Zion National Park
What: Zion National Park, near Springdale, Utah.
How to Get There: It’s an easy one-day freeway ride from L.A. Grab Interstate 10 East, then I-15 North through Nevada into Utah, to Utah Route 9 East. Follow the mountains and the blue skies; you can’t miss it. From the south, pick up State Route 89 North in Flagstaff and watch for the signs where Route 89 crosses 9 West before Mt. Carmel, Utah. From the northeast, hop onto I-70 West and grab the exit for Route 89 South.
Best Kept Secrets: Casa de Amigos Restaurant in Springdale, just outside of the park. The shredded chicken burritos are just perfect. For a different Zion perspective, take the Kolob Resevoir Road to see things from the north looking down into Zion. Check weather conditions first, as the road climbs to 8,000 feet-plus and may be impassible during the winter months. Kolob Terrace Road begins in Virgin, Utah, about 13 miles west of Springdale. Look for a sign to the Kolob Reservoir.
Avoid: Not watching the road. The scenery is so spectacular that people may stop in the road. And don’t forget a camera!
More Info: National Park Service
More Photos: MotoFoto
Zion. The name implies something biblical, something heavenly, and it’s easy to understand that’s what Mormon settlers had in mind when they entered this area in the mid-1800s. The crown jewel of the National Park system, Zion is as close to heaven as you can get without a one-way ticket.
My strong feelings for Zion are personal: It was the destination of my first big motorcycle trip. My riding buddy and dear, departed friend Dick Scott suggested Zion back when we were going through our Harley phase, and it was beyond beautiful as we rolled into the park on Utah Highway 9. Zion exceeded anything I could have imagined; I remember feeling like I was riding into a Western painting.
Nestled where the Mojave, the Great Basin and the Colorado Plateau meet, Zion requires adjectival adeptness to even approach an accurate description. Pastel pink mountains, verdant vegetation, electric blue skies and emerald pools combine with abundant wildlife to create a surreal collage of seemingly endless picture postcard scenes. As national parks go, it’s small, but the scenery is absolutely over the top. I’ve been to a lot of places on this planet, and I can state with certainty that Zion’s beauty is unsurpassed.
The first known humans inhabited Zion a cool 12,000 years ago, hunting local game including woolly mammoths, camels and giant sloths. As these critters were hunted to extinction, the locals turned to farming and evolved into an agrarian culture known as the Virgin Anasazi. The Paiutes moved in when the Anasazi migrated south, and then the Mormons settled alongside the Paiutes in the mid-1800s (that’s when the area received its biblical moniker). Archeologists are still finding evidence of earlier civilizations.
The Great Depression brought great change in the 1930s, and Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps built roads and added upgrades to make the park more accessible. The Virgin River cut deeply through sandstone to create magnificent channels and impressive geologic formations, and the CCC work made these areas easier to reach. For most people, a visit to Zion is to see the sights from the valley floor, but you can also take a half-day excursion up the western edge of the park on Kolob Reservoir Road. From there, you can look down into Zion for a completely different and equally magnificent perspective of the area.
Let’s talk about the ride — more superlatives are in order here. From any direction, you’ll know you are approaching a magical area. Antelope. Deer. Brilliant blue skies. Magnificent forests. Stunning mountains; it’s all here. From Southern California, you’ll experience tantalizing two-wheeled treats as Interstate 15 cuts through the canyons carved by the Virgin River. Riding in from Arizona’s Grand Canyon region southeast of Zion, the roads are similarly magnificent. And if you’re riding in from Bryce Canyon National Park to the northeast, well, you get the idea. This is one destination that has to be on the bucket list. MC