Zion and Other National Parks to Be Busy this Holiday Weekend

I will admit that I am partial to Zion National Park when it comes to social media. They just seem to have it dialed in when compared to other national parks I keep track of. They are often fun, informative, and fact-filled nuggets of useful information about the park, the history, the people, and its activities.

For one thing, Ziona has to be the most land-locked National Park in the Southwest.  What I mean by that is its natural design as a narrow canyon that makes it so difficult to handle the crowds.  Unlike other National Parks that are canyon-formed, Zion has no room to expand in order to more easily handle the crowds or to move all the people around.

For that problem, I like to blame Ken Burns!  Zion was truly a nice little hidden Vegas Gem few people even knew about.  That was until the filmmaker went and told all the entire world about it and the other wonderful National Parks in his 2016 PBS documentary Ken Burns: The National Parks – Americas Best Idea.   Now everyone wants to come out and see this little canyon!

Being Labor Day Weekend is usually one of the busiest, Zion National Park put out a press release explaining to those people brave enough to visit this magnificent little gem of a Park this weekend;  What to look forward to and how best to maneuver the crowds.

This actually makes for a great primer for those of you thinking of visiting other National Parks.

(Bolded text in press release added by me for emphasis…)

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SPRINGDALE, UT – Zion National Park is expecting a busy Labor Day weekend from Friday, September 3 through Monday, September 6, 2021. As our nation honors American workers, many will visit Zion and other National Parks across the country. Visitors to Zion should expect some queues and congestion within the park. Those with flexible plans are encouraged to visit before Friday or after Monday to avoid crowds.

Park visitors are reminded to recreate responsibly and plan ahead. Visitors, employees and contractors are required to wear a mask in NPS buildings, shuttle buses, and crowded outdoor spaces, regardless of vaccination status or community transmission levels.

Parking in Zion typically fills by 8:00 a.m. MDT, so visitors arriving later should plan on parking in Springdale and walking or taking the free town shuttle to the Pedestrian Entrance walk-in gate. The shuttle is free and masks are required. The first Springdale shuttle leaves the Majestic View Lodge (Stop 9) at 7:00 a.m. and the last shuttle leaves the Zion Canyon Village (Stop 1) at 9:00 p.m. The first Zion Canyon shuttle leaves the Visitor Center at 6:00 a.m., the last shuttle leaves the Visitor Center at 5:00 p.m., and the last shuttle out of the canyon from the Temple of Sinawava leaves at 8:15 p.m. Once parking in Zion is full, vehicle admittance into the park will be metered based upon availability. The Zion Mount Carmel Highway may be closed to through traffic periodically when parking has filled in order to safely relieve congestion both east and west of the large tunnel and to restore traffic flow. Alternative routes include: Utah Highway 59 /Arizona Highway 389, Utah Highway 14, and Utah Highway 20.

Both campgrounds in Zion Canyon are on a reservation system and are already fully reserved for the weekend. Campground and lodging options are available in the gateway communities surrounding the park. Please plan your trip accordingly.

This Labor Day weekend, Friday through Monday, park staff will be managing the queue that usually forms at Scout Lookout for visitors wanting to hike Angels Landing. Visitors will instead queue in the Grotto area and be metered on to the trail by park staff. This will reduce crowding on the chains section and allow visitors to wait at the Grotto where there are restrooms, running water and shade. Lines of several hours are possible, so hikers should be prepared. Hikers who want to stop at Scout Lookout or continue up the West Rim Trail without hiking the chain section to Angels Landing will not be required to wait at the Grotto. Park visitors are reminded to “Know before you go”; research the park and the activity you plan to do and potential hazards you may encounter, be realistic about your limits and the limits of those traveling with you, identify the right equipment for your trip and test it and/or try it out before you go. Visitors should be prepared to hike in the heat, with plenty of water, electrolytes, and proper footwear.

