Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Zion National Park's Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel & Overlook

I am not on the road in the picture. I am sitting on top of a rock at the Zion Canyon Overlook in Zion National Park.

The best moments on a Roadtrip are the surprises. Being some place you've never been before, seeing something you did not know existed.

The best such Roadtrip surprise I've ever experienced was in Zion National Park. I knew nothing about Zion, absolutely nothing.

Earlier in the day I experienced Bryce Canyon National Park for the first time, with it being the #2 biggest Roadtrip surprise ever, topped a few hours later by Zion.

If you have not been to Zion National Park before, trust me on this, enter the park, your first time, from the east. You will be glad you did. You get to the east entrance by heading north or south on Utah State Highway 89, exit 89 to the west, on to Highway 9, at Mount Carmel Junction.

In about 12 miles you will be in Zion National Park. The scenery is impressive as soon as you enter the park. But, it will quickly go from impressive to jaw-droppingly beautiful. You will pass formations like Checkerboard Mesa and will likely stop to get a closer look, not realizing what is to come.

In about 4 miles you'll come to the Zion Canyon Overlook. That's is where the pictures you see here were taken, years after that first visit to Zion.

Just past the Zion Canyon Overlook you will enter a feat of engineering called the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, a narrow two-lane tunnel bored into the edge of a cliff.

As you drive through the tunnel you will pass 6 portal windows giving you glimpses of where you are heading.

If you look closely at the picture on the right, you can see one of the portals in the cliff, as viewed from the Zion Canyon Overlook. The tunnel is inside that cliff.

Then you pop out of the tunnel and are in the canyon. The road descends into the valley with a series of switchbacks.

To be allowed to pass through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel vehicles wider than 7'10" and/or 11'4" tall or taller, must pay a fee to use the tunnel. This is because a ranger must block two way traffic to so the big vehicle can get through.

Back in the days before Zion became so popular, getting through the tunnel was easy. But, the last two times I've been to Zion there have been major backups at the tunnel.

Which is why on the most recent visit we stopped at the Zion Canyon Overlook parking lot and hiked to the Overlook. It was well worth the hike. I recommend it, even if you are not waiting for the tunnel to clear.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Tombstone Arizona's Helldorado Days

The day started in the Arizona border town of Douglas, across from Aqua Prieta, Mexico. Heading west on Highway 80 the main destination for the day was Tombstone.

About 22 miles prior to Tombstone we came upon an unexpected little pleasure named Bisbee. Bisbee is an old mining town, with a big open pit mine named the Lavender Pit. Bisbee is now known as an artist's colony.

Bisbee is in very hilly territory, with its quaint Victorian houses built on steep slopes. Bisbee reminded me of Lead, South Dakota, another mining town with a big open pit mine.

From Bisbee it was north towards Tombstone. Arriving in the fabled Wild West town, the first surprise was all the cars. And people.

We had unwittingly arrived in Tombstone during Helldorado Days.

In July of 1881 a luckless miner sent a letter to the editor of the Tombstone Nuggest complaining that rather than find their Eldorado of riches, many men ended up broke, washing dishes or other menial jobs, find their life in Tombstone to be Helldorado, not Eldorado.

The name stuck. Helldorado Days started in 1929, making it the oldest festival in Tombstone.

If you attend Helldorado Days, which this year takes place October 15 -17, and you want to attend in western garb, keep in mind that handguns, even toy ones, are not allowed in any of the saloons or other liquor purveyors. You can check your gun in at the smoke shop before hitting the saloons. In Tombstone you can bring your kids with you in the saloons during daylight hours.

About 2 hours after our arrival in Tombstone, after finding the OK Corral and after having a good late breakfast in a hotel's dining room, the Helldorado Days Parade started up.

This is one of the most unusual and wild parades I have ever seen. Lawmen (or where they outlaws?) marched in the parade, along with saloon girls. The lawmen (or outlaws) would fire their guns into the air as they walked along. You are looking a pair of shooters reloading in the photo at the top.

I found the gunfire very jarring. It was loud and concussive. I'd never heard such a thing in a parade before.

As you can see with the Red, White & Blue float, being in authentic Wild West garb is not a requirement for the Helldorado Days Parade. Unless I'm remembering my history wrong and bikinis were worn in the 1880s.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Roadtripping Through America's Drive-Ins

There are many things I like about a Roadtrip. One of them is taking a risk and driving up to a local drive-in restaurant and getting a hamburger.

This had a bad result only once over the years of Roadtrip hamburgers. A bad case of food poisoning from a burger bought at a Weatherford, Texas drive-in.

Of course, I have no aversion to also driving onto the parking lot of America's chain burger joints. There is something about a McDonald's simple cheeseburger that is strangely addictive to me. A Jack in the Box Jumbo Jack can be very welcome at times after a lot of miles. Same with a Burger King Whopper. I have never been much of a Wendy's fan. I think it may be the square burgers I find offputting.

I have never set foot inside a Whataburger. The tacky orange striped buildings are unappetizing.

I don't know if Sonic Drive-Ins are all across America now. I never saw a Sonic til I came to Texas. A Sonic Drive-In can be a welcome sight when you pull into a small town looking for a place to eat.

Arctic Circle used to be a drive-in you'd find all over the West. I believe there are still a few in existence.

In the Seattle area my favorite drive-in burger joint is Dick's, with my standard order being a Dick's Deluxe, strawberry shake and fries. The Dick's website is a bit annoying. I don't like a website that suddenly starts playing music.

For me, there is one burger joint which trumps all others and would be my go to drive-in in any town I drove through on a Roadtrip. That would be an In-N-Out Burger.

And their website is not annoying.

Sadly, In-N-Out is not a national franchise. You have to be Roadtripping in California, Arizona, Utah and Nevada to happen upon an In-N-Out. You'll find 199 In-N-Outs in California, 26 in Arizona, 16 in Nevada and 8 in Utah.

There are persistent rumors that In-N-Out is branching out and is moving into the Dallas/Fort Worth market.

I have had what were reputed to be good burgers in the Dallas/Fort Worth market. The over rated Dirty Love Burger at the Love Shack in the Fort Worth Stockyards comes to mind. And don't get me started on the supposedly good Kincaid's burger. Very disappointing. The Kincaid's website proudly proclaims it "The Perfect Hamburger."

Speaking of Dallas. If you want to visit what the Travel Channel decided was one of the world's most unique McDonald's, click here. I think it was the Travel Channel that decided this.