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.

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