Saturday, March 21, 2009

March 19: Solvang to Springdale, UT - Goodbye Ocean, LA Commute, and the Slot Canyons of Eastern Zion National Park

We left the hotel in Solvang at around 7:30 AM and headed towards the distant, smog-filled expanse that is Los Angeles. Ventura Highway in the sun it was not to be as fog meandered across the landscape from the Pacific. We said goodbye to the ocean in this way, as it disappeared mysteriously beyond the low-lying clouds as the congestion of LA morning traffic became a reality. Amazingly, we were only halted for a few minutes (less than 5, not a complete standstill) during the crossing of the Ventura Highway and the 405. The rest of the time was spent at varied speeds, with the speed limit of 65 of little concern to many drivers. My speed varied from 75 to 90, as I was quickly feeling at home in the swift lane-switching tactics that saved us at least 45 minutes and significant frustration with some fellow drivers.

Our goal today was simple, to escape LA, to briskly pass Las Vegas, and to come to a halt in one of the better National Park entrance towns: Springdale, Utah. After significant delay for construction in Las Vegas (this was actually slower than any of the times in LA traffic), we arrived in Springdale, and in turn, Zion National Park at around 5:00 PM. After dropping off our belongings at the well-appointed and beautifully landscaped Desert Pearl Inn, we headed to the eastern parts of Zion, following the twisting Zion/Mt. Carmel Highway and it intermittent 1.1 mile tunnel. The eastern reaches of Zion are often passed up for the splendor offered in the valley below; however, this has quickly become one of my favorite parts of the park. Pulling off nearly anywhere above the tunnel, one can descend into the washes of the higher elevations and meander through various slot-like canyons. It is amazing to me that this part of the park is so often overlooked. After hiking in nearly complete solitude through a few different slot sections, aside from meeting a couple of climbers, we headed back to Springdale for a New York Strip dinner at the moderately pricey though tastefully presented Spotted Dog. Laundry was the final order of the day, followed by a restful sleep - aside from an incredibly strange dream involving the defense of my life against rattlesnakes - in the 530 square foot hotel room with the carving forces of the Virgin River at work a mere 100 feet off the back patio.

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