Letters From a Bus
April 2008: Springtime Desert
7th entry for April

The Zion - Mt. Carmel Tunnel

Hurricane, UT, Day Six at Sand Hollow State Park, Site: 35

Monday, April 21, 2008 — Eleven Months

Saturday, April 19.  We take a scenic drive around the perimeter of Zion Park.
I woke still feeling tired.  We made breakfast again and sat for a while at the picnic table so once again (as on Thursday) we made a late start.  We got in the car at 12:30 PM and we took the dogs with us.  By then the wind had come up again and was just as strong as it was a few days ago. 

After stopping for fuel, we went into Zion Park.  There was a long line at the entrance station.  We stopped at the first shuttle stop stations on SR-9 and we took lots of photos at the pullouts.  The last time we were here, it wasn’t that easy to take photos while we were on the shuttle.  After the first few stops SR-9 turned away from the canyon park road where only shuttles can go.  We went east climbing above the canyon taking photos at all the pullouts until we came to the tunnel.

As it was a Saturday afternoon, there were two lines waiting to go through the Zion South Entrance. For some reason they went very slowly. 4/19/08 @ 1:59 PM At last we can start up the Zion Park road. We took the shuttle up this part of the road before.
4/19/08 - 2:07
We decided to begin first at the Zion Museum to learn about what we would see. There is a large parking lot. I think the peak on the right might be called The Watchman at 6,545' el. Across the street the Pa'rus Trail goes back to the Visitor's Center. 4/19/08 - 2:34 There are many tourists getting on and off the shuttle buses. 4/19/08 - 2:18
After looking inside the museum we pause outside to read the display signs and take photos of the scenery. At a guess, I would say that behind me is The Sentinel and The Streaked Wall. 4/19/08 - 2:31
The road above the museum begins to climb into Zion Canyon. Ahead is the Court of the Patriarchs, 3 peaks named after Abraham, Isaac & Jacob. 4/19/08 - 2:37 The exposed strata of many eons tower over our heads. I think this is The Sentinel, 7,157' el. 4/19/08 - 2:43
I think this area shows the more recent landslide that blocked the river and damed the Virgin River for several seasons before it broke through. 4/19/08 - 2:44 We turn east at Canyon Junction and start up Pine Creek Canyon. I think this might be Mount Spry. 5.923' el. 4/19/08 - 2:44
We turn into a view pullout to take a photo of The Great Arch, carved into the cliff by wind and water erosion. 4/19/08 - 2:50 Shuttle buses go straight up into the scenic canyon (ahead) and we are on SR-9, climbing east toward the Zion-Mt Carmel Tunnel, which is carved through the red cliff (upper right). 4/19/08 - 2:50
As we climb, we pull into a viewpoint and look back to see a window carved into the rock tunnel that we are approaching. We must drive up and around this wall of cliffs to enter the tunnel. 4/19/08 - 2:54
Looking forward from the same viewpoint, we must climb around the cliff face on the left. We are looking towards Pine Creek Canyon, which is cutting down from left to right or east to west. 4/19/08 - 2:56 We are also looking back down the valley south towards Zion Entrance and the Zion Museum. 4/19/08 - 2:56
Above, from the same viewpoint, looking down on the windy road towards Canyon Junction. Right, looking back and up at the cliffs that hang over this road.
4/19/08 - 2:58
Looking north into Zion Canyon towards the Court of the Patriarchs. 4/19/08 - 2:59 Looking south into the canyon below.. 4/19/08 - 2:59
Elsa looks at the view in front of the Honda at a higher viewpoint above The Great Arch. Left, looking down into the valley below towards the south from where we started — down the North Fork Virgin River. 4/19/08 - 3:01

The Zion - Mt Carmel Tunnel is a little over a mile long.  The tunnel goes through a mile wide mountain that runs north-south. North of the tunnel the mountain length stretches up to Zion Canyon. Visible from the valley floor, it has peaks called (from south to north) The East Temple, Twin Brothers, and Mountain of the Sun. Behind and parallel to these peaks is north-south Deertrap Mountain. Pine Creek cuts down on it's east side running south to the Mount Carmel Highway where it turns west toward Zion Canyon. South of the tunnel the mountain length stretches to the East Fork Virgin River in the Parunuweap Canyon. In this section it is cut on the west by Hepworth Wash and on the east by Gifford Canyon. These creeks both run north and join Pine Creek, which runs into North Fork Virgin River.

