Well, I didn’t mean to drive through two national parks, but there you have it. It got confusing. Utah, Arizona and I am pretty sure I was briefly in California? –that’s what my GPS said. That’s three different time zones. I also think I entered Utah three times. My goal was a little known national park: Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. Coming from Cedar Springs, you pass right by Zion National Park. Entering from the southern entrance, Springdale, is unlike anything I’ve encountered. Zion sits high and the drive up through Springdale is like driving up the ramparts over the drawbridge to a castle.

[My note: the picture thing has been bothering me, so I’m going to start entering the pictures below with a bold caption of what they are except for the occasional one that highlights something. There are over a hundred coming. It was a long day.]

You drive from the south entrance to the east entrance along a well paved road and through a couple tunnels. Every view is amazing. People say you can spend days and weeks at the park hiking and viewing things. The real gems of the park are along a different route, a roundabout, for buses only. It’s season and the buses were packed. I like crowds as much as I like Starbucks coffee, I was only passing though, so you’ll have to look up the gems for yourself but I’ve heard they are absolutely amazing.

At the end of the road, I parked. I was going to hike the rim trail. My luck being what it is, the trail was blocked before you could get to the good stuff my a rock slide. I did a close encounter with a big horned sheep. That sucker came running right at me with me filming it the entire time. I wasn’t too worried though as there was a woman standing front of me and she would have gotten it first. At the last second, it turn and completely disappeared into the brush.

I had two other close encounters after leaving Zion. One was at the coffee shop. “We’re out of beans,” I was told by the young woman. It happens I gather. This was the first time she heard, “If I bring in the beans, will you brew them?” I got my coffee.

A little further down the road were buffalo (American Bison to be specific.) They were curious about the people standing on the side of the road watching them and they nonchalantly approached and started slurping from a pond between us. There were some young ones and a big one. You never know about the young so I kept my distance and then rode south along scenic route 89 to 89A–because that’s what the GPS told me to do. My goal came from a picture that Mom Kate Denin sent me.

That’s “The Wave” deep inside Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. Instead of just winging it, I did some research–but obviously not enough. There was very little chance of me making it in to see The Wave. It’s very small, can’t really be seen by air, and the sandstone has been taking such a beating that you need permits to enter that part of the park. Only 20 permits are offered each day, 10 online and 10 in person. I was told, though, that you can see something like the wave as you drive through the park. That’s where things started to go wrong, in a good kind of way.

Both 89 and 89A take you down into Arizona.I took the cutoff for 89A, the Vermilion Cliffs Scenic Byway. Wouldn’t you? It kind of makes sense along with the GPS telling you to do it?

The change from Utah to Arizona is dramatic. Instead of just more cliffs and mountains, it’s cliffs and mountains with forests. Dark trees and canyons. The “featured image” is from a lookout point looking back. That’s what I came from. You can see the ages of the earth in the cliffs behind you as wander through a forest.

Vermilion Cliffs National Monument is actually in Arizona and Utah. 89A takes you to the western entrance. 89 to the eastern one. There is no nicely paved path here. It’s rocks, gravel and lots of red dust. I pulled in and just started driving. I remembered reading something about way out in the park you come across the Condor Reintroduction Center. That’s the fist thing that told me I may have gone the wrong way as I came across it first. Massive cliffs rise in the distance where the conservatory is reintroducing the condors.

More red dust. Lots more. I lost my phone signal. I did, finally, come across a park ranger with absolutely no sense of humor.

“Mom sent me here.”

“I don’t know what you mean by that.”

So I played it straight. People going to the wave without a permit get a $10,000 fine and a year in prison. “Where can I go to hike without getting into trouble?”

“Just keep going up this road until you get close to the east entrance. There’s a big parking lot and lots of trails you don’t need a permit for.”

So, I kept driving. Just me and the dust. I found something, though, that most park visitors don’t see. On this side of the park, at the base of some cliffs, you see hints of the vermilion inside. While taking the picture and video, I was “huffed” at by a cow. I had no idea it was laying inside bushes pretty close to me. It’s calf was not too far away. So I got driving.

Yep, there was  parking lot on the other side of the park. I think about two-three miles in on rough terrain. It’s all rough terrain. I think I drove about 30 miles, back into Utah, to get there. The hike was gorgeous with narrow openings and the layers of rock, but all browns. I was told by an older gentleman inside of the turn off to the “do not enter” part that the vermilion is under what we were looking at. In a few more hundred thousand years of erosion, it will all look like The Wave. I met a young woman who asked me what time it was. I mentioned it was about 5:00 but about a mile south, it was 4:00.

I made it out of the park, into Utah, on Route 89 where I went south into Arizona again. Different route but incredible view. Th first place you come across is a lake with a dam. It’s just amazing. The lake is not like other likes. The water fills up the canyon that seems to be cut so it looks more like a man made pool than the lakes we are used to seeing with the gentle rise and beach. There is no beach; just a place to fall from.

But then it got dark and I was driving through the Arizona night. Route 89 gets you to Flagstaff and then a combination of Route 17 and then, again, 89A brings you into Sedona. That last part is tricky, even worse at night and exhausted. There is a section that is only hairpin turns, one after another, on a narrow road with no sides.

But I made it.

Zion National Park


The First Road into Arizona

Vermilion Cliffs National Monument (dirt road, cliffs, and everything)

Vermilion: what I saw and what I didn’t see.

Vermilion Hike

Back into Arizona (just a quick shot from the gas station of the lake in the distance)