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Bordering Zion National Park and Gourmet Meals at Blue Belly Grill

By Ann Hattes

Photos by Neil Hattes

Amidst the highest concentration of natural scenic wonders in the United States sits 4,000 acre Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort. Zion National Park is just next door; Bryce, 75 minutes away; Grand Canyon 120 minutes; Lake Powell, 105 minutes; Cedar Breaks National Monument, 55 minutes; Grand Staircase National Monument, 30 minutes; Pipe Spring National Monument, 45 minutes.

In 2009 Zion National Park celebrates a “Century of Sanctuary,” with events throughout the year to celebrate its centennial. Established as Mukuntuweap National Monument by President William Taft on July 31, 1909, Zion became a national park in 1919. Zion, known today for its slot canyons, towers and soaring monoliths of Navajo sandstone, was named Mukuntuweap by the Native Americans for its “sacred cliffs.”

At Zion Ponderosa Ranch which abuts Zion National Park, there are luxurious multi-bedroom mountain homes with fully equipped kitchens, cabin suites with microwaves and refrigerators, cowboy cabins and tenting campsites for roughing it, plus 6 RV spots too.

It’s an ideal location for family reunions and group get-togethers as you only unpack once to visit all the nearby national parks and monuments.

When guests are not off exploring the natural wonders, Zion Ponderosa offers a long list of on/off property adventures—horseback riding, guided Jeep and ATV tours, canyoneering, plus shuttles to trailheads and Zion National Park’s Visitor Center. There are about 100 miles of trails on the ranch property. Many stay a week and say they never get enough hiking in! In Zion itself there are short nature walks and more strenuous canyon overlook trails.

Zion Ponderosa Ranch, perched at 6,500 feet in a high desert setting on the East Rim of Zion National Park, shares much of the park’s dramatic landscape of sculptured canyons and towering cliffs. Here, mountain biking, rappelling, riding a zip line and archery mix with tennis, ping pong, swimming and star gazing for a diversity of activities on a flexible schedule for all ages – children, parents and grandparents. When adults do want to go exploring on their own, there’s the full and half day Kids Camp option during the summer.

Zion Ponderosa is a rustic down home kind of place. Bountiful buffet meals are served three times a day with an opportunity for a Dutch oven dinner wagon ride too. There’s no room service but for those who want to splurge, gourmet cuisine is served at Blue Belly Grill, open May 15—Oct 15, Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner to both on-site guests and travelers in the area. Owner Steve Neeleman named the restaurant for one of his favorite activities when visiting the family ranch as a child—catching blue belly lizards.

Executive Chef Thomas Clukey, with over 20 years experience in some of the finest kitchens in New York, Las Vegas and California, prepares his distinctive culinary creations outside over a mesquite fire. Guests dine al fresco nearby on the patio.

In this unique, somewhat remote rural location next to a national park, be surprised at menu options like spicy blue crab cakes, pan fried Chinese dumplings, or a crab salad served in papaya.

Dinner at Blue Belly Grill usually offers nine entrees. There are items ranging from grilled New York steak, chicken Dijon, roasted duck breast, and Chimayo chili braised pork shank, to Scampi Provencal, fettuccini with wild mushrooms, grilled Alaskan halibut and pan seared salmon filet.

One of the most popular items has been the baseball cut top sirloin steak with mushroom burgundy sauce.

Chef Clukey’s Italian cream cake with fresh strawberries makes a superb finale, with many guests calling it the best cake they’ve ever tasted.

The ranch’s “Jeep” tour is in a custom suburban with top cut off and a roll bar installed. The open top gives the feel of a safari with riders able to see the expansive scenery and take photos with no window obstruction. The tour into the area of the east fork of the Virgin River makes a very special off-road adventure with great views of Poverty Canyon.

In Zion National Park itself there are a couple of trails that are almost never hiked because it is so far from the valley floor to hike up. An individual staying at Zion Ponderosa is already at the top! One of these special hikes is Cable Mountain Trail. From the rim of Cable Mountain one can look down 1,000 feet into the abyss, see formations like Angels Landing and the remnants of cable car draw works used when Ponderosa pine were logged and milled for the construction of Zion Lodge in the early 1900s.

In Zion National Park the six-mile-long Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is by shuttle only from mid-March to early November, with private vehicles allowed only in the off season. A shuttle round trip along the scenic drive, if you don’t get off for hiking or photo shoots, lasts 90 minutes. Buses run from before dawn to after dark as often as every six minutes.

For armchair travelers and those anticipating a visit to Zion National Park and Utah, the lavishly illustrated book Utah (Graphic Arts Books) by landscape photographer Fred Hirschmann showcases the stunning natural beauty of the state and its national parks.

A visit to Zion National Park allows your spirit to soar as you experience massive red rock canyons set against clear blue skies. Of this beauty a Mormon settler said: “A man can worship God among these great cathedrals; this is Zion.”

For more information

* Zion Ponderosa Ranch: 800-293-5444
* Blue Belly Grill: 800-293-5444
* Zion National Park

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