EV Charging at the
Zion National Park Lodge

December 9, 2014

Mark D Larsen

Between a rock and a charge spot
(Click to enlarge)

The General Manager of Xanterra Parks and Resorts’ Zion Lodge, Daisy Hobbs, was intrigued by reports from her staff during the last several months. A few of their guests were running extensions cords out their windows and doors to the parking lots. One guest had even asked to borrow an extension cord, and another had requested permission to use the 240V outlet typically reserved for in-house welding equipment in their maintenance building.

The explanation, of course, is that an increasing number of visitors to Zion National Park are driving electric cars, and want to plug them in to recharge while staying overnight at the lodge and its cabins. As manager of one of the most heralded environmentally-friendly accommodations in Utah, Daisy was more than happy to accommodate these requests. She worked with the lodge Sustainability Manager, Emily Barajas, and Maintenance Manager, Butch Taylor, to create a solution for the property. According to Emily:

“Installing electric vehicle charging stations is an opportunity to not only please the guests, but also encourage early adopters of the electric vehicle movement. Going beyond our major environmental successes at the lodge, this is a way to impact greenhouse gas emissions outside our facility.”

They began to research the different makes, models, and features of EVSEs, with the initial intent of installing a half-dozen stations. However, given the significant installation costs, and because providing such services was so new, unfamiliar, and unproven, they ultimately decided to start out with only one dual-plug unit and monitor its use. Should the number of EV guests then continue to grow over time, they could always install additional EVSEs to meet the demand. They eventually opted for a Clipper Creek dual model, not only because the manufacturer has a solid, long standing reputation for the quality of its stations, but also because they can be easily upgraded in the future. For example, the service is currently free, so drivers simply need to plug in to charge their EVs. If they later find, however, that it would be preferable to restrict access to registered guests, they could install keypads in the EVSEs and provide passkeys when they checked in. It would even possible to equip the units with credit card readers to charge a fee to plug in, but Daisy doesn’t foresee that happening.

The Park Service has coincidentally received a grant to also install dedicated EV charging stations at the Zion National Park, Kolob Canyon and Pipe Spring Visitors Centers. Businesses do not have to clear the same bureaucratic hurdles as government agencies, so the lodge was able to forge ahead, order and install its station much quicker than the National Park itself. I had been assisting the sustainability ranger, Juli Rohrback, with the park’s plans, and she was the one who told me a few weeks ago that the lodge already had an EVSE up-and-running. I was surprised —and delighted— to hear this good news, and immediately contacted the lodge to inquire if I could drive my Leaf there to interview its personnel about the project. Daisy kindly agreed to meet with me, and also invited Butch to join in the conversation, since his crew had overseen the installation. In the photo below on the left, you can see them proudly standing by the lodge’s spanking new EVSE, where they kindly let me plug in my Leaf. Emily really wanted to join us also, but was on maternity leave during my visit. I look forward to meeting her the next time I plug in at the lodge.

Pleased to please the customers
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Double their pleasure
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Installing their dual EVSE posed different challenges than most businesses face. Although the company is private, the lodge property is owned by the Park Service, and additions require respecting the historic nature of the facilities. They therefore powder-coated the metalwork of the pedestal an approved “Park Service Brown,” as shown in the photo above on the right. They also chose to design a wrap for the EVSEs with scenic photo decals in more subdued greyish hues. You can see the result in the photo below on the left.

Blending in
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Something old, something new
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I have to applaud that customization, for it helps the station blend in much better with the natural surroundings, especially at a distance, as you can appreciate in the photo above on the right. As Butch pointed out when I took that picture, it is fascinating that we are contemplating cliffs that are hundreds of millions of years old, a historic cabin built in the 1920s, and cutting edge technology from the 21st century, all in the very same frame. It would truly be sacrilege to have an EVSE stand out like a fire hydrant in such a setting.

During my visit, we talked about numerous considerations to further accommodate EVs at the lodge. Daisy and Butch are glad that they didn't put in all six stations to begin with, as they now realize it would be much better to locate them in different areas of the grounds, rather than lined up in a single row. This dual-plug unit has cords long enough to easily reach all three of these parking spaces, if need be, but they have decided that future stations should accommodate as many slots as possible. Since EV owners can fully charge their batteries in a couple of hours, yet will likely spend the entire day hiking the trails, it only makes sense to facilitate plug sharing, both by installing EVSEs in strategic locations and by providing guests with etiquette placards to place on their dashboards.

Daisy and Butch were curious to know what it is like to own and drive an EV on a daily basis. We discussed range, charging times, costs, the long tailpipe accusations of naysayers, the different models available, and the number of EVs sold to date in Utah and the entire country. Although they had seen a Tesla Model S charging at the station during Thanksgiving, they had yet to personally experience an EV. I therefore gave them a ride farther up the canyon road in my Leaf while explaining its features and functions, and then let Daisy test drive it back to the lodge. Shortly thereafter, back in the lobby, I also showed Daisy my online utility to compare greenhouse emissions and fuel costs nationwide. I came away with the impression that Daisy and Butch are now more excited than ever about EVs, and proud to have taken the initial steps to support and encourage them at the lodge.

In point of fact, by the next day, I was tickled to see that, with my permission, Xanterra’s PR department had already posted my above photo on the Zion Lodge webpage with the clever slogan: “Now you and your car can both recharge your batteries at Zion National Park.” You can click on this screendump to see a larger version of that webpage:

Zion Lodge is definitely ahead of the curve! I really enjoyed meeting Daisy and Butch, and must congratulate them for having the foresight to anticipate the inevitable transition to clean, green, electric vehicles. I have always thought that our national treasures deserve to be free of tailpipes even more than urban areas, since Mother Nature is not the one responsible for polluting our air and cooking our planet. This is probably the first private lodge within National Park boundaries to take these steps, and other inns at such tourist destinations would do well to emulate the example.

I can safely predict that more EV guests will be staying at the lodge in the near future, as word spreads that it now boasts free charging. Most of those customers will likely be driving Teslas, since Zion is too far from Las Vegas and Salt Lake City for electric vehicles with the current “standard” range of 80-to-100 miles to make the journey. Even still, there is a growing number of such owners in the St. George area who will henceforth be visiting the park more often. In point of fact, I have already made reservations to enjoy the lodge’s hospitality again during the Christmas holidays. Ho ho ho!