First lady begins hiking tour of Zion
- First lady begins hiking tour of Zion
Many locals caught unawares; she's expected to leave on Thursday
By Mark Havnes
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 05/01/2007 01:31:47 AM MDT
ZION NATIONAL PARK - Laura Bush, with childhood friends in tow, began
exploring the sandstone wonders of Zion National Park on Monday.
Shortly after 10 a.m., the first lady - who arrived in the park on
Sunday to rededicate the Zion Nature Center - and her entourage piled
into a gray van with black-tinted windows and headed toward the Canyon
People staying at the lodge came and went freely Monday, many
unaware of the VIP staying in a nearby room.
One guest - who only identified himself as "John" - said he and a
friend were hiking around the lodge on Sunday night and passed the
first lady and her party.
"We knew she was in the area," he said. "We didn't recognize her
[at first], then we stopped and said, 'Isn't that her?' "
One worker at the lodge, who declined to identify himself, when
asked how things in the lodge had changed because of Bush's visit,
said jokingly, "If I told you, they'd have to kill me."
At the Overlook trailhead, many visitors were oblivious that the
first lady was also on the one-mile trail, which ends with a view of
some of the park's more spectacular natural features.
One woman, who also did not want to be named, said she passed the
group coming down the trail. She had no idea it was Laura Bush.
For the past 20 years, Bush said, she and a few
childhood friends go on a hiking trip each year in a national park.
When she returned from the hike shortly after noon, Bush, wearing
a wide-brimmed hat, waved to a reporter and photographer as she walked
to her vehicle.
Springdale Mayor Pat Cluff, who had attended Sunday's dedication
ceremony at the nature center - which will be used for the National
Park Service's Junior Ranger Program - said the tiny town at the south
entrance of the park rarely gets a celebrity of Bush's caliber.
"Warren Harding came here once when he was president," said Cluff.
"So she [Bush] is a big thing for a small town."
Cluff said she was disappointed more that the public was not
allowed to the invitation-only ceremony on Sunday, but also understood
it is the first lady's annual vacation and she wanted some private space.
"Everybody needs some privacy," said Cluff. "That's why I didn't
encourage any protests."
The mayor said she hopes the visit and Bush's interest in spending
time exploring the area will bring more attention to Zion and other
parks around the country.
"I'm impressed she puts on hiking boots and a cap and goes to a
national park every year with her friends to hike," said Cluff. "I
asked her where she was hiking while here, and she said they'd be in
Because of the privacy surrounding her visit, it was not confirmed
where Bush and company would be spending their time in Zion. They are
expected to leave Thursday.
Having a snack at the outdoor public eating area at Zion Lodge on
Monday afternoon, self-described "R.V. bum" Tom Johnson from Illinois
said he did not realize Bush was in the park. But he was not surprised.
"It's the second time I've been in a national park when she was
there," said Johnson. "A few years ago, when I was in Glacier
[National Park], she was there, too."