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U.S. North to South: Stranded in Zion National Park, Utah

Zion NP 2Zion National Park UT

Now that I know Bob is a closeted rallyman in a tradesman suit, I decided to reward my Ram 2500 crew cab with a short trip to Zion National Park back north in Utah. Turns out this would be the theatre of the most challenging episode of this entire trip as I got stranded right in Hurricane near Zion National Park and unable to get back at Bob’s wheel… But it also ended with the most moving encounter I have made during this entire month-long journey. Grab a drink and read on…

If you enjoy this series, be sure to check out all previous iterations of this U.S. North to South adventure here as we started all the way north in Barrow Alaska – the northernmost settlement in the U.S.

Grand Canyon Zion mapGrand Canyon to Zion NP itinerary – click on image to enlarge.

Let’s get one thing sorted first and foremost: the beauty of Zion National Park. Absolutely eye-popping, a mix of crimson cliffs, intricately cut gorges and fierce desert vegetation. So eye-popping in fact, that I got distracted as my car keys dropped out of my pocket – I probably should also consider zip-lock pockets – at the top of a strenuous 3-hour climb leading to the spectacular Observation Point. But I wouldn’t find this out until much later in the day. Here is how the most challenging – but also the most heart-warming – 72 hours of this North to South adventure unfolded…

Zion NP 3Coming to Observation Point, Zion National Park UT Zion NP 4“You lost your keys, go back!” I did think that rock squirrel was very agitated on my way back down…

Day 1

After a short drive to Hurricane I drop all my luggage at the Rodeway Inn – very important precision – before heading to Zion NP. It is the first time in this trip that I’m able to check in before I go on the day’s exploration. Saving grace. I park Bob at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center as no cars are allowed into the Park in summer. After a long ascension to Observation Point totalling roughly 5 hours including the descent, and just as the sun disappears and plunges the canyon into darkness, I get that sinking feeling on the shuttle bus taking me back to the Visitor Center: no car keys.

Promptly the shuttle driver voices a message to all other shuttle buses to check for car keys. Nothing. What if someone found them and drove off with Bob? A slight tang of panic starts ringing in my ears. Hurricane is only 24 miles/40km away but with no car it’s impossible to get there alone, especially at night. Rachel and Chuck, the only other passengers in the last shuttle bus of the day and my first guardian angels of this trip, propose to drive me to my hotel. The very friendly shuttle driver tries to distract us with the story of how he met his wife at the Park and they got married here decades ago and never left. All I hear is “I DON’T HAVE ANY CAR KEYS”.

As soon as we arrive at the car park I run to make sure that Bob is still at his spot. He is. Chuck is relaxed: “I’m sure someone already found your keys, there are thousands of people walking the trails each day. They’ll be there for you at the Visitor Center tomorrow morning.” I hope you’re right Chuck… Rachel: “I wish you’d be that positive in everyday life!” We all laugh. After dropping me and leaving my hotel, they suddenly make a u-turn and come back. “Did you want us to pick you up in the morning?” I told you, guardian angels.

Lonely Bob Zion NPBob is stuck in the Zion Visitor Center car park with no way for me to get in.

Day 2:

This morning Rachel and Chuck are bent on making me feel good and positive, and our half-hour trip is filled with laughter as we swap life stories, what I’m doing here, what they’re driving (“I’m ashamed to say it, a Camry…”), their jobs, their happiness, their worries. So much so that when I say goodbye I feel like I’ve known them all my life. And I take it with a smile when the ranger at the Visitor Center tells me they have found no car keys (yet?). I fill all the ‘lost’ paperwork and think of giving my driving license number to the Zion NP security guards at the Park’s gate – where there is actually no gate – asking them to check any bright red Ram pickup truck leaving the Center today. You never know. Then I sheepishly email the guys at Ram asking if by any chance the closest Ram dealer could help out… No immediate answer.

