Wednesday, May 2, 2007


Towers of the Virgin: the view upon emerging from the one-mile-long Zion-Mount Carmel Highway Tunnel
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My favorite scenic stop on this 3,000 mile tour of the Southwest was, undoubtably, Zion Canyon. I would love to return here for some great hiking.

An American Shangri-La, Zion National Park is an oasis at the western edge of the Colorado Plateau. The Virgin River, which breathes life into this remarkable place, is one of the last mostly free-flowing river systems on the Plateau, an area of 130,000 square miles. What riches are found here! The varied microenvironments of Zion sustain the greatest diversity of plants in Utah--almost 800 native species, as well as 75 species of mammals, 271 birds, 32 reptiles and amphibians, and 6 native fish.

A lizard sunning himself

Famed explorer and scientist John Wesley Powell recorded the Paiute name for this place as Mukuntuweap. To the Mormon pioneers who began arriving in 1858, however, it became Zion, an Old Testament place of safety or refuge. Thanks to them, Zion is festooned with place names of biblical origin: Angels Landing, Court of the Patriarchs, Great White Throne, Towers of the Virgin. Ned Flanders would definitely feel at home.

We arrived here on April 1, which was the first day of the season in which it was mandatory to view Zion Canyon by shuttle bus. Already crowded, the buses certainly cut down on air pollution in the Canyon and made it feel less congested. Stepping off the bus, there are a wide variety of hiking trails to choose from. Mom and I chose the relatively easy Weeping Rock and Riverside Walk trails.

Evidence of Ancestral Puebloan ("Anasazi") habitation dates from 2,000 years ago, followed by the Paiutes around 1200AD. Although humans have lived here for a long time, Zion was until recently a very remote place. Then in 1923 the railroad came to nearby Cedar City, and from there a road was built to Zion Canyon. In 1930, visitation increased again as the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway and Tunnel were completed, linking Zion to Bryce Canyon and points east.

Park visitors in 1920: 3,692
Park visitors in 2006: 2.6 million

The Virgin River emerges here from The Narrows to bless Zion Canyon
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Looking south at Zion Canyon from Riverside Walk
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These 1,000 foot-high cliffs are the tallest sandstone cliffs in the world.
Near Zion Lodge N37.25101 W112.95796

Next: Cedar City