Zion National Park visitors are reminded that there is a severe drought, and everyone needs to be smart in their actions when it comes to having a campfire. Be sure any campfire area is clear of debris and your fire is out cold before you leave. Campfires are only allowed in South Campground, Watchman Campground and Lava Point Campground in fire rings at the campsites. For more information on preventing unwanted human caused wildfires, visit www.utahfiresense.org, and on Twitter @UtahWildfire.

Monsoon season runs from mid-July to mid-September. Flash floods are unpredictable and can occur from storms some distance away though skies appear sunny overhead. Check the weather forecast or stop by park Visitor Centers for up-to-date information. Your safety is your responsibility.

Zion National Park will enhance the enforcement of impaired driving over Labor Day Weekend through expanded DUI checkpoints and increased road patrols for visitor safety. Zion National Park’s DUI enforcement is aimed to keep all visitors, local residents, and wildlife safe on the park’s roads. Impaired driving in Zion is especially dangerous due to the narrow roads, steep drop-offs, and sharp turns.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, impaired driving crashes killed 10,767 people in 2016, accounting for 31 percent of all traffic-related deaths in the United States. That’s an average of one alcohol-impaired driving fatality every 50 minutes.

Zion National Park Rangers wish for all visitors to have an enjoyable and safe visit to the park. This includes obeying all traffic laws, driving sober, and appointing a designated driver if you plan on consuming alcohol.

The NPS requests visitor cooperation utilizing Leave No Trace (LNT) practices throughout Zion National Park. Following these LNT principles and tips helps to protect the natural and cultural resources of Zion National Park during your visit. The park also encourages visitors to take the Zion National Park Pledge. The Zion Pledge is a personal promise you can make to protect yourself and the park. Please share your #ZionPledge story on social media and encourage family and friends to do the same.

MGM Donates Land for October 1 Memorial

It’s one of those things. When I am on a tour, and we drive down the Strip. As we get close to where it happened. Close to Luxor or to Mandalay Bay Resort.

Most times, nobody will say anything, but you can still almost hear them ask the question as they look out the van window, over the now fenced and shielded off empty parking lot. Occasionally I will hear a soft voice from a guest ask “Is that where…..??” and they end it there


.

We all remember that horrible night on October 1, 2017, when a lone gunman opened fire into the crowd attending the open-air Route 91 Harvest Festival as Jason Aldean took the stage.

58 people passed away at the Route 91 Harvest Festival and 867 were injured.
(58 Officially Died. 60 Unofficial)

October 1 Memorial

Now, MGM Resorts International is honoring those who lost their lives by donating part of the property as a proper memorial to those individuals.
MGM Resorts said that two acres of the 15-acre concert site will be used for the memorial, next to the Shrine of the Most Holy Redeemer.

No construction start date has been mentioned.

I thank MGM for finally doing the right thing and look forward to learning more about what is planned for the memorial.

Fire destroys Scotty’s Castle visitor center

fire at Scotty's castle death valley

National Park workers look over the remains of the garage at Scotty’s Castle (National Park Service)

We woke up Thursday morning to the tragic news that Death Valley lost another piece of its iconic history. The historic garage at Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley was destroyed by fire and a second building was damaged.

The historic landmark in Death Valley National Park has been closed for ongoing repair work after extensive flood damage in 2015.  The main building (the “castle”) was not damaged by the fire.  Ironically, the garage that was lost, which had been used as a visitor center, was the building most heavily damaged by the October 2015 flash flood.

 

Scotty's Castle Garage

The Garage/Visitor Center from a 2013 Tour

For anyone who knows me or follows this blog, you know what Death Valley means to me. I love the Park and everything in it.   As for Scotty’s Castle, we have been anxiously awaiting news on when the Castle would finally be restored and tours would resume. This fire will certainly be a setback on the recovery process not to mention the loss of it as a part of the story of the castle for future visitors.

On the last recovery update tour earlier this year, the guides were very ecstatic, as well as us guests, that the National Park Service had listened to all the voices from around the world that wanted to see the castle reopen and for the tours to come back.  The highlight of the tours is that the guides are dressed as if it were the 1930’s, the last year The Johnsons and Scotty had been there together.

