Zion National Park: Fort Bliss Serves as Great 'Base of Operations' for Trip to Utah

Last week's article in the Fort Bliss Bugle:

ZION NATIONAL PARK: Fort Bliss serves as great ‘base of operations’ for trip to Utah

By Amy Proctor, Special to the Fort Bliss Bugle:

This iconic view of the Virgin River attracts visitors at sunset and is located at the Southern Gate entrance to the park.

This iconic view of the Virgin River attracts visitors at sunset and is located at the Southern Gate entrance to the park.

As an Army wife of more than 21 years, I’m always looking to make memories at each new duty station. Some wives call their new home their “Army base,” others their “home base,” but I refer to it as our “forward operating base,” or FOB. It is the new location from which to launch fresh adventures and to start yet another chapter in the pages of my family’s story.

As it turns out, Fort Bliss happens to be a great FOB. I was skeptical at first and had heard things here and there that weren’t flattering to the base. I rejected those critics, however, understanding that things are subjective and sometimes life is what you make of it, and I decided to see for myself what this part of the country has to offer. And I hit pay dirt.

Fort Bliss is just a day’s drive from some of the most spectacular spots on Earth. One of those just may be the most beautiful place in the United States. I’m talking about Zion National Park in Utah, often referred to as “the Promised Land.” It is jaw-droppingly beautiful.

Nestled in Springdale, Utah, Zion National Park is just under a 12-hour drive from El Paso and located in Utah’s southwest corner. That may sound like a long drive, but you’ll pass through some gorgeous scenery, including the Grand Canyon, so you may want to divide the trip up to see that iconic location as well. If not, you’ll nonetheless get some good quality time with your family.

The Upper Pool cascades over the beginning of the Emerald Pools Trail. Hikers can often walk close to the wall to avoid getting wet from the waterfall.

The Upper Pool cascades over the beginning of the Emerald Pools Trail. Hikers can often walk close to the wall to avoid getting wet from the waterfall.

If road trips aren’t for you, it is a short, inexpensive flight from El Paso International Airport to Las Vegas. With a round-trip ticket in coach costing between $212 and $250 with two to three hours in the air, depending on whether it’s a direct flight or with a stop through Phoenix, this is a great option for the single Soldier or unaccompanied family members looking to maximize the time in Zion. It’s a perfect trip for the next four-day weekend. Zion is only a two-hour drive from Las Vegas with a great midway stop at the Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.

Why Zion National Park? Three million visitors a year is a hint: It’s spectacular! This national park claims some of America’s most breathtaking scenery with a wild array of highs and lows, mountains and valleys, colors and bizarre natural wonders. This is the sort of place that you’ll regret not visiting while stationed in this part of the country.

November through March may be the best time to visit. Summer months pack between one and two million tourists, and the crowds and weather are far more tolerable in the off-season. No automobiles are allowed in the park from April through weekends in November, so you must ride the shuttle bus. That means you don’t have the same freedom to drive into the park or go where you want to go until the off season.

Hotels are much easier to book November through March and nearly impossible during peak months. In fact, unless you book months in advance if you are visiting between June and September, don’t count on getting a hotel any closer than 35 minutes away in the town of Hurricane, because everything in Springdale is likely to be booked solid.

Entrance fees to the park are $25 per private vehicle, $12 per motorcycle and $12 for individuals (say if you’re walking into the park to hike) and are valid for seven full days. The national parks of Utah are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so if you enter after hours they put you on the honor system and hope you’ll pay the next day. I love the fact that they let you in at all hours because, let’s face it, these are your parks, America.

If you have military identification, you can request an Annual National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Pass at the entrance, which gives you free access to all national parks, forests and monuments anywhere in the U.S. This is a very valuable benefit to Soldiers and family members and you’ll find you will use it frequently!

Entrance through the southern gate of the park leads right into the famous Virgin River and onto Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. You could spend weeks exploring just this small area of the Scenic Drive. There, you’ll find the Emerald Pool Trails, the Grotto, Angel Landing, Weeping Rock and the Temple of Sinawava, “the Narrows,” and the Virgin River. Other parts of the park include the curvy, steep Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. This will take you meandering through Zion’s heights, through tunnels and amazing scenery, which in turn leads to the Checkboard Mesa and some weird rock formations, along with a good lot of wildlife. Automobiles are only allowed on this highway during the off season, which is another reason to consider going during those months.

Literally weeks could be spent exploring Zion National Park. It truly is a national treasure. This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime places that anyone would want to explore, so your time stationed at Fort Bliss makes it a perfect FOB for the Soldier or military family.

Visit www.nps.gov/zion for more information about this amazing park.