The natural world is extraordinary; only the loneliest, bitter souls would deny this with some quip about the ubiquitous nature of nature. Fortunately I have met few who are not awed by the beauty of the natural world, especially the examples found in our National Parks.
Every now and then Mother Nature outdoes herself and I have to calm my self from that giddy feeling at seeing something that only happens once or twice in a lifetime.
In this case it happened in our favorite park, Zion, near Springdale, Utah.
Snow!… the likes of which have not been seen in nearly 50 years.
And to think…we almost missed it… Here is the story and slideshow of our adventure…
It started out with our trip to Ogden, Utah for Primo to compete in the American Bouldering Series (ABS) youth regional championships. It was Primo’s first year competing, but the coaches encouraged us to consider the trip just for the experience.
Given that we moved from Colorado to Tucson, Arizona more than 13 years ago to get away from winter, among other things, the thought of traveling to northern Utah in the first week of December was met with more than a little apprehension. Yet, after a little discussion we decided that we would give it a go.
The basic plan was to pass through Las Vegas for a grandparent visit, then head up to Ogden for the competition. On the way back we figured we could stop by Zion before heading home; we have been wanting to show Primo and Secondo the wonders of Zion, but it is only now that they are old enough to appreciate it.
As the date of the competition came closer, it was apparent that the weather was gearing up for some unseasonal cold, which had us starting to think about canceling the Zion portion of the trip, but mainly because we didn’t want the kids’ first memory of Zion to be negative (they are Tucson natives, after all, and “cold” is anything under 70 ).
The grandparents were more than willing to have the kids come back for some more time, but we decided to keep our options open, seeing how things went in Ogden.
Besides, how cold could it really be in early December?
What’s That Noise?
So, we pack up the car, a 12-year-old Ford-built Volvo that I call the “Fjord” and hit the road. The first 400 miles were perfect, then exiting the Spaghetti Bowl at the I-15 interchange in Las Vegas the Fjord starts rumbling and shaking. Are the roads in Las Vegas really this bad?
Apparently not. The rumble only occurred when giving just enough throttle to maintain speed; coasting or hard acceleration was quiet.
Both GranolaGirl and I quickly go down the list of things it might be: throttle errors, transmission, wheel balance (maybe we threw a weight)… oh, please let it be wheel balance! We make it to Grandpa and Nana’s house and sleep on it.
The next morning I take it over to Discount Tire to have the tires rebalanced; the technicians did find a couple of tires were marginal, so it was plausible. We pack up and hit the road towards Utah.
All was smooth for the first ten miles or so, then the rumble started up again. Sometimes it was just a mild rumble, then at other times it felt like the car was going to shake itself apart. But mostly it was just annoying so we press on.
As we travel through Utah the boys start to notice the snow and cold, the thermometer dropping below freezing, and then continued to drop as we headed north. The boys were amazed at how much snow there was; it was more than they had ever seen, the large expanses between mountain ranges. Since most of our travels have been in the Spring and Summer, most of the snow the boys have seen has been the dusting we get in Tucson and a little at the top of Mt. Lemmon nearby.
At one point in a low valley the temperature read 0 , but by the time we reach the hotel the temperature was in the 20’s, which the boys definitely noticed, each ordering hot chocolate for dinner rather than their usual iced tea.
What? No snow plows in the Salt Lake area?
The morning of the competition we headed out extra early to navigate ice covered roads in unfamiliar territory (we still navigate by paper map, finding clocks and astrolabes more reliable than GPS :-)).
The competition went well enough. Primo placed 24th out of 25 in his class, but coaches and parents alike were extremely proud of his positive and sportsman attitude at handling the difficult climbing problems; the only tears were from an elbow strike on a fall, but he ended the day smiling and hungry. A run to Famous Daves and one parking-lot snow angel later and he was a smiling and tired young man.
By the next morning at least six inches of snow had accumulated. Apparently the Salt Lake area snow plows had not be down the highway as we had to contend with slow moving icy roads until well south of Provo.
The trip to Zion would have been only about an hour delayed due to the snow, but we also learned that the normal windshield washer fluid we use in Tucson freezes when the temperature is below 30 . With all of the back splash from trucks and other cars, we had to pull off the highway four times just to clean the windshield by hand.
But we did finally make it to the Zion Park Inn, in Springdale, UT. A quick run over to Oscars for a to-die-for burger and we were all pretty much spent for the day.
Nose Crackling Cold
When we awoke for breakfast the temperature was -4 . The folks at the front desk were commenting that this kind of weather is really rare; one man, having lived in the area all his life said that the last time they got snow like this (13 inches in Springdale) was nearly 50 years ago.
Again, there was a brief thought about just canceling the rest of the reservation and the days activities, and driving back to Las Vegas, but after eating everyone was ready for some hiking. Best decision ever!
We pretty much had Zion National Park to ourselves; if we saw 20 people all day that would be a stretch. The pictures don’t do it justice (slideshow below), and it is difficult to describe the feeling of looking up at 800+ foot tall snow-covered cliffs.
The views at Weeping Rock (complete with a 30 foot long icicle), the Temple of Sinawava and the River Walk made for some very happy hikers. I lost count of the number of times the kids said “wow!” So, I guess that means they enjoyed it.
Mainly, I am ecstatic that Primo and Secondo will have a lifetime of once-in-a-lifetime memories of Zion in winter; we will definitely need to head back so they can see it in the other seasons.
The long and winding (and noisy) road
Due to the reports of ice on the eastern route through Page, AZ we opted to take one extra day home, swinging through Las Vegas for some extra Grandparent time, listening to the Fjord complain and shudder for another 700 miles.
We made it home safely (obviously), but the Fjord suffered a catastrophic failure of both front axels (basically like the picture at right). I suppose this is not a surprise as it does have 165,000 miles in the last 12 years of travel. But now that we have new axels, I suppose that means we are good for another 165,000.
See you on the road!