The tunnel is 13’1” in the center but less than 12’ on the sides.  To drive the bus through this tunnel, we would have to pay $15 for an escort.  They would stop traffic and guide us through the center of the tunnel.  No thank you.  We need to go east but we will figure out how to bypass SR-9 and this tunnel.  We descended down the other side taking more photos until we left Zion National Park. 

We approach the west side tunnel entrance in a canyon called Hepworth Wash... 4/19/08 - 3:03 And emerge three minutes later on the east side in a canyon called Gifford Canyon. 4/19/08 - 3:08
On the east side of the tunnel, we're in a new world of Zion National Park. We are looking south at the mountain that extends down to Parunuweap Canyon. 4/19/08 - 3:09
The scenery and the look of the sandstone layers is completely different on the east side. 4/19/08 - 3:09
We stop to walk around and take photos of this strange place. We are looking north up Deertrap Mountain. Over their summit we see more domes — The East Temple? Twin Brothers?. 4/19/08 - 3:16
We descend east down Mount Carmel Highway, which parallels Clear Creek. 4/19/08 - 3:26 On the north side of the road near the park exit we stop at a viewpoint to look at Checkerboard. 4/19/08 - 3:28
The sign says that Checkerboard Dome was formed by sand dunes that were compressed. 4/19/08 - 3:29 View area at Checkerboard. These are the White Cliffs. 4/19/08 - 3:29
Elsa looks at Checkerboard and tries to see how those squares could have been sand dunes. 4/19/08 - 3:29 Looking east as we leave the Checkerboard viewpoint. 4/19/08 - 3:30

By the time we passed out of the park, it was going on four and I was getting another headache.  I needed a rest because we planned to return by some other route to avoid the long line of cars waiting to go through the tunnel from the east side of Zion Park. Immediately after we left the park, I saw a lodge and restaurant and asked Dennis to stop. We pulled into Mt. Zion Resort and it was very cute and homey.  They rent cabins and they have a herd of buffalo and they have a restaurant called The Buffalo Grill that servs buffalo burgers, etc. for lunch.  We had a table by a big window with a view of the back yard and then beyond a fence the distant field where the buffalo grazed. It was an odd restaurant that seemed to be Asian but offered a variety of foods with lunch and dinner menus. We had an odd chicken wrap that seemed to be a cross between Asian and Mexican, but it was very good.  Afterwards we walked the dogs around the yard. The wind was very strong. There were signs saying not to get close to the buffalo or pet them because they are wild. In any case, they were nowhere nearby.

We have an excellent lunch at Mt. Zion Resort in the Buffalo Grill . From our table, we had a view of this backyard behind the restaurant, giftshop and lodge. 4/19/08 - 4:26
Above the yard to the southeast are cabins. They have a view of the buffalo field. 4/19/08 - 4:26 Above the yard to the southwest is this field with a grazing herd of buffalo. 4/19/08 - 4:26
We drove up the hill to take a closer look at the Mt. Zion Resort cabins. 4/19/08 - 4:36 They have a view facing west towards Zion National Park. 4/19/08 - 4:39

After lunch, we decided to go above the northern perimeter of Zion park so we turned north at Mt. Carmel Junction on US-89 passing through Mt. Carmel, Orderville and Glendale as we drove through Long Valley.  This was a 20-mile drive.  It was about five in the evening by then.  The position of the sun in the valleys as we drove north gave a wonderful, clear afternoon light that was very beautiful.  The towns and farms made me feel like we were in Wyoming or Montana.  There were tall oaks and tall trees with no leaves and branches that were all white against the sun.  I’ve seen this look in watercolors.  The elevation was six to seven thousand and the alpine meadows were just recovering from snow and beginning to grow new grass up through the old.  It was a beautiful sight.  I loved this valley.

