A Ride on Zion’s Wild Side

Aug 14, 2014

When was the last time your children went outside to play? Better yet, when was the last time YOU went outside to play? And how long has it been since you AND your children did something together outside that you’ll remember the rest of your lives?

Gooseberry Mesa viewpoint

Whether it’s video-game addiction, boredom, or an aversion to spending “quality time” with the family, Mild-to-Wild Rhino Tours has the cure for your child. And if it’s been a while since your own “inner-child” has had a chance to see some daylight, they can help with that, too.

I recently joined a young family of four from California’s Bay Area on Mild-to-Wild’s “Zion National Park Tour.” Our guide was Andy, the perfect blend of maturity and childlike exuberance to ensure that our trip would be safe, as well as fun. We started our adventure where the pavement meets the dirt at the base of the Smithsonian Butte Scenic Byway. It’s a mile or so from Grafton, the “ghost town” made famous by Paul Newman’s bicycle ride in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

After a short, personalized orientation and equipment check, our three ATV’s hit the road on a gorgeous overcast morning. The clouds provided relief from the summer heat and added an element of visual excitement to the red-rock desert landscape.

The first section of road was the notorious “cry-baby hill,” a place I’d driven dozens of times in larger 4×4 vehicles. I was shocked to see how smoothly the Polaris “Rhinos” handled the wince-worthy road, and how quickly we reached the top of the plateau. Within minutes, we were making the turn onto Gooseberry Mesa, well-known for its scenic single-track mountain bike trails. After a short ride to the edge of the mesa, we stopped for a few minutes to take pictures and enjoy the incredible panorama stretching from Zion’s West Temple to the towers of Kolob Terrace.

Andy reminded the small group that he had plenty of cold water and snacks for everyone. Then he prepared us for the most adventurous part of the trip. “You’ll pass through places you won’t think you can handle, but you’ll be fine if you just follow me.”

Gooseberry Mesa ATV rider.

I’ve owned ATV’s and travelled some crazy trails in the past, but I’ve never seen 4-wheeled machines handle such rough terrain so easily. One of the best pleasures of this trip was seeing city-dwellers doing things they never thought they could do — and wanting to do it again as soon as they finished. There were several places where only 3 of 4 tires were within a foot of the ground, but Andy guided everyone safely through the tilted slick-rock maze and sand-traps to one of the most spectacular overlooks in the region. The tortured trunks of 700 year old Utah Junipers, a wide variety of cactus and yucca plants, and cone-bearing Pinyon Pines alone could have made this a photographer’s paradise. But the jagged sandstone boulders and thousand-foot drop-off’s to the red desert below made it simply breathtaking.

Much of the trip was circuitous, so returning to our starting point was just as fun and interesting as the outbound journey. For the last 30 minutes of the 3-hour tour, Andy allowed the two boys, ages 8 and 12, to drive his ATV while he sat beside them. Even with bandanas covering the boys faces, they couldn’t hide their smiles as they got to do something they had never done before. Andy was patient, helpful and encouraging to the young drivers, and the pride and confidence they showed at the completion of the trip was inspiring. Their parents faces showed similar satisfaction with their boys, but also with their own accomplishments in navigating the twisted terrain of Zion’s outback.

As expected, Mild-to-Wild Rhino Tours made this a memorable morning for the family of four from California. What I didn’t expect was that at the age of 51, with a lifetime of outdoor recreational experience and a familiarity with the scenery that makes it hard to properly appreciate, I had such a good time that I felt like a kid again. I had seen and done things that morning that I, too, would remember for a long time, and I could hardly wait for the chance to do it again sometime.

Gooseberry Overlook