Not only did they agree to restore the castle property and open the tours, but the National Park Service had also agreed to restore the property to the way it looked in that time period. Removing almost anything that had been added to the property after 1936.  Sadly, this was one of those outer structures they focused on preserving. Now lost for good.

 

What is Scotty’s Castle?

Scotty’s Castle was constructed in the 1920s as a vacation home for Albert and Bessie Johnson, millionaires from Chicago. Since its construction, Scotty’s Castle has drawn visitors seeking the truth behind the legend that it was built on a gold mine owned by the Johnsons’ friend, Walter “Scotty” Scott.

Death Valley Claims Another One

 

Earlier this week, the news headlines gave us another grim reminder that Death Valley National Park is a beautiful place to visit, but it can also be a dangerous place to visit. Even for those who are experienced.

“DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK, Calif. — An Arizona tourist died and his wife was rescued Friday after their vehicle got two flat tires and they went missing in Death Valley National Park in California.”

Normally when we see this, it is followed by a story of unsuspecting tourists out for a joyful day trip. Unprepared and unaware of what Death Valley is.  But in this case, or at least from what is being stated, this couple were “experienced campers”  and they came prepared as much as what can be expected from people used to being outdoors.  However, Death Valley is not your normal outback experience.

“Alexander Lofgren, 32, and Emily Henkel, 27, were found on a steep ledge near Willow Creek in the desert park, but Lofgren was dead, according to a statement from the Inyo Creek Sheriff’s Office. Henkel was flown to Lemoore Naval Air Station for treatment, and there was no immediate word on her condition.”

The couple was from Tucson, Arizona, so we can suspect they knew what it was like to camp in the dry desert.  Reading the various news reports, we get an idea that they were ready for the unexpected.  They carried extra supplies, they left a note that was dated and gave would-be searchers an indication of their intended direction of travel.  Best of all, they Had Plenty of Water!!
(Link to a news article)

 

Deadly Decisions

What may have doomed them is the “experienced” part. They were stranded in the middle of nowhere without any cellphone signal and like most tourists, they were not equipped with a satellite phone. (who is?)

Sadly, I am liking that the new media is keeping them listed as tourists and experienced campers. Not labeling them as hikers or expert desert dwellers. They knew the basics of desert camping and preparing for the unexpected.  That’s more prepared than a majority of people who visit Death Valley.  As well as they knew how to help anyone who may need to know where they were going if they were to be reported lost or went missing.

Their car was stranded 23 miles off of a paved road.  They were at the end of a long, dusty, lonely dirt road. Dirt is not the exact word for the road, but it’s the best way to explain it for the average reader.  And they had two flat tires.

This is the part that the Internet Trolls are jumping on.  “But they could drive on the rims. I’ve done it,” or worse, “They could have saved themselves by just driving out on the flat tires.”   Maybe you can do that in suburbia, you can. This is Death Valley.  Most of the roads here are mere trails. The surface of the dirt roads is often shifting sand or busted-up caliche rock.

However, they had a plan to do a shortcut that could get them to civilization faster.  A 4-mile route over some rugged terrain to Mormon road. A stone’s throw from the popular Badwater Basin where people are always there and the Park Rangers visit regularly.

This is where I think their “experience” did them wrong.  Under the stress of the situation as well as the heat, knowing that a 23-mile walk in the Death Valley sun could be deadly even if you had plenty of water (they did)… The short, but dangerous 4-mile hike over some rocky mountains would be the best option in their mind.  After all, they were experienced.

 

Dante's View Death Valley

Dante’s View overlooking Death Valley

Death Valley Delusions

On my tours as well as on my solo travels through Death Valley, I can not count the number of times I had come across people who were in somewhat similar circumstances.  Even at the popular overlooks surrounded by hundreds of people. The heat got them.

They thought a day trip out of Las Vegas to this wonderous place called Death Valley may make for some exciting and interesting stories for when they return to their homeland.  The problem is that they are unprepared for the heat and desolation.  What most people don’t know is what dry heat can do to your body as well as your mind.  You start to make some bad decisions based on heat-induced logic. Now, in this case, add stress to the thought process.

