Cliff Hanger
(Click to enlarge)
Earth Day 2014
at Zion National Park

Mark D Larsen

A couple of weeks ago, I happened to see a flyer for an Earth Day Celebration that Zion National Park and the town of Springdale were jointly planning for Saturday, April 19, 2014. It occurred to me that, given all the other clean-and-green exhibits on display, surely an electric vehicle would fit right into the event. I therefore contacted both Zion and Springdale, and volunteered to drive my Nissan Leaf to the event. All I would need would be a standard outlet to trickle charge the battery during the festivities.

The High Highway to Zion
(Click to play this MP4 movie)
Zion Park Rangers Alex Barajas and Juli Neff, and the Springdale coordinator, Julie Hancock, were happy to accommodate me, and graciously made arrangements for a plug. I arose early that morning, and drove to the event, as shown in the 10-minute video on the right.

The “Bit and Spur” saloon hosted the event on its property, and there was a outlet within easy reach of my cordset at the far end of their parking lot. The only disadvantage was that my Leaf wasn’t very visible for those wandering among the booths and food vendors, but it was the first thing that caught the eye of attendees who entered or exited the event at that end of the property.

I was delighted that many more people stopped to ask me about the car than I had anticipated. The vast majority of them had never seen a Leaf before, and were genuinely impressed to discover that it is... can you guess?... a “real car.” I showed off all the Leaf’s features, inside and out, and gave away several brochures that Stephen Wade Nissan had kindly provided for potential customers. The questions that passersby asked were predictably the same ones that I always hear about electric vehicles: how far can it go?; how long does it take to charge?; how much does it cost?, etc.

The park rangers were especially interested in the vehicle, because Zion recently received a grant to install 10 EVSEs (5 for public use) and replace 3 gasoline vehicles with plug-ins. Ranger Juli was particularly enthralled with my Leaf, as she had never seen one before. It wouldn’t surprise me if their replacement fleet will now include one or more of that model. Zion hopes to install the EVSEs over the next year as part of the project to remodel the park’s south entrance. From what the rangers told me, their immediate dilemma is to determine exactly how the charging stations should be self-sustaining. Find a sponsor? Have visitors pay via a charge card? As part of their entrance and/or recreation fees? Apparently it is a quandry that the entire National Park Service is contemplating for the future, and has yet to come up with a definitive answer.

For whatever it’s worth, I made an off-the-cuff suggestion that I hope they will consider. An important consideration is that the actual cost per charge would be very low, especially since Zion has solar panels already installed at its entrances. For example, if a tourist were to drive to the south entrance from, say, the St. George airport, the cost of electricity to replace that amount of charge in a Nissan LEAF at the local rate would only amount to about $1.20. Given such a minimal cost, maybe the easiest, least complicated solution would be to charge EV drivers nothing, but... at the charger have a slotted “donation” box with a clear sign that says... oh... something like:

THANK YOU for helping us keep
Zion National Park clean and emission free!
We are happy to provide this EV charging station free-of-charge, but ask that you please consider donating $2 to help us maintain and expand these services in the future.

We really appreciate the support of conscientious visitors like you!

Just a suggestion. I might be wrong, but I suspect that most EV drivers would gladly put a couple of bucks in the slot. The park might actually receive more funds than it spends to provide the energy, and could set aside any extra to help repair and replace the equipment. There would be no need to mess with credit cards, receipts, accounting, etc.: just put the donations in an EV “kitty” to pay for the service. It wouldn't surprise me, however, if the suggestion falls on deaf ears in Washington, D.C., because government agencies tend to require precise accounting for every penny received and spent.

I really enjoyed my day at this Earth Day Celebration. It was great to finally meet the park rangers in person, and I hope that the token effort of bringing my Leaf to the event inspired a few attendees to consider an electric vehicle for their next car. Here are a few more photos that I snapped that day:

Got me cornered
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Pick your nick
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Solar ovens
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Solar hotplate
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Zero-Emissions for Zion Emissions
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Finally, I should mention that the day trip to Zion substantiated that my Leaf really has lost a significant amount of capacity and range. Below on the left is the readout when I made this same journey shortly after taking delivery of the car, two years earlier to the day. On the right is the readout when I arrived this time.

April 19, 2012
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April 19, 2014
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You can see that, when my Leaf was nearly new, I had driven 49.5 miles using half of the charge bars, at 4.9 miles-per-kWh, with 49 miles remaining on the Guffaw-o-Meter. It is true that this time I drove 2.5 miles farther to buy a pass at the southern entrance to the park, but I cannot attribute the significantly lower results to such a short distance. After 52 miles at 4.7 miles-per-kWh, I had only 3 charge bars left, and 24 miles on the Gag-o-Meter —roughly half the original stats. That is quite a drop after only 2 years and 18,147 miles! It seems to substantiate the claim that the disappearance of the first capacity bar really does represent a 15% loss.

It is inevitable, of course, that the capacity will continue to deteriorate. I suppose that I can only hope that Zion will install those EVSEs in the near future, maybe even this summer, so that I can recharge for the return trip while using my new pass to visit the park.

Happy Earth Day!