah’s “Dixie”. Towns like Shunesberg, Springdale, Grafton, Adventure, and Paradise sprang up along the upper Virgin River during the 1860s. In 1863, Issac Behunin built the first log cabin in Zion Canyon, near the location of the Zion Lodge. Soon the canyon was dotted with other homesteads, including that of William Crawford, near Oak Creek.During the remainder of the century, the small communities and homesteads struggled to survive. Catastrophic flooding by the river, little arable land, and poor soils made agriculture in the upper Virgin River a risky venture. Some of these settlements, including Shunesberg and Grafton, were ultimately abandoned for more favorable locations.By the first decade of the 20th century, the scenic qualities of southern Utah, and Zion Canyon in particular, had been recognized as a potential destination for tourism. In 1909, a presidential Executive Order designated Mukuntuweap (Zion) National Monument, in Zion Canyon. The new monument was, however, virtually inaccessible to visitors, since the existing roads were in poor condition and the closest railhead a hundred miles away. The Utah State Road Commission, established in that year, began construction on a state highway system that would eventually improve access to the southern region. State officials also negotiated with the Union Pacific Railroad to develop rail and automobile links and tourism facilities in southern Utah. By the summer of 1917, touring cars could finally reach Wylie Camp, a tent camping resort that comprised the first visitor lodging in Zion Canyon.In 1919, a Congressional bill designating Zion National Park was signed into law. Visitation to the new national park increased steadily during the 1920s, particularly after the Union Pacific extended a spur rail line to Cedar City. The Utah Parks Company, a subsidiary of the Union Pacific, acquired the Wylie Camp in Zion, and offered ten day rail/bus tours to Zion, Bryce, Kaibab, and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Construction on the Zion Lodge complex, designed in “Rustic Style” by architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood, began in the mid-1920s. In 1930, the newly completed Zion-Mt Carmel highway allowed motorists to travel through Zion to Bryce and points east. This highway was one of the greatest engineering feats of modern times, requiring the construction of a 5,613-foot tunnel to negotiate the vertical sandstone cliffs of Zion."

Here we go....

Looking out the window in the tunnel
The Great Arch

At the Visitor Center/Trolley station. Our only other stop in the park.

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