Lesser known locales in the park/monument country add to the wonder of the area

LON AUSTIN - A trip to monument country in Utah should entail a trip to Zion National Park, which features amazing scenery. The photo above was taken near Highway 9 in the park, the photo bottom left from near the Kolob Canyon Road, and the one bottom right from Kolob Terrace Road.

That plan has not worked out as expected. First, COVID pretty much prevented travel. Then, school sports returned, although on a curtailed basis, and I went back to work.

On top of that, my mom decided to pack up and move to Alaska and left me to clean, repair, and sell her house.

Now, high school sports have returned to near normal, but I am only working part time. That left time between the fall and winter sports seasons to take a trip.

One of my favorite places that is easy to get to is the Southwest. Historically, we have gone to Las Vegas, which has good access to two of my favorite parks – Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and Valley of Fire State Park. Both are within easy driving distance of Las Vegas, and are relatively uncrowded with plenty of good hiking, good scenery, and some good examples of Native American petroglyphs.

We will use Las Vegas as a jumping off spot for hiking and photography again in the future, but this time we chose to use St. George, Utah, as headquarters for our exploration. It is possible to drive to either St. George or Las Vegas from Prineville in one day. However, that is a lot of driving, and doesn't leave any time for exploration along the way. So, this trip we decided to stay in Elko, Nevada, on our way south and again on the way home.

That allowed us to take a route south that we had never seen before. The scenery in northeast Nevada is interesting, and although arid, actually quite stunning. Mountains are ever visible, including 13,065-foot high Wheeler Peak. Great Basin National Park, which I would like to see someday, is along the way. We considered detouring into the park either heading south or on our return trip, but decided against it as an early season snowstorm had closed major portions of the park.

In any case, the trip to St. George was uneventful. We had been looking at the 10-day weather forecast for several days prior to leaving, and the forecast was perfect for photography, calling for partly cloudy days for much of our trip.

And, the trip south was perfect, with rain clouds in the distance. However, our first day in St. George dawned clear and sunny, and that is how things stayed until our return trip home. Perfect weather, but disappointing for photography. No sunsets. No sunrises. And, most importantly, harsh shadows in all the photos.

St. George is near several major attractions, as well as other lesser known sights. Just 45 miles from the main entrance to Zion National Park, St. George makes a great jumping off point to see the park. Zion used to be one of my favorite parks, but sometime in the last 10 years, it has been discovered. The park is overrun with people, to the point that the main part of the park can only be seen on a park shuttle. No private cars allowed. For photography, that is not good, as the shuttles don't start running until after sunrise, and stop running prior to sunset.

The good news is that there is more than one way to get access to Zion, and not all the entry points are equally crowded. Highway 9 runs east west through the park, and once you get through the tunnel to the east side of the park, the crowds begin to melt away.

In addition, a right turn in downtown Springdale, just before the main park entry, takes you north on Kolob Terrace Road, with access to some of the best hiking in the park, and virtually no tourists. Further north, Kolob Canyons Road also enters a portion of the park that is relatively tourist free, leaving miles of hiking trails available, with plenty of solitude.

Also, within 100 miles of St. George are Bryce Canyon National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Gold Butte National Monument, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, as well as a number of great state parks in both Nevada and Utah. Although a long trip, the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park is also in driving range from St. George.

Another great spot to use to explore the area would be to stay in Kanab, Utah, which is located approximately 80 miles east of St. George, opening up some different areas to explore.

In any case, there is more than enough to explore from either location.

Usually, whenever we take a long trip, I try to do one big adventure. This time I tried again, but I was not successful. Instead of getting the necessary permits for one of the more popular regulated areas in the national parks or monuments, I decided to drive to Kanab and enter the day lottery for the hike to a location called the Wave. There were more than 200 people in the gym the day I tried to get my permit, in 87 different groups. The drawing is for the first 20 people, or first four permit numbers drawn, whichever is the fewest people.

Needless to say, I did not get drawn. But, I had other plans. The plan was if I didn't get a permit we would go to the east side of Zion National Park and do some hiking up one of the many side canyons. That plan turned out to not be a good idea. The night before, Zion had had a large landslide block Highway 9 just west of the tunnel from the west to east side of the park. And, in their infinite wisdom, the national park service decided that with east west access blocked they would close the east side of the park, even though the entire east side of the park was still accessible.

See the Dec. 7 Central

Oregonian for part two.

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