Zion Rock & Mountain Guides
Springdale, Utah is just on the outskirts of Zion National Park. It’s a small community of about 500 inhabitants, but swells to several times that size as tourists flood into the area. When we drove through Springdale one afternoon in April 2013, we found it alive with shoppers, gawkers, hikers and bikers (mountain and motorcycle).
We arrived at Zion Rock & Mountain Guides (ZRMG) promptly at 3 p.m. for our scheduled Jeep Tour. We were introduced to Mr. Brad Brown, 53, an experienced local Utahan, jeepster, polymath, and guide with ZRMG. After filling out some paperwork (ostensibly for our safety and their liability) we were off.
ZRMG is all about outdoor adventures, whether guided or unguided. They cover both the Zion and Bryce Canyon Region offering adventures in climbing, canyoneering, rappelling, hiking, biking and, of course, jeep tours.
We’ve experienced a few jeep tours before, notably in Chinle, Sedona and Page, Arizona, the latter on a visit to some gorgeous slot canyons, available only privately because they were on an Indian Reservation. So this was not our first rodeo, though we’d never claim any expertise by any means either. But we have a point of reference.
As in any guided tour, there are two important parts: The Guide and The Tour. Sometimes the guide MAKES the tour. Sometimes the TOUR overshadows the guide. And, as it so happens, sometimes the GUIDE makes the tour about the guide. The quality of the guide is something one usually doesn’t know in advance. In nearly every case, of course, a guide is knowledgeable. That’s usually why a guide does what he or she does: A guide shares knowledge. The rub is usually this: How much do you really want to know about what the guide knows? In several tours I’ve been on, the guide has always provided, for some folks on the tour at least, considerably more information than was needed or expected. A guide is a person and the personality of the guide (and his or her affect on the others) turns out to be a significant issue.
But, in a way, it would be unfair to make this review about the guide for two reasons. First, it’s not a fair judge of the business itself which, in this case, offers so many different types of tours and adventures. It would be like judging a restaurant based entirely upon the waiter or waitress who served you. Sure, the server could drastically affect the outcome of your dining experience, but, in reality, you entered the restaurant to eat and the main question should be, “How was the food?” Nevertheless, we measure the entire event, and so we often evaluate our time at the table by asking, “How was your dining experience?”
Second, the guide for this reviewer may not be available for you, when you’re ready to experience ZRMG. So your experience is bound to be different, and you should expect that.
Our guide happened to know a lot about geology and how things came to be in the area around Zion National Park. We saw lava formations, heard about tectonic plates, and eons of time. What’s more, as a native to the area, he enthusiastically shared about his family, traditions, clans, and told stories of those he knew personally. Let’s face it: What you want in a guide is the same as you’d expect in a good teacher, journalist, or author—a good story. And Brad could tell good stories.
As we drove along dusty roads, gravel roads, inclines, and up and down mountainsides, we were taken to see an old cemetery where pioneers were buried along with a handful of Native Americans. We visited Grafton, a pioneer community with a sturdy church still in place after more than 150 years. We walked inside an old pioneer cabin, made of huge, incredibly hewn logs with smoothed, flat surfaces, with dove-tailed joints, interlocking at the corners. We zoomed up roads to find pastures, a mountain bike paradise of smooth rock, and incredible vistas of Zion National Park—basically, stuff that you just can’t see if you drove through the Park itself.
So, I’ll admit, there were some surprises. When you don’t spend a lot of time beforehand, studying a website, you may get something different from what you expect. In my case, I thought I’d be getting more of a tour guide experience WITHIN the Park. As it turned out, our experience was entirely OUTSIDE the Park. Was that good? Well, yes and maybe. It’s always good to get an entirely different experience than what the “typical” tourist is getting. But you need to prepare to spend more than a day here. This is not a hit-and-run experience. For many individuals, it’s going to take a long time to get there. We took off from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, encountered a very long detour, and barely made our 3 p.m. appointment (we’d also lost an hour from Arizona to Utah because of daylight savings time). So consider this: Will you be ready for a 3-hour Jeep Tour after a 6-hour automobile ride? One piece of advice: Try to arrive fresh for you journey, or at least well-rested.
Go visit ZRMG and have a blast. Tell them what you want to see and tell them what you expect. Put them to the test. They’ll probably show you some things you haven’t even thought of. And that’s a good thing. How do you prepare yourself in advance? You don’t. Just come and enjoy. Bring some water and snacks if you like, and an appetite for going back into time to learn about the near and distant past. Give ZRMG an opportunity to show you things others don’t see. There are rewards awaiting you, when you decide to take an adventure off the beaten path.
Zion Rock & Mountain Guides (ZRMG)
1458 Zion Park Blvd.
Springdale, UT 84767