Even from what I know of Death Valley, being in their situation, I may have made the exact same decision.  Based on personal experience, which one looks better?  A four-mile hike over some old volcanic rocks to the popular highway or a 23-mile walk out to a paved highway that doesn’t see much traffic?  For the average tourist, not ever hiking in the desert, the 23-mile route works for them.  But you have experience in the desert,. So you think “How bad can a 4-mile hike over some volcanic rock be?  The 4-mile hike is the best bet….” and off you go.

Just how extreme could this be?  Well, when they were finally discovered, even the search and rescue teams had a difficult time getting to them.  These people are really some of the best in the business and they say the terrain the couple was found in, was extreme. Ouch!

There have been times when I have had people we found at an overlook, heat exhausted. I put them in my tour vehicle, get them shade and water.  Make contact with the Visitor Center where the Park Rangers take over.  They usually protest on all the fuss. “It’s not that bad”. Then when they are cooled off and the brain starts to work normally again, they realize what just happened and how serious it was and how serious it could have been and they are very thankful for the help.

As others have said online, I can only imagine how that woman felt, with her husband dead on a cliff beside her. As she sat there, watching the would-be rescuers, try to do their job.  What is going through her mind?  The regrets and second-guessing she was thinking and what she will be thinking as she recovers from this ordeal.   To know they were only 2 miles from Bad Water Road and from help.

 

Death Valley Tour Tips

I love Death Valley and I encourage others who want to experience a place unlike anything else on earth, to go see it.
But if you do.  Be smart.

  1. Carry Extra Bottles of Water.  You may need them or you may need to rescue others who may need them.
  2. Have sweat towels or if not available, carry a towel that can be used to shade or remove sweat from the body.
  3. As a tourist, stay on the main roads.  Go where others are going.
  4. If going alone, leave markers. And I don’t mean leaving rocks piled on top of each other. I mean cellphone pings.
  5. Going alone or with others, tell people not going with you, where you plan to go and when to expect a return
  6. Dress for the desert. Hat, body parts covered, sunblock, sunglasses.
  7. Go early as possible.  Less heat in the morning hours.

 

Finally, Our Sincere condolences to all those involved…and a big “Thank You” to the Search and Rescue people!

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Related Links

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A Casino Owner, A Bridge and Your Tax Dollars

About 90 minutes south of Las Vegas sits a little gambling town called Laughlin Nevada. It sits right on the Colorado River and on the other side is Bullhead City, Arizona as well as easy access to the Grand Canyon and Phoenix Arizona. As well as the western ghost town of Oatman.

Up until 1987, there was no easy way to cross the mighty Colorado River from Laughlin to Bullhead City. Then, Don Laughlin, the former Minnesota Farm boy turned casino entrepreneur and founder of Laughlin Nevada, paid $3 million to have an Interstate worthy bridge built across the river right in front of His casino and the entrance to His little town. Business boomed for all the other casinos as well as His own with the new bridge.

And there sat a problem. They needed a second bridge built to handle all the new traffic as well as provide better safety access for the surrounding residents and businesses. So after about 20 years, they started to plan for the new bridge. And now they are ready to start the work needed to build the bridge. But now it has an estimated price tag of $46 Million! With an overall cost of $52 Million

The Mohave Valley Daily News (an Arizona publication) reports that the invitation to bid on building the new bridge required an agreement with the Nevada Department of Transportation and that was accomplished last Friday.

Clark County District A Commissioner Michael Naft, who represents the town of Laughlin, said the proposed 724-foot bridge is important for public safety and the long-term economic growth of the area. Everyone agrees to that.

Somehow, a bridge that a private person paid to have built only cost three million dollars in 1987.  That would be $6 million dollars by today’s inflation calculator. To have the taxpayer foot the bill in 2021 to build a similar bridge will cost $46 million to build. Interesting.

Before the Don Laughlin bridge was opened, drivers had to use a ferry boat to cross the river or travel over Davis Dam to go from one community to the other — a round trip of about 12 miles.

(H/T US News)