Zion Setup Day
Saturday, September 28
As mentioned in my introduction, the first block of activities on the trip were to take place in Zion National Park, located about 2.5 hours' worth of driving time northeast of Las Vegas. None of our major outings were planned for today, however. Instead, today was allocated towards transit, getting supplies, and a campsite. And maybe a short hike, if we had time.
After waking up at the Motel 6 on East Tropicana near the airport - our usual lodgings of choice in LV - it was time for a quick breakfast and to start out north on Interstate 15 towards Zion.
The quick Vegas breakfast
We often split our camp supply and grocery buying into two stops, but today we ended up doing both at one of the Wal-Marts in St. George, Utah (southern Utah's only large-ish city). Surprisingly, this Wal-Mart housed a quite large grocery store and also carried the propane-butane gas canisters that our camp stoves used.
After completing all of our driving and purchasing, we arrived at the main southern entrance to Zion NP mid-afternoon. And a very busy afternoon it was; we had to endure a fairly long lineup of cars just to get through the entrance gate. I had forgotten something that I took note of a few weeks earlier: today was National Public Lands Day, and all entrance fees to all NPS facilities were waived. Apparently many others had not forgotten!
Shortly enough, though, we were through the gate (gratis). The extra influx of visitors, though, meant that our plan to snag a first-come, first-serve campsite in one of Zion's large main campgrounds was going to be in jeopardy. Sure enough, both The Watchman campground and the South Campground's availability signs were flipped to 'full'. Time to start thinking about alternatives...
Just as we were about to turn around and head back out of the park to find accommodations, a lady in a Nissan Pathfinder waved to us. Whether she specifically saw the troubled look on our faces, or was just waving at the next humans she saw, we don't know. She called over: "You guys looking for a campsite?"
Beautiful walk-in campsite
As it turned out, she and her partner had to abandon a campsite reservation they'd made, and they were about to leave the park. They were generously making a last-minute offer to any needy campers that might be interested. We were definitely interested.
As it turned out, their reservation was for a walk-in site in the Watchman Campground, and a very nice site at that. They refused to take any money in compensation, saying they were simply glad the reservation wouldn't go to waste. So, so nice. Thank you, generous people!
Walk in site F-6
Things were definitely going our way this afternoon - free park entrance, and now a free campsite. And a nice one, too! The walk-in campsites at the Watchman campground are not all that far away from where you park your vehicle, so it is not that much effort to lug your gear to the site. Many of the walk-in campsites are fully in the open, but our particular site was tucked away near some large cottonwoods on the very edge of the campground. All around were excellent vistas to the soaring sandstone walls of lower Zion Canyon.
Cliffs of Zion Canyon
After setting up our tents and other camp gear, we drove into nearby Springdale to see if we could secure some free wi-fi internet access. This was relatively important to do, since doing one of the canyoneering objectives of our Zion visit involved procuring a backcountry permit - something we needed to do via an online application form.
Springdale's Scenic Main Drag
Unfortunately, despite information I had acquired before the trip that said otherwise, free wi-fi internet access wasn't to be found in the places we checked. Instead, we indulged in some ice cream and shakes at the Zion Park Gift & Deli, and I used my cellphone carrier's US data roaming package to get online. Between sips of my very thick shake, I filled out the Last Minute Drawing Application on the National Park Service Website for a day trip down "The Subway", two days hence.