Thursday, September 6, 2001... Greetings from Cedar City, Utah, just 50 miles north of where I spent last night.  At this rate I won't reach Salt Lake City until next Tuesday.  Anybody have a problem with that?

Slept a little late this morning (note that yesterday's trip report was E-mailed at 1:15 AM), then drove toward Zion National Park.  Before reaching the park, though, I detoured four miles down a gravel road to the remnants of the ghost town of Grafton, Utah.  

Grafton was settled in the mid-1850s by Mormons who soon found two major problems with the site.  Grafton sat along the Virgin River, the deceptively placid carver of Zion Canyon, which had an annoying habit of flooding the land every few years.  Moreover, the land around Grafton wasn't empty -- and the local Native Americans wanted no part of the settlers.  The most prominent grave marker in Grafton's cemetery commemorates four settlers with the legend:  "Killed by Indians, Apr. 2, 1866."  A few buildings -- including the very photogenic old school -- remain, but vandalism in recent years has led the locals to padlock the site.  I continued on to Zion.

Zion has three main units:  Zion Canyon, carved by the Virgin River over millions of years, where visitors pass between 2,000' high cliffs; an eastern section which climbs out of the canyon and passes through a 1.1 mile tunnel; and a northwestern section an hour's drive from the rest of the park.  Since my last visit, private cars have been banned from Zion Canyon from April through October -- instead, all exploration is by shuttle buses, which run every 6-10 minutes.

Checkerboard Mesa, Zion National Park

What a difference!  The Canyon was actually quiet, with the river, the wind and the birds clearly audible.  In the past, it sometimes took longer to find a parking spot near a short trail than to walk the trail.  But if I didn't know better, I'd think the neighboring town of Springdale had designed the shuttle system.  Signs for 10 miles warn visitors that the park lot is often full...but that the nice tourist businesses of Springdale are happy to provide parking, as well as another shuttle system that brings visitors into the park through a gate at the Zion Canyon Theater, just outside the gates.

Although Springdale warned that the park's main lot would be full by 10 AM, I saw enough spots when I arrived half an hour later that I detoured to the east end of the park (where the attached Checkerboard Mesa photo was taken) before returning to the main lot and boarding the shuttle.

Virgin River and Zion Canyon

An hour later, I realized one major drawback of the shuttle system:  after a hike, I couldn't just reach back and pull a cold beverage from the cooler.  The occasional water fountain was a poor substitute.  That killed any desire I might have had to try any of the hikes that involved serious climbing, though the views from the canyon floor were amply rewarding on their own.  When I finally got back to the visitor center, three hours and four miles of hiking later, I polished off a quart of Gatorade faster than Jenna Bush downing a pitcher of margaritas.

(Speaking of the Bush family, today marks the 100th anniversary of the last assassination of a Republican president:   William McKinley, shot by an anarchist while shaking hands at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo.  There's no marker at the site, though a William McKinley High School stands a few blocks away..  Those who think I'm unnecessarily hard on the Bushes should note that I wanted George the Elder to become President seven years, 11 months and 30 days sooner than he did...)

From the visitor center, I doubled back to the Interstate, then turned north to the Kolob Canyon section of Zion.  This is more of a hiker's park, with just one short drive past a handful of overlooks.  There was just enough daylight remaining to justify a detour to Cedar Breaks National Monument, a spectacularly colored amphitheater two miles above sea level.  It's on the way to Bryce Canyon National Park, so I'll be stopping there again in the morning when the sun's on the other side of the formations.  The contrasting views will look good on a Web page.

Wow, this vacation has flown by.  Hard to believe I'll be flying home in less than two days...
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