Zion National Park

Stay Parked at Zion National Park

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By Dixie Brunner

Few Zion National Park visitors will challenge the statement that the best way to enjoy the park adventure is to take a hike! Sights such as the intriguing Narrows, Virgin Towers, Temple of Sinawava, Checkerboard Mesa, Angel’s Landing or Great White Throne often bring tears to those contemplating their awesome beauty.

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Visitors to Zion cool off on a hot day with a hike down The Narrows. Photo by Doris Scholte.

Long before its official designation as Mukuntaweap National Monument on July 31, 1909, by President William Howard Taft, Zion was a frequent home to the Paiute Indians. The first homesteader to hang his hat at Zion was Isaac Behunin in 1861. While life was difficult for the pioneer, Behunin was appreciative of its beauty. “A man can worship God among these great cathedrals,” said Behunin, “as well as in any man-made church – this is Zion.”

The park was renamed and established as Zion National Park in 1919, and like Grand Canyon National Park, is celebrating its 100th birthday this year.

Zion has become internationally known for its majestic towering rock mountains which rise to awe-inspiring heights. Zion is a lush green oasis, surrounded by startling sentinels of stone. With sheer, milky-white cliffs and pristine, curtained waterfalls, Zion, simply put, is one of the most beautiful places in the west.

The park became popular, with visitation numbers around 1,000 annually by 1919, when many of those tourists arrived by horseback or stagecoach.

Last year, the park logged in an amazing 4.5 million visitors from all over the world. The majority of park visitors come during the spring, summer and fall, with lowest visitation from December to March.

Zion National Park has seen substantial changes in its 100 years of existence. Two major changes that affected park visitation the most were probably when they established the lodge, as well as when the tunnel was completed. The lodge was completed in 1926. The tunnel, a major engineering undertaking, was completed and opened to the public in July 1930. The tunnel was important because it connected the way to other parks to the east, like the Grand Canyon North Rim and Bryce Canyon National Parks. When looking at the steep, stone mountains, you are struck with a feeling of something much older and more important than humans. It took Mother Nature roughly 250 million years to create this scenic wonderland, and she’s not done yet! Layers of sedimentary rock make up the surrounding mountains. With each layer deposited, the weight of the new material pushes down the old.

The Virgin River also had a hand in the creation of Zion. Slicing canyons as deep as 3,000 feet in some places, the river left buttes and mesas standing as lone islands rising up from the valley floor.

Unlike many of the West’s great scenic attractions, the majority of Zion is seen from the floor of the canyon rather than the rim. When hiking its trails, Zion surrounds you with grandeur. Hiking trails come in a variety of lengths (some with wheelchair access), offering novice to expert hikers the opportunity to see and experience the park.

Some longer hikes require permits, so check with park personnel concerning long hikes. There are serious dangers associated with flash floods in some of the narrow slot canyons, so also check weather reports before undertaking those amazing adventures.

Hiking isn’t the only way to experience Zion. You can ride a bike, rock climb, horse ride, take a guided tram tour or drive, with each offering a different, yet unique, perspective. The drive through the mountain tunnel, and down the dizzying switchbacks is a remarkable and sometimes nail-biting treat.

This summer Zion National Park is offering a fun family experience aimed at educating children. Park spokeswoman Ally Baltrus said from Memorial Day to Labor Day the park is offering hands-on exhibits at its Nature Center geared for curious minds. She said the exhibits are designed to increase knowledge of the park and will deal with its flora and fauna and spectacular geology. Children will also have the opportunity to try on firefighter and park ranger outfits. The exhibit is free with the park entrance fee.

A visitor center, shuttle system, lodge and campgrounds are located inside the park, with services and accommodations outside both entrances as well. Highway 9 exits Zion’s east entrance and takes tourists on a scenic trip to Mt. Carmel, Bryce Canyon National Park and beyond.

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