In Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the two bank- and train-robbing bandits sought these red canyons as their hideout from the law. I was mesmerized by Paul Newman and Robert Redford in this modern-day Western, but honestly, the scenery captivated me more. I knew that one day I would have to visit the wild canyons of Zion National Park.
I’m relieved to see only 11 vehicles ahead of me when I arrive at the South Campground at 5 a.m., after riding 535 miles from Three Rivers, CA. It’s first come, first served here, and so I patiently wait until the campground opens at 7. In just 10 minutes, 30 more vehicles are lined up behind me. In past years when the campground was full, I have camped near Virgin on Bureau of Land Management land. There is a perfect spot there, just off Mesa Road, high on a mesa where free public land camping is available with incredible views. That’s my back-up plan.
The campground Ranger approaches, smiling. “You’ll get a site today,” she says. “After a camper leaves, you’ll be assigned your campsite.” I like this system. “Ok”, she says a short while later, “go to campsite #68.” My assigned spot is next to the Virgin River and I can’t wipe the grin off my face. There’s another campground called Watchman which is on a reservation system, and that one fills up months early. I’m tired. The desert sun near Needles, CA, drained me. I set up my hammock between two cottonwood trees and the cool breeze sways me to sleep. I think about the three things I’m going to experience: Walter’s Wiggles, the Narrows, and that mile-long tunnel.