Friday, April 06, 2007

Zion Country: Bring a Camera!

A quick two hour drive north on I15 will transport you to the stunning scenery of Zion National Park in southern Utah. Las Vegans seeking relief from our summer heat will soon swarm the area, filling shuttle buses, campgrounds, and the tiny town of Springdale just outside Zion’s gates. During the summer months, Zion isn’t as scorching as Vegas, but you still get temps in the 90’s (for true relief from the heat, keep driving north on I15 to Cedar City and Cedar Breaks – look for more on that in future blog entries).

We spent a couple of weekends in Zion, Springdale, and the ghost town of Grafton. While Zion is a destination in itself, the surrounding area holds many lesser-known treasures. Springdale and the tiny town of Rockville are chocked full of lodging, from bed and breakfasts to hotels (Google it and you’ll find an abundance of reasonably-priced places – accommodations range from Best Western to B&B’s in renovated historical homes). Springdale’s unusual and quirky shops sell everything from ice cream to beautiful statutes of Quan Yin. If you like tasty homemade burgers, you’ll be in heaven. Family-owned restaurants are common, a real find for those of us who were raised to believe that chain restaurants are evil. And the ghost town of Grafton almost exhausted my digital camera’s storage.

Flying High

Just the ride up the mountain tells you a lot about the Desert Skywalkers, Las Vegas’ only paragliding and hang gliding club. Any time your rendezvous point is “The gas station at exit 12,” you know you’re headed into the boonies. After we passed the biker bar and zig-zagged through the dusty hamlet of Goodsprings, we were officially in open desert. ATV’s were buzzing by in the background as we sped down the remote dirt road. The club members stopped to hoist flags at one point. “You’ll never look at a flag the same way again after you go out with us,” Tony Lang told me. Wind is a critical factor in gliding, and the group members constantly watch the flags, the ravens, and anything else that will help them get a feel for how the thermals are rising. Lang had already pointed out the mountain we were going up, Little Potosi, and after the wind flags were hoisted, we were off again. The twisty power line road to the 6,000 foot top of Little Potosi has never known a guard rail. My hubby’s giant Dodge pickup seemed too big for the tight turns. Once at the top, the view was nothing less than spectacular.

I was researching adventure sports for an article in Southern Nevada Fun and Fit when I met Ron Peck, Tony Lang, and the other members of the Skywalkers. This friendly and generous group went out of their way to show me what they do. On the day they took my family and me out, it was too windy for the paragliders (it’s basically a big kite, as they explain it) but not for hang gliders. We watched Doug Koch for about thirty minutes as he assembled the glider. When the craft was fully assembled, his fellow Skywalkers helped him get turned around to face the open expanse of desert below us; the Strip was faintly visible in the distance, cars crept by like ants on I15. Then Doug took a couple of steps and flew right off the side of the mountain, gliding and banking right, looking for all the world like a giant bird of prey.

If you want to learn to fly, these are the people you should be talking to. The descriptions I heard of flying next to eagles and flying above Southwest jets made me want to find out where to sign up. My hubby, for obvious reasons, looked a little perturbed when I said I hadn’t given up yet on getting a tandem ride one day. Although he did admit that watching Doug jump off the side of the mountain was one of the coolest things he’d ever seen.

Look for more information about the Skywalkers in my adventure sports article in the April issue of Southern Nevada Life: Fun and Fit and in my "T About Town" column in the May issue of Elegant Properties.

For more information about the Skywalkers, visit their website at