SW Utah Notes March 23 – 26, 2007

March 28, 2007

We entered Utah on US89 by Lake Powell, just north of the Glen Canyon Dam. We followed 89 through Kanab; the countryside was lovely: high desert with occasional rock formations, some cattle ranches, plenty of trees scattered around, no unkempt Navaho settlements as there had been further south. We took the turnoff for Zion National Park through more lovely countryside, which became absolutely spectacular inside the park. The drive in from the east entrance is the best part of Zion, eclipsing the Canyon. There are amazing rock formations close to both sides of the road. The Checkerboard Mesa just after the toll booth is sensational. After a long tunnel the road switchbacks down to the lower level where one finds the entrance to the Canyon, the Visitors Center and the south entrance near Springdale.  We checked into a spacious room at The Desert Pearl Inn. (www.desertpearl.com.) We recommend this rustic and friendly, but also modern and efficient, hotel located between the shops in Springdale and the Park. Reserve well in advance on the internet and ask for a riverside room. You will have a porch, on the ground floor, or balcony, on the second floor, with an unspoiled view of the Virgin River and a big red rock behind. There is a handy laundry room and good wifi access.

We had dinner at the Spotted Dog Café (www.flanigans.com/dining_2.html.) This was not bad. Linda started with a cauliflower flatbread with julienned vegetables; I with toasted hummus with tapenade on pita. Linda had an excellent grilled filet mignon; I had a somewhat tasteless braised lamb shank. We enjoyed a bottle of Kenwood Pinot Noir. The service was very fast and overly friendly.

Springdale is a friendly, dusty little one-street town in a spectacular setting. Sedona might have looked like this thirty years ago. There are some tourist kitsch shops among the motels, camping and hiking outfitters etc, but they do not spoil the ambience.
The next day we re-entered the park and drove up the canyon, which is only open to private vehicles November – March. For most of the year one parks near the Visitors’ Center and takes a frequent shuttle bus. We could see why; the road was jammed by midday, there were no more parking places and the roar of unruly motorcycles echoed off the canyon walls. Fortunately we had started early; we saw a Tom turkey with his full spring tail zion-011jpg-a.jpgdisplay fluffed up walking by the side of the road, but there was surprisingly little bird or animal life. There are several easy trails one can take; we walked the pleasant Riverside Trail which continues along the stream beyond where the road stops. Then we went back to the Grotto picnic area to eat the sandwiches we had made that morning. We stopped at the Visitors’ Center and returned to our pleasant hotel....That evening Linda and I celebrated her birthday at The Switchback Grill. This is a big new restaurant with an identity problem, although being all things to all people may, in this case, be a successful business formula. I reserved through Open Table. The wine list is interesting and they have an official package liquor store attached. (Utah is the only state with an official wine taster.) We ordered a bottle of Rockburn (NZ) Pinot Noir, which was good. Folks can come in for a festive meal without doffing their preferred tee shirt, shorts and baseball cap outfit. We were kept busy just talking about the folks at our neighboring tables. I would guess that Bush has an 80% approval rating in this crowd. When the young waitress delivered Linda’s chicken soup, she told us that my crab cakes were on the grill and would arrive quickly. Fifteen minutes later we inquired about them and they arrived quite melted down from the heat lamp, but the soggy mass of crabmeat didn’t taste too bad. They didn’t think to bring us another fork for the second course, but, when asked, brought us another whole setting. My ribeye and herbed potatoes were good and recently off the grill, but Linda’s crown roast of barbequed baby back ribs with onion rings was sensational, at least in presentation. Actually the ribs were good if one picked them up and gnawed around the bone. The onion rings were inedible. rene-017jpg-a.jpgzion-017jpg-a.jpg.

Paragraph above left: Linda’s birthday lunch in Zion Canyon.

Left: Linda’s birthday dinner, the crown roast of barbequed ribs with onion rings at Switchback.

Right: Linda’s birthday candle at Rene in Sedona three evenings before.

The following morning we drove back out through the east entrance to the park. We stopped many times in the segment between the tunnel and the ranger toll station. We think this is the most beautiful stretch of road we have seen this trip. The rock formations are extraordinary and there are excellent views from the many pullouts. There is not much traffic here; everyone heads for Zion Canyon, which is a great sight, but not as dramatic as this stretch.

On rejoining US89 we turned north. The scenery was lovely in several different ways as one gained altitude. After an hour and a half we turned east through Red Canyon. There are dramatic formations of red rock along both sides of the road. We arrived at Ruby’s Inn (www.rubysinn.com,) a mega tourist conglomerate with 368 hotel rooms at the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park. It was only partially open, without the big tourist diner, the RV Park, the nightly rodeo etc that are offered in summer. We found that our room was ready, checked in and had the luncheon buffet at the Cowboy’s Buffet and Steak Room in the main lodge. Our more-than-adequate $75 room was in an outer building. 

We entered the park and drove to the end of the 18 mile road. The two observation points there, one east, one west, are at 9,100 feet and offer impressive views for huge distances. We started to take the one-mile Bristlecone Walk there, but there was still melting snow making the path muddy; we did see two brown-chested nuthatches before returning to the car. (Our other interesting wildlife sighting of the day was four prong-horned antelope along the road.) As we drove back along the road we stopped at quite a few observation points. They are well done and tourist-friendly with parking, explanatory signs, safety railings etc. They are in two segments: the high ones with the long views toward the south end of the road and those grouped around the Bryce Amphitheater near the entrance at the north end. The Bryce Amphitheater includes thousands of incredible “hoodoos,” unique to this park. They are vertical formations with rounded sections which resemble immense voodoo dolls. There are walks one can take down among them, but we just looked at them from several angles.

For dinner we returned to the Cowboy’s Buffet and Steak Room as there were no other choices. Linda had a pork chop with apples and a baked potato. I had a T-Bone with a grilled portobello/gorgonzola topping and rice pilaf. We had a very nice bottle of 2002 Firestone Merlot. This was our best scenery day of the trip. While nothing approaches the majesty of The Grand Canyon, being so close to incredible colored rock formations at the east end of Zion, in Red Canyon and at the Bryce Amphitheater on a sunny day with fluffy white clouds was exquisite.

The following morning we returned early to Sunrise Point and watched the sun emerge over the eastern horizon. The colors in the sky were disappointing, but when the horizontal sunlight hit the rocks of the Bryce Amphitheater, it was spectacular. We packed, checked out, drove back through Red Canyon and turned north on US89 through lovely countryside with several cow-calf ranches with many young Angus calves. We turned west on Utah Route 20 and climbed to a pass at about 8,000 feet. From there until we crossed the Nevada border we were in constant descent to 2,000 feet. We turned south on I-15 through rugged countryside with mountains on both sides. We passed Cedar City, which seemed to be enjoying a huge construction boom. We got off at St. George to ship excess baggage back to ourselves at FedEx and had a very nice lunch at The Painted Pony in a little arts and crafts mall right at the main intersection of downtown. Back on I-15 we crossed through a corner of Arizona in a dramatic descending canyon. Just across the Nevada border was the town of Mesquite, an appalling mix of garish casinos and new development.

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