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Deja Vu in Zion

[Kanab, UT]

One of the most memorable things about last year’s Zion Half Marathon was the rainy, muddy race morning. The rain itself wasn’t so bad, but then we got to the starting line, where a row of porta potties and a warming tent were placed on the outskirts of a grassy field. Due to all the rain overnight, the grassy field had turned into a muddy treacherous mess. This year’s weather was going to be just as unpredictable, with snow and temps in the 30s forecasted for the day before the half marathon. It sounded vaguely familiar. 🙂

I had convinced Olivia to fly to Vegas to save driving time – an advantage United Airlines almost promptly erased with a one-hour delay in our departure time. At Enterprise Rent-a-Car, we got upgraded to a luxurious black Lincoln MKX SUV, which we were thankful for once the wind picked up to gusts of up to 30 mph (47 kph).

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As we left Las Vegas behind and started the slow climb into the canyon, familiar red rocks sprung up around us. We drove past last year’s starting line, in the town of Virgin, and sneaked our way into the town of Springdale just outside the West entrance to Zion National Park. We had lunch at an old favorite, the Whiptail Grill, which is an old gas station converted into a restaurant.

I picked up an annual national parks pass at the West Zion entrance, and we continued East across the length of the park. We went through the Zion-Mt Carmel Tunnel. Built in the 1920s, the 1.1 miles-long tunnel was the longest in the United States at the time. Engineers had to construct an aerial tramway just to set up a workers’ base camp. The tunnel took 3 years to complete (from 1927 to 1930) and 46 tons of dynamite were used to blast 72,000 cubic feet of stone. Much of that stone was blasted through six openings on the side of the rock. Once we passed the tunnel, we went into the East part of Zion, and we both ventured into new territory on what was the third visit to the park for both of us. We stopped at an overlook a few miles down the road to take photos of Checkerboard Mesa, a giant light slickrock etched in the pattern of a checkerboard.

Very soon we were out of the park boundary, and suddenly the landscape changed from crazy red rocks towering all around us back to flatter desert. We passed some unincorporated communities before going into the town of Kanab, UT.

This is definitely an outpost kind of town. We are about 30 miles from the East entrance of Zion, and less than 100 miles North of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, so you won’t find much here other than hotels and restaurants. There are like 4 main streets and nobody bothered to name them anything other than Main St, 100, 200 and 300 St. I am not kidding 🙂 I forgot that you can’t buy alcohol at the grocery store in Utah, so we had to go to the liquor store to buy wine. It was tucked away behind an auto parts place and it looked so boarded up we almost didn’t go in. The selection was small and there was a cop in there either hanging out or perhaps on duty making sure nobody robbed the place. The population here is listed as 4400 as of 2013. That is just mind-blowing to me. There are twice as many people on the Loyola Marymount campus at any given time. I just ran the LA Marathon with 25,000 other people. The town of Hermosa Beach, where I live, is home to 20,000 people in 1.5 square miles. When you are used to that kind of density, arriving in a place like Kanab, UT is somewhat unsettling. It’s almost like being a different planet or in a different time period entirely. On the upside, our 3 trips to the gas station, grocery store and liquor store took 5 minutes total.

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Picture window at our hotel

Tomorrow we go canyoneering (hopefully, weather permitting) and maybe a side-trip to Big Water, UT before attending the Zion Half Marathon expo in the afternoon. It will be a busy day, and we’re happy to be sipping on our wine and noshing on our veggie platter right now while the temperatures outside are going down and the rain is coming in.

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