What, no pictures of hikes in this blog? Where are those nimble young hikers climbing over huge boulders, going where no hiker has ever gone before? Well, even two young, nimble hikers need to take a rest every few weeks. Besides, we’ve beaten this rock climbing theme to death in the last few blogs. But don’t despair, rocks still figure into this blog. We’ve talked about driving through the Zion – Mt. Carmel Tunnel so many times we thought it time to show a bit more of this cool architectural wonder.
The 1.1 mile long tunnel is part of the Zion – Mount Carmel Highway, which runs through the center of Zion NP. The road was proposed in the 1920s by the Utah Parks Company, which managed tourist concessions in Zion National Park, as a means to link Zion with Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon National Parks and other attractions in southern Utah and northern Arizona. Work on the tunnel was started in 1927 and was completed in 1930 at a cost of $503,000. At the time of its completion, it was the longest non-urban road tunnel in the United States.
Signs at each entrance warn drivers to remove sunglasses and turn on headlights. In some shorter tunnels drivers often ignore those directions, but not in this one. Once in the tunnel it suddenly becomes very dark!
The tunnel uses galleries to provide light and ventilation through the canyon wall to the outside air. The galleries also provided a place to dispose of rock generated during construction, which was dumped through the galleries into the canyon. Parking spaces were originally provided at the galleries, but were discontinued due to safety concerns.
Before 1989, large vehicles, including tour buses, motor homes, and trailers, were involved in more and more accidents and near misses in the tunnel due to an immense increase in the volume of traffic and in the size of vehicles passing through the tunnel. Beginning that year, the National Park Service began restrictions on oversize traffic in the tunnel. Rangers posted at both ends of the tunnel convert two-way tunnel traffic to one-way for larger vehicles, who pay a $15 charge to go through (good for two trips through during a seven day period). Vehicles over 13 feet 1 inch tall and semi-trailers as well as bicycles and pedestrians are prohibited in the tunnel.
Sometimes you wonder whether a smaller RV really needs to have the tunnel closed, as they seem to have plenty of room.
At other times a large tour bus enters the tunnel and you wonder if it is even going to make it through!
If you’re claustrophobic, this tunnel may present a challenge, but for most it is a pretty easy ride through. We really appreciated the tunnel during many of our visits to the park. Our motorhome is west of the national park but we spent much of our time here hiking in the east side. Without the tunnel this would not have been possible.