East Side of Zion:
The Eastside Scenic Drive through slickrock and slot canyon country
This historic road was completed in 1930 and is considered to be one of the great engineering marvels in the history of national park road construction. Built to connect the park to points east and south it is almost as remarkable as the terrain it showcases. From the floor of Zion Canyon you begin a dramatic climb up winding switchbacks where you will see up close and personal the Great Arch of Zion, the towering East Temple and the aptly named Streaked Wall and Beehives. 1200 feet above the canyon floor you will enter the mile-long Zion Tunnel with its four remarkable windows, or galleries, cut straight through the red sandstone cliff. At the other end of the tunnel you enter a wonderland of smoothly rounded sandstone hills and mesas textured by diagonal cross bedding. These colorfully slanted lines in the rock record wind deposition of ancient sand dunes that swept across this area during the age of the dinosaurs. Keep your eyes peeled for desert bighorn sheep, which can be admired from many points along this route.
There are several pullouts along the highway where you can get out and take pictures and do some exploring away from the road. There are no maintained trails here so you simply follow the stream drainages through this maze of wildly colorful slickrock country. Make sure you stay off of fragile vegetation and thin crypto-biotic soils that help sustain life on this harsh rocky landscape. The staff of Zion Rock & Guides can help you plan a safe and fun excursion into this less explored region of the park.
The most famous feature along this route is the Checkerboard Mesa, where there is a large pullout with an interpretive sign near the East Entrance Station. Geologists postulate that the vertical grooves etched into the face of this sandstone mesa are caused by a pronounced freezing and thawing cycle during the winter months. This effect is most notable on rock that is facing north to northeast. To test this theory out you can look directly out from the wall of the pullout towards identical sandstone facing south and southwest that, in contrast, have very smooth sides. Make sure you stop and get a photograph of this well-known icon of Zion.