Somewhere between the house built around a boulder and the dots of pink across the most epic vista I’ve ever seen, it becomes clear: Hikes and waterfalls aren’t all that make up a trip to Zion National Park. I’m on one of the most memorable tours of my life, a 4WD on- and off-road tour through the culture and country around Zion National Park with Zion Adventure Company

Bill, our guide, revs the engine and makes a second attempt up the crumbly wall of a wash, calming speaking through the individual headphones, “I built this roll cage, but I don’t feel like testing it today.”

He is definitely a highlight of the tour, with tidbits and factoids to enrich the setting and a bright kind of attitude that makes sliding backwards down a hill seem like a great idea. Downshifting from third gear, we make it to the top of the wash and are able to look across the fields to Rockville, where the tour started.

Just three minutes from the Zion Adventure Company, we had pulled onto the streets of Rockville, a town with a name all too appropriate, as rocks have literally shaped the town. We cruised by two boulder-crushed houses before stopping at a third, a bulbous stone stuck out of the side of the building, the owner using the rock to make up a wall of the house. This was the first example of exactly how close-knit the people-to-landscape relationship is in this area.

From Rockville, we left paved roads, and let the measured greenery of farmed fields roll along beside us as thick lumps of cottonwood blew through the open-air Fuso. Tucked away down a dirt road, we found the nearby ghost town.

Nowadays, a few well-perserved tan buildings are all that remain of Grafton. Peeking in the windows or climbing up and looking in at the kid’s attic room, you get a good idea of what life was like here. Everybody is fond of mentioning that the town has been featured in several movies, most notably in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” but our tour went a bit deeper into the families that lived here, priming us for our next stop, the cemetery.

Leaving the wash, Rockville falls out of sight, and we squeeze between two walls of gray flakey rock. Edging out from behind the final ledge, the cemetery is intimate. Aside from the rich dark wooden graves, still standing after one hundred years, the most eye catching fixture is a white obelisk, about four feet high, etched with “Killed By Indians.” Since most graves aren’t marked with the manner of the person’s death, the presence of this statement is gripping. It’s the nuances of the connecting stories from Grafton ending here which make this stop uniquely poignant in a way I wouldn’t feel if I weren’t on this tour.

The last leg of the tour is a race up a dirt path, the wheels of our 4WD riding along the cliff edge. We have come at the perfect time of year, the cacti and wild flowers have just started to bloom, and pink and yellow flowers jump out from the dusty reds and browns. Apparently, at the edge of Spring and Summer, the entire valley blooms and takes on a multi-colored look that’s only seen once a year.

Rolling to our final stop, Bill has brought us up to an overlook that lets us see across the valley and onto the faces of Zion’s towering mountains and all the way into St. George. The first word that comes to mind is majestic. This visa is so far-reaching we are able to take in both the magnitude of the canyons and the desert stretching out far below. Striations of color in the rock faces jump from mountain to mountain, and, while interesting up close, this distance make them uniquely awe-inspiring.

While there are peak hikes throughout Zion National Park, few give views with this much variation or let you soak it all in as the sun sets. 

The Overland 4×4 Experience is most succinctly described as a light adventure ride through the towns and terrain near Zion National Park, and is perfect for anyone interested in exploring the history of the area. This trip is a must for anyone not able to fit a hike into their Zion trip. Also, if you get the chance, take your tour with Bill.

An additional note, right outside the storefront of the Zion Adventure Company, there are spectacular views of the sunrise and sunset bouncing off the rock faces.

Sponsored by St. George Tourism.