Zion National Park
The honeymoon period is officially over
After all our incredible hiking at Bryce, we were excited to continue southwest for more amazing hiking in Zion National Park. We found dispersed camping about 20 minutes outside the park entrance and there was plenty of room for us. It was a huge open space of red sand and sparse vegetation, overlooking mesas. Bryan skillfully maneuvered around large ruts and we began the routine of getting level and disconnected.
Zion is the furthest south we had been and we were much lower in elevation than at Bryce; 4,000 feet above sea level, compared to ~8,000 feet above sea level. Being 4,000 feet lower in elevation meant we were finally going to feel desert temperatures. That week the temperature was projected to be highs of 102 degrees F and only getting down into the mid-60s or 70s. After setting up and going inside, we were blasted with hot air and the thermostat made us well aware that it was high 90s inside. Not super ideal, but we needed to go to the store for groceries and supplies, so we opened all the windows, packed up the cats, and headed off to the store. When we returned after sunset, the trailer had cooled off to a chilly 91 degrees. For those of you reading this and thinking “Just turn on the air conditioning,” it's not that easy with our setup. Our air conditioning unit is equipped to run on shore power, meaning we need to be plugged into an external electric source at a camp site or our generator. Being in the middle of nowhere, our generator was the only option, so Bryan went outside with his headlamp to start the generator and help it cool off a bit quicker. It's not the best etiquette to run your generator after hours (8 pm), but we knew it would only take a few minutes to get it to a bearable temperature inside. As I was inside unpacking groceries, I heard the generator sputter a few times and then silence. Then a few more angry sputters and more silence. Bryan came back inside looking disheartened and said something was wrong and he couldn't get it to start. Since it was so dark out, we settled in for a sweaty night and would figure out the generator in the morning.
Once morning came, Bryan changed spark plugs, cleaned the carburetor, changed the air filter, and the generator still wouldn’t start. Bryan tried to trouble shoot it over the phone with our brother-in-law who repairs small engines for a living. Still no luck. The events of what came next made us question what the hell we were doing living in a travel trailer. Did we make a huge mistake thinking we could do this? We had no business trying to live this lifestyle.
The first logical thought was to call hardware stores to see if they could repair the generator. The problem is that the area around Zion is not loaded with Home Depots, Lowe's, or any repair store, for that matter. Stores 30 minutes away gave us estimates of 4 weeks to repair it. We could not sit in the desert at 100 degrees for a month in an aluminum box with no air conditioning.
Ok. Feeling a bit stressed out, but the second logical thought was to call RV parks in the area to see if they had any availability, so we could plug in and run that ice cold AC. Easy, peasy. Unless you frequent many national parks, you might not be aware of how popular Zion is. It was the third most visited national park until 2021, when it became the second most visited national park, with 5 million visitors flocking to a very small park, compared to other national parks. Zion is a whopping 229 square miles, while Yellowstone is 3,471 square miles. Boring details, but necessary to understand why every RV park physically laughed us off the phone when asking if they had availability. One kind, sympathetic lady let us know they had booked out over 6 months ago and then hung up. That was two strikes thus far Shooter, and it was only 9 am.
We were trying to manage all of this while still working, so we took a hot second (literally) to let the frustration and dread sink in. I sat there in shorts and a tank top, Bryan just in shorts, with all the shades drawn, knowing that the temperature was only going to continue to rise since there was not one inch of shade for miles. Lumpy and Catalina were too hot to protest, so Lumpy took refuge in the shower and Catalina melted in front of us on the vinyl floor. I could feel the heat radiating in from our giant picture window and felt like I had to try something. I grabbed the Reynolds wrap and got to work taping tinfoil over every window, the vent in the bathroom, and the skylight in the shower. I know I looked like a crazy person and now our trailer looked like we were trying to block the government and aliens from controlling our thoughts, but that made me feel better and gave us some renewed determination to find someone who could repair our generator in a timely manner.
After a few more calls, we had a small engine repair shop refer us to an Ace Hardware in St. George, Utah. We called immediately and they confirmed that they could help us and have it repaired in a day or two. At that point, Lumpy laid herself across my laptop in full protest. We looked at the thermostat, which was reading 99 degrees. It doesn't actually go above double digits, so Bryan laid the meat thermometer on the countertop and it clocked in at 103 degrees. We scooped up the cats, grabbed stuff for work, the generator was already in the truck bed, and we started the 45-minute drive to St. George.
On the way there, I started looking up generator rentals, hoping to find one to rent while ours was being repaired. The Home Depot closer to St. George did not have any rental generators, but the one an hour north of us did. Yay! Our luck was turning. We dropped off ours at Ace Hardware and they were hopeful they could get it looked at that same day and would call with an update. We started the drive back north (St. George was 45 minutes south of us) and realized we were going to miss the rental department staff by 5 minutes. We called hoping they could make an exception and they firmly reiterated that they would be locking up rental equipment at 5 pm. There was no point driving all the way there, so we decided to head into Zion. We knew it would still be way too hot to go back into the trailer, so we kept the truck air blasting, looked at our lonely trailer as we drove past it, seeing that everyone else around us had also succumbed to the unbearable heat and left. Most importantly, the cats were happy and cool once again.
