John Wesley Powell, 1895
When I signed in at the Red Mountain Spa last week, I noticed this motto in the folder of information they handed me: “For A Healthy Inside, Go Outside.” Mini-Madame #1 and I laughed over that one because “go outside” was a centerpiece phrase of mine since the children learned to walk.
Most of my children are accomplished hikers having logged hundreds of miles through rough terrain and weather conditions in a variety of American states. Well, one child is a klutz who trips on air, but that isn’t the focal point of this article.
One of my goals during my week in Utah was to revisit Zion National Park. My father first introduced me to this 229 square mile area when I was a young child. This park, formerly known as Mukuntuweap National Monument, sits in the southwestern corner of Utah and begs for feet like mine to tread upon her trails. You see, I had to show my hiker-children that I still had it in my old hiking boots to do some serious walking.
While in the canyon, your safety is your responsibility.
The decks of these footbridges have been replaced and are now made of recycled plastic as the park strives to become a “green” environment.
Walking these trails, knowing that the Ancestral Puebloans strode these pathways over 2000 years ago, Southern Paiutes walked it over 800 years ago and then the Virgin Anasazi and Mormon settlers walked here, humbles a novice hiker like me.
The Park’s name, Zion, is a Hebrew word interpreted by the Mormons as a place of safety or refuge and bestowed upon this canyon by Mormon pioneers in the 1860’s. According to Mormon theology as told by the Park Service pamphlet, Kolob is a heavenly place close to God. They couldn’t have picked a more apt name for this majestic canyon area.
The stone cliffs tower above the valley and boast of being among the highest in the world (8,726 feet in the Kolob Canyons section).
During the Triassic and Jurassic Eras (250 million to 150 million years ago), from sedimentary rock (mostly sandstone) and limestone, shale, mudstone and conglomerate along with some recent volcanic activity that produced cinder cones and lava flows, the park’s stunning scenery was formed.
The Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel was built in the 1920’s when vehicles were very small. To go through the tunnel today, larger vehicles (over 7’10” in width) require an escort while Park Rangers stop all oncoming traffic to allow large vehicles to drive down the center of the tunnel. There are only a few lookout points from the tunnel. I wasn’t comfortable being in the tunnel when I realized how far underneath a mountain of stone we traveled.
Looking out from inside the tunnel.
Within Zion, alive with movement, resides one of the last free-flowing river systems on the Colorado Plateau. The Virgin River, as these waters are called, traverses the Mojave Desert, joins the Colorado River in Lake Mead’s basin and continues on to the Pacific Ocean.
Nowhere else on earth can this combination of soil type, changes in temperature or precipitation, plants, animals, or of slope, mesa and canyon be found.
Snow only blankets Zion Canyon about two or three times a year.
The diversity of plants and animals in this canyon includes mule deer, bighorn sheep, juniper and cottonwood trees, box elders, elk, peregrine falcons, mountain lions, desert tortoises hummingbirds and more— and one of my favorites, the canyon tree frog.
Zion a place of abundant beauty and discovery.