BY LOUISE R. SHAW
Clipper Staff Writer
ZION NATIONAL PARK — A few things have changed since I spent part of a summer working in the gift shop at Zion National Park.
The gift shop has changed. The way people get around the narrow valley is different. The people climbing up 1,000- to 2,000-foot cliffs weren’t as common way back in 1976 when I was on break from university studies.
But the red-rock cliffs, the soft-beige Virgin River, the hikes, the deer and the squirrels are still mostly the same. And the tourists coming from all over the world to enjoy them haven’t changed a whole lot either.
I’m not sure if the tarantulas are still there. Thankfully, on this last trip, I didn’t see any.
Unlike some other amazing national parks in and around Utah, at Zion National Park you don’t drive to an overlook and look down into a breathtaking valley.
When visiting Zion, Utah’s first national park, you drive into the valley and look up at 2,000 feet of multi-shaded red sandstone cliffs.
Or rather, you take a shuttle into the valley to look up at the sandstone cliffs.
In 1997, the 2.4 million annual visitors and their cars were threatening not only the vegetation but the tranquility of the park.
To protect both, a shuttle bus runs throughout the major tourist season. This year it begins on March 24 and runs to Oct. 27, stopping at nine spots in the park as often as every seven minutes.
Visitors can park in the nearby city of Springdale and take shuttles to the visitor’s center. From there, it’s possible to transfer to the park shuttles. Those staying at the lodge can drive their cars in.
Zion’s lodge was first built in 1924 but burned down in 1966. It was rebuilt hastily Р in 100 days Р and was pretty average when I worked inside it 10 years later. It was restored to its original look in 1990.
Hikes in the canyon can be gentle or treacherous. For families, a trail near the lodge leads to Emerald Pools. It winds across a bridge and gradually up a slope with views of the valley and a chance to visit some gentle pools often fed by falls.
As with most hikes in Zion, the three-mile round-trip hike has some pretty steep drop-offs, so keep those kids close by.
A nice paved, protected walk along the Virgin River is accessible to all Р even those pushing strollers Р at the end of the canyon.
Riverside Walk is two miles round-trip with little elevation gain. The trail takes walkers along the river until the walls start closing in and the Zion Narrows hike takes off through the water.
The path to that point is a pleasant stroll with remarkable views of the river and surrounding cliffs. The wide trail accomodates the throngs of people Р as many as 3,000 a day in the summer Р who are interested in exploring beyond the end of the valley road.
If you’re traveling with kids, don’t even think of hiking Angels Landing. The first mile is strenuous, the last half-mile is heart-stoppingly exposed with 1,000-foot drop-offs sometimes on both sides of the trail. You can see plenty from relative safety if you stop at Scout Lookout and avoid that last stretch.
Besides exploring the main valley, visitors can drive through a 1.1-mile tunnel, around since 1930, that takes visitors to other interesting formations and views. Farther to the west, just off I-15, a section of park known as Kolob Canyon has additional impressive views and more trail options.
Nature is at its best and most unique in Zion National Park, just a five-hour drive from Davis County.
And if you stop in the gift shop, you’ll still find souvenir T-shirts, photography books and classic Native American art. And you’ll probably even meet a student on break from university studies.