We weaved our way through the beautiful landscape along the road to Zion and were treated to stunning views while waiting to get into the park. At Zion, there is such limited space at each trailhead, they only allow personal vehicles on certain roads and everything else can only be reached by shuttles. We were allowed to drive along the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, which passes through a mile long, narrow tunnel and to amazing geologic formations. If your vehicle or RV is taller than 11'4” or wider than 7'10”, you actually need a permit to drive through it and have a vehicle escort you through. Bryan was beyond thrilled that we were just in the truck and not towing our trailer, because it was a very steep and narrow drive. We stopped to take a closer look at Checkerboard Mesa, a 6,670-foot-tall mesa with a checkerboard appearance, resulting from expanding and contracting during winter months. This drive was just what we needed to temporarily take our minds off the unfortunate events of the previous 24 hours.
The next morning, we had big plans to get a hike in before hell's fury of the sun was unleashed on our trailer, go rent the generator, and get a full day of work in, inside our nice, cool trailer. We wanted to hike the Narrows, which is one of the trails you need to ride a shuttle to get to and the first shuttle leaves the visitor center at 7 am. At 6 am we pulled into a parking lot that looked like Disney World during Spring Break. We made our way up to the line and it was at least a two hour wait. Feeling like Zion was destined to break us, we sadly made our way back to the truck, stopped at the local coffee shop for some giant coffees, and made the trip north to Home Depot. That was the least eventful incident for us in several days, other than the employee not believing Bryan that the smaller generator would power our AC and him forcing us to take the goliath model. We left victorious with our 6,000-watt generator (ours is 3,100 watts) that was going to be worth every penny of the $100 per day rental fee. When we got home, Bryan fired it up and it was the most beautiful sound we had ever heard. Unfortunately, it was so hot outside, that even our mammoth-sized generator that could power an entire construction site, couldn't get the temperature in our trailer below 80 degrees. However, we were beyond grateful for 80s and considered this a win.
Now that we weren't melting to the vinyl couch cushions, our spirits were lifted and we could resume somewhat normal activity. By lunchtime there was no word from Ace Hardware, but towards the end of the day they let us know they had diagnosed the problem, but it would not be fixed today. No problem. The lovely Home Depot employee let us know we could rent Megatron another day.
The next day was Friday and we didn't hear anything from Ace all day. We really didn't want to have to pay for the rental generator all weekend. Finally, around 4 pm, they called and let us know it was repaired and ready for pick up. We were able to get down there just prior to the service department closing and they explained that sand from windy ass Moab had blasted it's way into the inner workings and all it needed was a good cleaning. Ace Hardware, you saved us!
The next morning Bryan ran up to Home Depot to return the gigantic generator while ours remained running like a champ. By now you understand why having a generator in the desert is so important, but we were also faced with another huge problem that was ruining our only reason for going to Zion. We don't feel comfortable leaving the generator running when we are gone, so even though it was functional again, we couldn't go into the park and hike, because it would get too hot for the cats. Were we really going to have spent a week at Zion without hiking any trails???
Bryan got back from Home Depot and was ready to start calling RV parks 45 minutes to an hour away to see if they had availability. Then we could still go into the park, but it would be a much longer drive. I looked up the RV park we had driven by multiple times now, always with a large “No vacancy” sign displayed out front and figured “Why not try one more time?” You will not believe it. Someone had just canceled and there was a shaded spot right by the pool (yes, this was a fancy resort!) that our rig would JUST fit into and it was available for Saturday and Sunday night! We quickly packed up and made our way to Zion River Resort RV Park. I have never been so happy to be in a congested RV park with full hook ups! When we plugged in, the air conditioning worked its magic and we were below 80 degrees within an hour. I definitely teared up a bit. It had been a challenging week and now the cats would be safe and comfortable and we could finally go hiking.
We found a slot canyon (narrow gorges) hike that was accessible without shuttles and set off. Luckily AllTrails got us there, because it was a hidden trailhead. After climbing down a very steep cliff and walking a few hundred feet, we entered into another world. We weaved our way through the narrow rocks, amazed at their distinct layering. Eventually the trail opened up and we walked along a dried-up stream. It was an enchanting hike and we would have wandered around for hours, but it was starting to get dark and we didn't need to push our luck with Zion and become a mountain lion snack. That night we slept soundly with the hum of the air conditioner lulling us to sleep.
Since we struck out arriving at 6 am on a weekday, we knew Sunday was going to be even more crowded. We rolled into the parking lot by 5 am and sleepily waited in line until 7 am. We got on the second shuttle and excitedly made our way back to the hike we had been waiting for – Angels Landing! The trail isn't very long, only 4.4 miles, but it has 1,604 elevation gain and part of the trail goes up such a narrow steep section that they installed poles and chains to help climb up without falling. Signs actually warn you of how many people have died hiking this trail.
This hike was incredible! We put in some work to get up all those switchbacks and I tackled my fear of heights and went all the way to the top. The view from the tiny sliver of rock at the top was breathtaking. We took a snack break while taking in the view and there are brave chipmunks up there that have learned they will most likely get fed. They came right up to us trying to steal our almonds and granola bars.
Remember when I told you Zion was too crowded? It appeared that everyone else had decided to hike this trail, too, so as we were descending, there were long lines of people trying to get up the narrowest parts. If we had been on a later shuttle, it would have been absolutely miserable trying to get to the top.
By the time we got back to the bottom and hopped on the shuttle it was only 9 am, so we were excited to head to The Narrows, a famous slot canyon trail. However, in true Zion fashion, someone had injured themself on that trail (torn ACL is what we heard), so that hike was closed for the rest of the day. We had come all this way and weren't going to be able to do the trail we were looking forward to the most.
We looked at each other, shrugged, and decided that we were officially done with this place. We went back to the trailer and planned our next destination. The desert was no longer a suitable place for us, so we planned to make our way back north.
Zion, we will be back and next time we will be ready for you!