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Zion National Park

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The Three Patriarchs
Zion was (and is) Utah's first National Park, literally translates to "Heavenly City of God", reflecting the involvement of the Mormons in settling the area over 150 years ago. It was originally Mukuntuweap National Monument, declared a National Monument in 1909 by William Taft. , but was taken as an affront to the local Mormon settlers who had named the area Zion. It was renamed in 1918 to Zion National Monument. Congress created Zion National Park in 1919. While man has probably inhabited the area for a thousand or more years, it was those settlers that put names on most of the peaks and unusual formations surrounding the valley; The West Temple, The Three Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), Angels Landing, the Pulpit, etc..

Zion National Park Map
This map was downloaded from the NPS site.
Further back, some 200 million years ago, "North America" finally broke free from the super-continent Pangaea. This place was an almost lifeless desert, with sand blowing in over millions of years when the prevailing winds carried little to no moisture. These layers of sand were compressed into the sandstone layers we can see here. Around 65 million years ago, the entire region was uplifted over a mile, and the rock you see here covers about the middle of the Grand Staircase. Back to Top

The Virgin River did its work over the past 13 million years, cutting a 2000 foot deep canyon through the park, creating the centerpiece of the park, Zion Canyon. There is a Scenic Drive that follows the river into the canyon until there isn't room in the canyon for both road and river.

I will add that since I was there in 1997, Zion has become a victim of its own success. Or maybe it's a victim of the popularity of the Travel Channel. I'm not sure. In any event, I believe during the tourist season, the Scenic Drive is only scenic from a shuttle bus. So you'll need to plan ahead on what you need to bring from the car, such as water, meds, hats, snacks, cameras, batteries, memories cards, etc. These images are from a post-Labor Day trip a couple of decades ago, so the park looks relatively empty...

From UT-59, Sunset
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Along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive
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Riverside Walk

At the end of the Scenic Drive is a narrow Riverside Walk, which continues to follow the river until there isn't room in the canyon for both river and walk. Beyond this, you must hike through the river itself to "The Narrows", and ultimately, the other side of Zion Canyon.

With little to absorb water in the red rock desert, flash flooding here is a problem. It could be raining miles away, with no rain or even sunny in your location, and you could still be caught in a debris flow which will certainly kill you if you can't get out of the way. I came across some truly awe inspiring video of a flash flood through the Narrows on UTube, and why you should check in at the Visitors Center: Zion Flash Flood

However, it was peaceful and sunny the day I was there, and the canyon is truly one of the awe-inspiring sights of Southern Utah. No, I had no desire to climb a mountain or trek down a river (and besides, my 1997 trip was planned by a novice road tripper, and didn't provide the time), but did go all the way to the end of the Riverside Walk...

Riverside Walk
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Mt. Carmel Highway / Canyon Overlook Trail

Utah-9 is the road that starts at I-15 and ends at US-89, making it the access road of sorts for Zion. East of the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway (because it goes from Zion to Mount Carmel Junction at US-89), which climbs out of the valley floor to rim level. Just past the switchbacks and a tunnel, is the Canyon Overlook Trail, which overlooks part of Zion Canyon. Most of the pics of on the trail were taken by Jo, my height phobia failed me along a narrow wooden walkway. I think I could do it today... :-)

Mt. Carmel Highway
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Canyon Overlook Trail
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Kolob Canyons

While the main part of the park is off of Utah-9 in the Southern End of Zion, Kolob Canyons is in the Northwest part of the park off of I-15.

Kolob Canyons
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Related Links

US-89 Link US-89 is a remarkable road that follows some of the most scenic areas of the West from Canada to Arizona, and along the way passes through (or comes within a few miles of) over a half dozen major Western Parks. Glacier to Yellowstone to Grand Teton, Bryce, Zion, Glen Canyon and Grand Canyon.

I've actually frequented this road quite a bit, but in a disjointed, non-continuous fashion.

Visited Various

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante NM Link Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is actually larger than the state of Delaware, but has a population close to the number of visitors in the park.

The GSENM page starts with an overview of what the Grand Staircase actually is, a geologic wonderland stretching from the Aquaritus Plateau at Bryce Canyon to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. This 8,000 foot drop in elevation in almost discreet steps holds some of the most breathtaking scenery in America.
Near Escalante, Utah / 33 Images Visited Sept 1997, Sep 2008.
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Trip Report: Sep 1997.

Return to: State Index Utah State Page National Parks

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