Zion Visitor Center
Charging Stations

May 15, 2015

Mark D Larsen

A new day dawns
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Not long after Zion National Park inaugurated its Kolob Canyons EVSEs, they also finished installing two more at the Main Visitor Center. I hadn’t yet had an opportunity to use them, so this morning I set my alarm to go off before sunrise, hoping to be the early bird to get one of those EVSE worms. I was frankly concerned that I might not be able to make the trip, given my Leaf’s deteriorating battery capacity. As you can see in the LEAFStat readout below on the left, when I got in the car, its capacity was at 79.00% —theoretically only 0.25% away from losing my second bar.

Capable capacity?
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At the starting gate
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I also updated my Carwings status, as shown above on the right above. With a 100% charge, the Guess-o-Meter projected only 67 miles of range. Having driven the route several times in my Leaf, I knew from experience that the 51-mile ascent to Zion would now be cutting it close, especially since I was not about to forego air conditioning with temperatures forecast as high as 107° in this area. I would obviously have to put my hypermiling tricks to the test: slow, steady acceleration; anticipating stops early to rely on regen and avoid braking; speeds at or a bit below the posted limits, especially on the steepest inclines.

I managed to pull it off. When I arrived at the Zion Visitor Center, the GOM guessed 8 miles of range with only one charge bar left, as you can see below on the left. In fact, I was surprised that the “low battery warning” hadn’t sounded yet! Dawn had broken when I pulled into the parking lot, as you can see in the photo at the top of the page.

Crossed the finish line
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Sight for sore eyes
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I have to admit that I experienced a mixture of joy and irritation upon seeing these EVSEs for the first time. On the one hand, I was delighted to verify that Zion had provided this equipment to encourage visitors to keep our national treasures emission free. On the other hand, as shown on the right above, it irked me that other EV owners had left the charging cables twisted, tangled, and lying on the ground, picking up grime and posing a hazard that passersby could step on or even trip over. How goddamn difficult is it to wind a cable back up and hang it on the provided hook, for crying out loud?

I know, I know: color me naïve. I have always assumed that EV owners, by very definition, would be more sensitive than most to how their behavior can affect the world around them. I'd like to think that they would want to show their gratitude to Zion by taking proper care of these chargers, and at least be courteous to the fellow EV owners who will use them next. I suppose that I am ultimately angry at myself for having entertained the delusion that all EV aficionados are dedicated to building a kinder, gentler, better world. Obviously not. Some must be the same type of people who just leave grocery carts sitting haphazardly in parking lots... and spit their gum out on the sidewalk.

Pet peeves aside, I was happy to see that the EVSEs had signs to acknowledge that the Utah Clean Cities Coalition had helped the Park secure its DoE grant to install these stations, as shown below on the left.

Sign of the times
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Early bird gets the worm
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When I arrived, mine was the only EV in sight, shown above on the right. Surprisingly, the rest of the parking lot was already packed. At least the EV spots were not being ICE'd! I had only been there for a few minutes, waiting for the bookstore to open so that I could buy my charging code, when a Volt with Michigan license plates pulled into the second spot as shown below on the left. They already had their code, which told me that they had purchased it before today. Oddly, they didn’t even look at me, let alone nod, or wave, or pause to have a friendly EV chat, so their reticence made me wonder if perhaps they were the ones who had used the EVSEs the last time...? Hmmm.

What's good for the goose...
is good for the Michi'gander

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Pushing my buttons
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As soon as the bookstore opened, I went inside and purchased my $5.00 charging code. Controlling the use of these EVSEs with a keypad is likely the best scenario in this case, because the codes allow the purchaser to use the stations for a full three days. In the video clip above, you can see that you simply enter the 8-digit code, followed by the # sign. You’ll hear that my Leaf immediately beeps to acknowledge the connection, and then beeps twice to start charging. Voilà!

The dashboard reported that it would take 5 hours to recharge my Leaf with its pitiful 3.3 kW charger, so I hopped on the Zion shuttle and got off at the farthest stop, where visitors can hike (well... actually... wade) the Narrows. You can see why this section of the park is aptly named in the photo below on the left. They say that, if a flash flood occurs, hikers need to seek higher ground. Good luck if you're in a spot like this one!

Where's the ladder?
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Water slide
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You would be hard pressed to scramble up the waterfall on the right above! Traversing the Narrows is anything but easy. A hiking pole is more a necessity than a luxury, in that you need it to avoid tripping on unseen, unsteady rocks under the water, especially when the current is pushing against you.

What I didn’t expect was to see so many tourists on the “trail.” I guess this is the height of tourist season, but you practically had to take a number to avoid the waist-deep water at some spots. As one visitor commented to me: “This is as crowded as Disneyland!” And the Narrows get narrower the farther you wade upstream, as the following photos show:

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...and Steeper
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Still, I managed to make it to about 8 bends up the canyon, which took me over two hours, before deciding that I had experienced enough “rest and relaxation” for the day. I stumbled, hobbled, punted, and splashed back downstream, and caught the shuttle back to the Visitor Center. In reality, it had only taken 4 hours to recharge my Leaf while I was hiking, so it was ready and waiting when I got off the bus.

I only have two suggestions to pass along to the Zion rangers. First, they should consider extending the 3-day code to “match” the full 7-day entrance pass to the park. If visitors are going to be touring the area for a full week, it is only makes sense to allow them to charge during their entire stay.

Second, they should designate the two parking spots facing these slots as EV spaces also. This would allow users to share the two EVSEs, provided owners place proper placards on their windshields to inform others when and if it is okay to unplug them. It would be fairly easy for the bookstore to provide such placards with the charging codes. After all, since it only took four hours to fully charge my Leaf, it would take even less time with a 6.6 kW charger. Designating the facing parking spots would thus make it possible to charge more EVs per day without any additional equipment. This is certainly better than having the EVSEs connected to only two EVs, but not charging, for most of the day.

When I checked with Carwings for my 100% charge, the GOM predicted the same range as in the morning, shown below on the left.

Time to go home
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In the garage
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I knew that, thanks to regen on the return descent, I wouldn’t have to use so many hypermiling tricks and could just drive normally. Above on the right you can see that I still had two charge bars and 15 miles of range when I pulled into the garage.