I walk to Bob and whisper: “It’s going to be ok.” Call me crazy but I felt bad for him having to wait all alone in the car park not knowing what was going on. I have a full day in front of me and no transportation back to Hurricane so I decide to climb to Observation Point again – my fitness will thank me – and keep my eyes peeled for my keys along the trail, asking every hiker I meet if they found any keys – including Rachel and Chuck who started a little earlier. Everyone’s pained look prompts me to say “it’s ok” each time. Is it? Will I have to abort this trip and fly back to Australia one week early?

Six hours later I’m back at the Zion Lodge and discover that the guys at Ram not only do have a spare key, but moved heaven and earth to locate it – not as easy as it sounds given this is a loan truck that travels across the country all the time – and express-send it to my hotel in Hurricane. I’m very impressed. “Don’t lose the spare, as we have none left!” they write. I’ll try. Not sure how long it will take to get them though, and to be honest I’d much rather have found the keys I lost, as I still don’t know whether someone found them and is waiting for the car park to empty up so Bob stands out and they can snap him up and drive off.

Now to get back to Hurricane. No buses or taxis link Zion to Hurricane and hitch-hiking isn’t very popular around here. This is where you realise someone without a car in the United States basically does not exist. I call each shuttle service company in vain, only one asks me to “hold on”… “Jane lives in Hurricane and she could give you a lift… Only thing is you’d have to wait an hour until she finishes…” Of course I’m in. This earned you a link on here Zion Adventures… Jane and I share our life and dreams in the car. “I came to Zion ten years ago just by curiosity and I ended up never leaving! I love this place so much! It relaxes me and keeps me grounded”. Stole the words out of my mouth Jane.

Zion NP 1Zion National Park UT

Day 3:

Midday. A UPS truck roars into the Rodeway Inn carpark in Hurricane. Hotel manager Jamie has been spending all morning trying to organise my ride to Zion NP to meet again with Bob my Ram truck. She even called her dad, in vain: every one is held up with their busy day, and she evidently can’t leave the hotel unattended. As soon as she sees the UPS truck she bolts out of the office and runs to it so fast the driver doesn’t even need to actually stop to deliver my much-awaited spare keys. I run after the truck myself and ask if by any chance he wouldn’t be driving to Zion NP. No chance. Back at the hotel, the Zion Visitor Center calls to tell me someone dropped my lost keys at the desk! From zero to two keys in five minutes… I’m off hitch-hiking and start walking along the desert road leading to Zion NP, hoping I won’t have to walk 24 miles in stifling heat.

Here comes Ivan with a huge dog in his station wagon. “Don’t worry she’s just curious… I’m only going to Virgin though.” It’s halfway through, but it will get me closer anyway. After I explained how he already played a role in returning my life back to normal, I ask whether he’s a local. “Oh no. I live way up north now. I used to live here with my dad. He passed away ten years ago and I’ve never been back since. It’s my first time. I arrived today.” Ivan has moved on with his life, but his past has just hit him in the face. We arrive at Virgin. We drive through town, we leave. He doesn’t stop. Instead, he shows me houses along the way. “My best friend used to live here… And here the police station: we would always hang here smoking pot with the police officers! What a laugh. They were so friendly. Everyone in town loved them, it was such a cool time.”

I ask if he would consider moving back here. “I don’t know. I have five young kids now, it’s not easy moving an entire family. Perhaps if I was by myself. But that’s not how life turned out and I love my wife and kids.” I figure Ivan can’t be much older than in his early thirties. We arrive at Springdale, a few miles before Zion. “We passed Virgin long ago…” I point out with a wink in the voice. “I know. I didn’t think I could drive all the way up to Zion. Too many good memories. I wasn’t sure I could face them. See how I helped you get back to your truck, well you gave me the courage to come back to my favourite place in the world. Thank you.”

It’s me who’s thanking you Ivan.

Keys SentSpare keys are in!Keys FoundLost keys are found!

As I arrive at the Zion Visitor Center, Lucy at reception delivers the found keys with a smile bigger than her face. All is well in the end. I can continue on my adventure to get to the southernmost point in continental U.S. Stay tuned for the next part driving into Nevada…

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