The follow the river north up the valley on US-89 through Orderville and I tried to capture the late afternoon light on these trees. With tiny buds they have a lovely white color with a tiny cast of green. 4/19/08 - 5:00 We turn west on SR-14 driving through the north edge of Zion National Park. This is Aspen Mirror Lake at above 6,000' el. 4/19/08 - 5:40
There are pine trees and snow fields past Duck Creek. This seems to be a popular area for snow mobiles. 4/19/08 - 5:46 There is still snow at this elevation. We are near the summit at 9,360' el. and the temperature has dropped to 49 degrees. 4/19/08 - 5:52

At Long Valley Junction, 7,513' el., we left US-89 and turned west towards Cedar City on SR-14.  This is a 40-mile drive that passes northwest through Dixie National Forest and Cedar Breaks National Monument.  We continued to climb in elevation and there was snow on both sides of the road.  This is a snowmobile mecca although there is skiing at Black Mountain.  The summit is over nine thousand and the temperature dropped below fifty and the wind got very strong.  We didn’t stop much except for a few photos.  The scenery was mostly snow-covered meadows with pine trees.  We dropped down a precipitous canyon returning to the typical sandstone canyons of the Hurricane Cliffs.

Cedar City appears to be a cute University mountain town but we didn’t stop to look around.  We turned south to do another 30 miles running along the Pine Valley Mountains on I-15 to SR-9 at exit 16.  It was almost 7:30 by the time we got back to the bus where the wind was still blowing violently.  I went straight to bed where I read more of Powell and then watched TV. 

Monday, April 21.  We rest in camp
I like this campground.  The wind blew like crazy Sunday night but I barely noticed it.  It is warm enough so that we can open a window in the bedroom and it is quiet with no outside lights so we can enjoy the open window and open curtains.  This morning there is no wind.  I like the views and the silence and the privacy.  It is one of the few times in this past year, that we’ve wanted to sit outside and enjoy a campsite because the weather is good and the campsite is pleasant. 

We didn’t go sightseeing yesterday or today.  My eyes are scratchy and I’m tired.  On Sunday Dennis dusted the entire bus with his long handled feather duster.  He says the dust will stick unless you wipe it off.  I finished my Venetian Canals web page and posted it.  Today we did some housekeeping inside the bus and we went into Hurricane and grocery shopped at Lin’s.  We stayed for dinner at Lupita’s Mexican Restaurant.  It was surprisingly good.  Very authentic Mexican, we think.

With no wind and warm temperatures we enjoy sitting outside. The dogs have to be tied and they get anxious if I leave them to go up to the bus for something. 4/20/08 - 11:09 On Sunday everyone began to leave and we had the place to ourselves again. The ATVs run around on the red hill beyond the bus. 4/20/08 - 10:00
From the parking lot they go under the road and then up the hill. They have 16,000 acres of Sand Mountain to explore. 4/21/08 - 2:39
On Monday we went up behind the reservoir to see where the ATVs start out on their trails. 4/21/08 - 1:45
Below the ATV trails by the road there are red sand dunes. Will they be a layer in a tall red sandstone cliff someday? 4/21/08 - 2:40 Right, I spot a lone wild flower growing out of the sand. 4/21/08 - 1:51
Later we walk the dogs and let them wade at the boat ramp by the parking lot at the reservoir. 4/21/08 - 2:13
In the next few days we plan to see more of Zion Canyon and take some hikes on trails from the shuttle stops.
Elsa Walton, Sand Hollow State Park, Hurricane, UT, Monday, April 21, 2008