ZION NATIONAL PARK
Zion National Park
Utah's oldest and most visited national park, Zion National Park is located
in southwestern Utah. Most of the park's 147,000 acres are located within
Washington County; however, the extreme eastern section of the park is in
Kane County, while the park's northern tip extends into Iron County. Zion
Canyon is located on the southern part of the Markagunt Plateau. It is cut
by tributaries of the Virgin River which have left eroded canyon walls and
monoliths that are beautiful and overpowering.
Zion Canyon presents a diverse collection of nature's wonders that include
such features as the towering and magnificent 2,200-foot Great White Throne,
the park's most famous landmark; the Court of the Patriarchs; the Sentinel;
the Watchman; Checkerboard Mesa; Kolob Arch, at 310 feet the world's largest
known natural span; and the Narrows of the Virgin River, where a person
can walk upstream to places so narrow that both sides of the canyon walls
can almost be touched with one's outstretched hands.
One early visitor to Zion Canyon, Frederick S. Dellenbaugh, an artist who
had been with John Wesley Powell on his second trip down the Grand Canyon
in 1872, spent part of the summer of 1903 painting in Zion Canyon. The paintings
were exhibited at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair and an article about Zion
Canyon, "A New Valley of Wonders," was published by Dellenbaugh
in the January 1904 issue of Scribner's Magazine. In the article,
Dellenbaugh described his first view of the Great Temple, which stands at
the entrance to Zion Canyon: "One hardly knows just how to think of
it. Never before has such a naked mountain of rock entered our minds. Without
a shred of disguise it transcendent form rises pre-eminent. There is almost
nothing to compare to it. Niagara has the beauty of energy; the Grand Canyon
of immensity; the Yellowstone of singularity; the Yosemite of altitude;
the ocean of power; this Great Temple of eternity."
Zion Canyon was occupied by the Anasazi people from about 1,500 to 800 year
ago. Their abandoned cliff houses, rock art, and chipping sites are scattered
throughout the park. The Paiute Indians occupied the canyon when Nephi Johnson
arrived in 1858. The first Mormon occupant of Zion Canyon was Isaac Behunin,
who built a one-room log cabin at a site near the location of Zions Lodge.
Behunin named his new home Zion Canyon. He was soon joined by a few other
settlers who established farms along the narrow valley floor. Later, in
1900, David Flanigan began to build a system of cable works which would
provide the means to lower virgin timber to the valley floor from the high
mountain forests nearly two thousand feet above the canyon.
In 1872 John Wesley Powell surveyed the area and recorded the canyon's Indian
name, Mukuntuweap. It was under this name that the canyon was designated
a national monument on 31 July 1909 by a proclamation signed by President
William Howard Taft. In 1918 it was renamed Zion National Monument; a year
later, 1919, it became a national park. The first automobile road was constructed
into the canyon in 1917 and the first lodge was built in 1925. The original
lodge was destroyed by fire in 1966 and a new building was constructed that
year. During the winter of 1989-90 the exterior of the lodge was restored
to its historic architectural look.
The park's most impressive construction project, the 1.1-mile-long tunnel
cut through solid sandstone, was begun in 1927 and completed in 1930 at
a cost of $2,000,000. At that time many of the hiking trails within the
park were undertaken, including the famous "Walter's Wiggles"
section of the trail to Angels Landing, completed in 1926. Other trails
and improvements in the park were undertaken by Civilian Conservation Corps
crews during the 1930s. In 1937 the Kolob Canyon region was designated as
a national monument, and it was incorporated into Zion National park in
Zion Canyon is especially popular with hikers and drivers, who follow the
Zion Canyon Scenic Drive to its terminus at the Temple of Sinawava and the
Gateway to the Narrows, and then return to take the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway,
with its tunnel, to the top of the canyon. The park has two visitor centers,
one at the entrance to Kolob Canyon and the main visitor center at the south
entrance to the park.
The beauty of Zion Canyon has gained worldwide recognition, with over three
million visitors coming to the park in 1993. However, because of the severe
and growing automobile congestion inside the park, the National Park Service
recently announced plans to limit private vehicles in Zion Canyon by providing
a public transportation system that would restrict private vehicles to areas
outside the park.
Allen Kent Powell